REVIEW: Tessa Dare’s DO YOU WANT TO START A SCANDAL

Do_You_Want_To_Start_A_ScandalMiss Bates is a Tessa Dare fan. She read the first three Spindle Cove novels and adored them, especially the third, A Week To Be Wicked, with its bespectacled paleontologist-heroine and dissolute rake-hero. Also, it’s a road romance and Miss B. loves a road romance almost as much as she does a closed-cabin one.

Do You Want To Start A Scandal, Spindle Cove #5, doesn’t take place in Spindle Cove, but at the Nottinghamshire estate of Sir Vernon Parkhurst and, as such, is more a closed-estate romance, with a dash of closed-room mystery thrown in.  Heroine Charlotte Highwood and hero Piers Brandon, Marquess of Granville, are Sir Vernon’s guests. When the novel opens, neither is in a good place. Charlotte’s marriage-machinating mum, reminiscent of Austen’s Mrs. Bennett, has landed her in the humiliating position of being a gossip-rag’s ridiculed gull, the Prattler‘s. Charlotte is the source of the eponymous “scandal” and the moniker plagues her throughout. Piers, on the other hand, is everything proper, controlled, and aristocratic. His presence at the Parkhurst estate, however, is not in the convention of the languid gentleman enjoying a few weeks in the country. He’s on official crown business, spying on Sir Vernon, who may be asked, by the government, to take a sensitive overseas position. Piers is there to find out if scandal, tryst, blackmail, or any politically-lethal weakness, may put the crown at risk of humiliation. So, Charlotte, prodded by her mother, is on a husband-finding mission while Piers is on a fact-finding one.
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MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s THE SPANIARD’S PREGNANT BRIDE

Spaniard's_Pregnant_BrideMiss Bates is always suspect that Maisey Yates can be as prolific as she is and still retain her novels’ high standards. Yates pulls it off with an ensured hand for the most part. Though Miss Bates prefers Yates’s more realistic contemporary romance, she also can’t resist an HP by an author she consistently enjoys. And so … Yates’s Spaniard’s Pregnant Bride, wherein Yates really rocks a lovely reversal of the princess in the tower narrative, with a towered and towering prince, oops duke … the prince is the heroine’s rejected fiancé. Allegra Valenti, at 22, is set to marry Prince Raphael DeSantis of Santa Firenze thanks to the match-making efforts of her brother’s best friend, Cristian Acosta. Cristian, despite his name, is an arrogant donkey-butt of a hero, purporting to know what’s best for the heroine, even choosing her husband. But, like any good HP, the hero’s high-and-mighty will be hoisted on his own petard. Allegra is smart and possesses what Miss Bates most admires in a heroine, integrity and spunk. 
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Mini-Review: Maisey Yates’s ONE NIGHT CHARMER

one_night_charmer(Dear Readers, Miss Bates continues to toil at the day-job above and beyond the call of duty. But when Friday night rolled around, she needed to put the feet up, brew the green tea, add the honey, and read the romance. It was a good one and there was late-night-in-bed reading. And this is why today, she offers her 300th review, compact as heroine Sierra West in Maisey Yates’s One Night Charmer.)

A Maisey Yates review is apropos for Miss Bates’s 300th. Yates is one of her favourite contemporary romance authors, balancing a visceral contemporary voice with traditional-values rom-HEA (marriage and babies). Her characters fall in love, work things out, and commit, but also go on a journey that transcends their weighed-down-with-negativity past. This is no less true for One Night Charmer than all the fabulous Copper Ridge novels and novellas. Moreover, One Night Charmer‘s elements are missbatesian rom-nip: an older, surly hero, wounded and jaded, a “bouncy”, smart ingenue heroine, drunken sex, the wages of sin, marriage-of-convenience, and a baby-filled epilogue. Continue reading

Repeat/Opening-Line Mini-Review: M. O’Keefe’s “The Heart Of It”

“She was there. At the bar wearing a dress the color of a bruise’s dark heart.”

Heart_Of_ItMiss Bates first read Molly O’Keefe’s short story, “The Heart Of It,” in the Summer Rain romance anthology, which she reviewed in 2014. Miss Bates reread it when it was recently self-published as a standalone and was struck again by its fineness, the delicacy with which O’Keefe recounts her story. “The Heart Of It” isn’t a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. Gabe and Elena’s baggage is contained in the lovely opening line. Their initial encounters are monetary, self-interested, and heartbreaking. They are bruised by life, hurt; like a bruise, visible, when pressed, painful. In O’Keefe’s description of Gabe’s perception of Elena’s skin lies the hope at the story’s heart: 

“Her skin was the color of the harvest moon, or the inside of a shell, something white and creamy and perfect.” 

