Tag: May-To-December Romance

Romance Panacea Part II: The Betty Neels Canon, Gifts That Keep Giving

Damsel_In_Green_1
Weird cover: what’s with the “rival” nurse? Not in book, Harlequin.

As you know and may be tired of hearing, Miss Bates is revising and renewing her blogging project without straying too far from her original purpose. One way she’s done so is by reading outside her romance comfort zone, tackling a Big Fat Book over the summer (Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which she’s enjoying more than she expected to). At the same time, she’s revivifying her blog by writing about romance beyond the review (rest assured she’ll still review romance). In her previous post, she considered the idea of romance reading as panacea, as a comfort zone in the daily grind, when “troubles come not single spies, but in battalias,” as Claudius says to Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Romance reading, however, doesn’t happen solely as an escape, or coping strategy. Romance is read for comfort, but it’s also read for pleasure. Miss Bates offers this eloquent summary of what she’s been trying to say about romance, which she found quoted in the Mary Burchell Wikipedia article (thanks to a Twitter convo with Sunita). Burchell, one of the founders of the Romance Novelists’ Association, wrote in one of their newsletters, ” … a good romantic novel is a heart-warming thing which strikes a responsive chord in those who are happy and offers a certain lifting of the spirits to those who are not.”  There is one writer, at least for Miss Bates, who exemplifies Burchell’s point: the Immortal, Inimitable Betty Neels.

Divine BettyN. is Miss Bates’ heal-all turn-to writer, good for all occasions, and when no other romance will do. When Miss B. wrote about her bad-day reading of Judith McNaught’s Paradise, it was a sheepish admission. She returns Paradise to the keeper shelf feeling a tad soiled … she can’t believe she read that … AGAIN. Like eating too much chocolate, or ice cream straight from the tub. Betty Neels’ romances have an opposite effect. Neels validates how very very good romance can be, as good as honeyed tea, buttered toast, orange marmalade, and a slice of sharp cheddar. Food to be eaten every day, at any time of the day. A staple, a stalwart reading friend, a BFF when the BFF can’t come ’round. She’ll explore this by writing about her fifth Neels read, Damsel In Green (again, with thanks to Sunita, for the rec). Miss Bates has read Sister Peters In Amsterdam, Visiting Consultant, Tulips For Augusta, and “Making Sure of Sarah.” Tulips is her favourite thus far, but Damsel vies with Visiting Consultant for second place. Continue reading

REVIEW: Shannon Stacey’s TAKEN WITH YOU, Or Dates and Doubts

Taken_With_YouIt was enjoyable to read a romance novel comprised of meet-cutes, dates, love-making, and the occasional fight, both big and small. It felt real and its lack of drama didn’t have Miss Bates yawning, or growing restless. Miss Bates bided her time, waiting for high drama and angst to set in. She read somewhere that Taken With You was a May-to-December romance, wherein December was the heroine. The angst never set in; the age difference was handled beautifully. Here’s how hero, Matt Barnett, and heroine, Hailey Genest, banter through it: ” ‘You’re only thirty-five?’ ‘Why? Do I look older than that?’ ‘No, I just … you’re younger than me.’ He gave her a thorough looking over, enjoying the way pink spread across her cheeks. ‘Not by much.’ ‘Five freaking years,’ she muttered. ‘I don’t believe it. You should show me your license.’ She snorted. ‘Have you ever met a woman our age, or my age anyway, who lied about being forty?’ ‘It’s just a number.’ ” Hailey’s right and Matt’s righter. If the five-year age difference had seen the hero playing December, it wouldn’t have been an issue, or even worth mentioning. To give credit to Stacey’s Taken With You, it isn’t in her novel either. Well, hallelujah. This is not a novel strong on external conflict: it’s made of things any burgeoning relationship is made of: dates and doubts. “The course of true love never did run smooth,” to quote the Bard, but Hailey and Matt’s “impediments” to love and forever stem from who they are and what has shaped them. The result is an honest and funny and convivial romance. It doesn’t break any ground: it takes ordinary working folk (okay, they might be a little cuter than most) and tells of a  courtship, the “date” part, adds “impediments,” the “doubts” and “misunderstandings,” shows two good people learning to compromise and does it most enjoyably. Continue reading

REVIEW: Lily Everett’s SHORELINE DRIVE, Marriage of Convenience, Really?