Purple bruises give way to an HEA wrested from pain, like the delicate, recovering skin emerging from a fading bruise. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Joanna Shupe’s “TYCOON”

TycoonJoanna Shupe’s “Tycoon,” the introductory novella to her Gilded-Age-set Knickerbocker Club series, opens with one of the funniest scenes Miss Bates has read in ages! At NYC’s Grand Central Depot, eponymous tycoon, Theodore “Ted” Harper waits for his private Pullman car. In a blink, a feisty young woman accosts him:  

Ted Harper never saw it coming. Once minute, he was alone on the platform, and the next he’d acquired a wife.

“There you are, dear husband! Let’s not miss the train,” said a loud, husky feminine voice.

What in the name of Jacob? He tried to extricate his arm from her unexpectedly strong grip while glancing around for a porter. A patrolman. A crowbar … Anyone or anything to dislodge this woman from his side …

“I’m looking forward to meeting your mother,” she said and began propelling him toward the train. “I do hope she can teach me to cook that apple pie you like so much.” Mother? Ted frowned. His mother had been dead for eight years. Crazy, thy name is woman …

Ted’s staid, solitary life, dedicated to growing his New American Bank, will never be the same. Miss Clara Dobson, Hoyt’s department store perfume-seller, takes him in firm hand and makes great use of his stupefaction and bemusement to escape from the dangerous men who are following her.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Shannon Stacey’s HEAT EXCHANGE

Heat_ExchangeMiss Bates  spent many a happy childhood summer in Boston, visiting family, a few days at the Cape now and then. Shannon Stacey’s new romance series, Boston Fire, of which Heat Exchange is the first, was irresistible, thanks to its Bostonian setting. Like most rom of this ilk and length, however, setting didn’t figure prominently, but there was a definite Bostonian working-class urban feel. Stacey specializes in the family saga romance without ever losing sight of the rom. This series is signature Stacey: a large clan, the Kincaids, with a retired firefighter dad, and firefighter baby brother to two older sisters, one of whom, Ashley, is married to a firefighter, and another, Lydia, divorced a firefighter. The men of the family are several-generation firefighters and the ethos makes for the background and conflict to the romance.

Ashley and husband Danny are estranged: Danny’s the strong, silent type and Ashley’s tired of his close-mouthed love. She wants him to communicate, dammit. With good reason, Danny can’t; Ashley kicks him out and calls sister Lydia to help out by taking over her bar-tending duties at dad’s, Tommy Kincaid’s, pub. After a cheating heartbreaking break-up and divorce, Lydia moved to New Hampshire to work in an upscale restaurant and leave behind the firefighting scene and long-suffering women who care for and agonize over the men who fight fires. But when Ashley calls, sobbing and distraught, family bonds are stronger than any desire to start anew. To Boston Lydia returns, to everything that hurt her, and runs smack up against her brother’s best friend, Aidan Hunt. Continue reading

REVIEW: Maisey Yates’ BAD NEWS COWBOY, Or When Love Comes Calling

Bad_News_CowboyReading Maisey Yates’ Bad News Cowboy gave Miss Bates déjà [vu]rginity. Indeed, a virgin heroine in Yates’ fourth Copper Ridge romance followed Dahl’s in Taking the Heat. The treatment was different, but equally successful, with Yates falling into a more conventional deflowering scene. We met Kate Garrett as the quiet, tom-boyish baby sister to the heroes of Yates’ previous novels in the series, Part Time and Brokedown Cowboy. Our hero is none other than their flippant, promiscuous poker buddy, the handsome, enigmatic Jack Monaghan, Jack of turbulent waters run deep. Verbal sparring and sexual tension ran throughout Kate and Jack’s exchanges in previous novels and it’s great to witness everything coming to a head … enfin. In Bad News Cowboy, Kate’s changing, suddenly aware that her 23-year-old body and sexual self-effacement don’t suit. The safe emotional “cave” she created as hidey-hole in is too small, ” … she was alone … It was secure. It was familiar.” Her itchy restless feelings are her attraction to Jack. Jack too notices how Kate needles and insults him at their weekly Garrett family poker games. They’ve always teased and tormented each other, but now there’s a tension to their encounters they’ve not had before. As in the previous novels, Yates’ characters’ verbal jibes and jabs conceal emotional feints and this no less true of Kate and Jack. Continue reading

REVIEW: Jennifer Hayward’s TEMPTED BY HER BILLIONAIRE BOSS, Or “She fills gaps.”

Tempted_By_Her-Billionaire_BossJennifer Hayward’s Tempted By Her Billionaire Boss coulda been a dud. The signs: office romance … ick … worldly tycoon-hero and innocent secretary-heroine (hallelujah, not virginal) … ick-compounded by a ten-year age difference between hero and heroine. And yet, it’s not the tropes you’re dealt, but how you play the game. Hayward took on HP-dom’s tried-and-true in the first of her Tenacious Tycoons duet, Tempted By Her Billionaire Boss, and gave them a good twist. When the romance opens, Francesca “Frankie” Masseria, 23 and PA to an automotive company’s VP, Coburn Grant, watches Rocky Balboa, her fish, swim. Like “Rocky,” Frankie and family are an Italian-American success story: her father built a thriving restaurant; her many siblings, from doctor to business owner, flourish; and Frankie used tip money to attend business school and fulfill her dream of working as a PA for a glamorous Manhattan-based corporation. Coburn asks her to fill in for his brother’s pregnant PA. Unlike easygoing Coburn, CEO Harrison Grant is intimidating and demanding. The Grant family, with a congressman grand-father, are American “aristocracy,” but dark struggles haunt them. Harrison and Coburn’s father died in the midst of a gubernatorial run and financial crisis: his sons had to rebuild. Tempted By Her Billionaire Boss is sexy and romantic. However, it’s also about family obligation, the ethics of revenge, and conflict between justice and mercy.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Elizabeth Hoyt’s DEAREST ROGUE, Of Caged and Lame Birds

Dearest_RogueThe Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince, especially the latter, are two of the best romance novels Miss Bates has read. With what enthusiasm Miss Bates delved into another Hoyt Georgian romance in Dearest Rogue. Eighth in the Maiden Lane series, Dearest Rogue, like the sublime, early Leopard Prince, is a cross-class romance. It opens on Bond Street, where bodyguard James Trevillion, formerly a captain in his majesty’s dragoons, saves his charge, Lady Phoebe Batten, from kidnapping. It’s obvious that James is sweet on Phoebe, but there be complications. Phoebe, sister to the powerful Duke of Wakefield, is blind and needs James’ protection from would-be kidnappers and to ensure her safety as she navigates city and society. (She is an innocent 21 to his jaded 33, so there’s a May/December trope as well.) Phoebe resents James’ close watch over her and her brother’s over-protectiveness. She imagines James dour and old, at least until Artemis, her sister-in-law, tells her he’s young, blue-eyed, and handsome. James, in turn, thinks he’s too old, too poor, too lame (he sustained an injury in the course of his dragoon duties) and too humble-in-origins to be anything but an annoyance to Lady Phoebe. Phoebe and James’ journey to love, friendship, and desire, while fighting kidnappers, Wakefield’s loving, controlling solicitude, and confronting James’ fraught family history, is told with Hoyt’s elegant prose and delightful humour. Continue reading

REVIEW: Liz Talley’s SWEET TALKING MAN, Or Jane and the Viking

Sweet_Talking_ManWhen you read a lot of romance, like Miss Bates does, it’s inevitable the narrative becomes stale. You lose patience and are more likely to curl your lip and DNF. There are romance writers, however, who renew your faith in the narrative’s ability to be fresh, yet familiar. The romance reader is this creature: she wants the familiar because it has meaning and the familiar to be sufficiently deviant to keep her interest and delight her. Liz Talley’s Sweet Talking Man was such a narrative for Miss B.: familiar and fresh, well-known conventions unfolding like beloved Christmas ornaments and their subversion unfolding like unexpected gifts. Thus transpires the story of B&B owner, PTA president, organizer-of-all-things, super-single-mom, forty-year-old divorcée heroine, Abigail Beauchamp Orgeron, and artist, teacher, vegan, ukulele-playing, thirty-four-year-old hero, Lief Lively, or as strait-laced Abigail calls him, “resident cuckoo bird.” The familiar is evident in the “opposites-attract” trope and romance narrative deviations in a 40-year-old heroine and the un-alpha-like interests of her December-to-his-May hero.  Continue reading