Shoreline DriveThe marriage-of-convenience trope is one of Miss Bates’ most beloved.  It is difficult and rare, however, to see it done well in contemporary romance.  It is unlikely that the reasons for the marriage will be convincing.  What compelling reasons can there be for contemporary characters to agree to such a union?  Eons ago, Miss Bates saw a Peter Weir film, Green Card, which posited one possible scenario; or the more recent, less adept, The Proposal, which isn’t really marriage-of-convenience, but engagement-of-convenience, so much less … well … engaging.  It’s the idea of a binding marriage that is absorbing for Miss Bates: the-stuck-with-you-getting-to-know-you-daily-grind-and-growing-love ethos of it that she adores.  Certainly, the trope triumphs in historical romance.  The truth is that any contemporary marriage-of-convenience narrative isn’t plausible in light of the ease and convenience of divorce laws.  Lily Everett’s Shoreline Drive, second in her Sanctuary Island series, stands or falls on the believability, the plausibility of her use of this trope.  Miss Bates read and enjoyed the first in the series, Sanctuary Island, but what was good in the latter is not echoed in the former.  While the premise for Sanctuary Island was convincing, there be misgivings about Shoreline Drive. Continue reading

REVIEW: Mary Ann Rivers’ LIVE, Or “Sweet For Salt” Time After Time

Live“Had we but world enough and time,/This coyness, lady, were no crime … Let us roll all our strength and all/Our sweetness up into one ball,/And tear our pleasures with rough strife/Through the iron gates of life:/Thus, though we cannot make our sun/Stand still, yet we will make him run.”  The poet, with an opening that warns of choices unmade, opportunities unseized, urges his love, his “mistress,” to make love, to love, to seize this moment right now, right here; for life and love are fleeting.  Carpe diem, LIVE, for tomorrow we may die.  Thus begins and ends one of Miss Bates’s favourite poems, Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” with its resignation to life’s ephemerality, “time’s wingèd chariot,” and in that urgency, that reminder of loss, its beauty.  Reading Mary Ann Rivers’ Live, first in The Burnside Series, Miss Bates remembered and thought about this beloved poem because Rivers’ novel calls up those questions and ends up in the same place: on time’s precipice where we dwell and make our lives.  Rivers’ has written a remarkable romance novel: beautifully, if obliquely, written; tormented as only youth can be; serious as only the un-ironic are; unabashed; explicitly sexual; yet, austere.  Continue reading; Miss Bates hopes she does this one justice

REVIEW For TBR Challenge: Betty Neels’ MAKING SURE OF SARAH, Or Whatever Happened To Spine and Sense?

Making Sure of SarahReading Betty Neels’ “Making Sure Of Sarah” made Miss Bates sad.  Everything vibrant and quirky is sucked out of Neels and all that’s left is a deflated balloon, forlornly, droopingly, valiantly swaying in the breeze.  Neels’ voice is tired in “Making Sure of Sarah,” even if there are moments, paragraphs, phrases, passages when her light shines; for the most part, though, the sun is waning on her talent.  Miss Bates has announced her Neelsian love loud and clear; she cannot say this novella gave her that old Neelsian thrill.  The signature robustness of hero and heroine is etiolated: the Minerva/Diana of Augusta has given way to a will-o’-the-wisp; the officiousness, presence, and mystery of Contantijn has surrendered to a softer, less imposing, more conceding giant; maybe more considerate and likeable to our contemporary sensibilities, but not half as deliciously maddening?  To Miss Bates, Neels’ heart wasn’t in it any more. Continue reading

REVIEW: Toni Anderson’s DARK WATERS and Still, Run Deep

Dark WatersToni Anderson’s Dark Waters is a contemporary romantic suspense novel that took Miss Bates by surprise. She plunged into it without any hope that it would prove more than mediocre. Well, lo and behold, she enjoyed it: agonized over the knuckle-biting bits, cringed at the violence, rooted for the hero and heroine, and basked in the beautiful Canadian West Coast setting. The beauty and danger in nature serve Brent and Anna’s story in a compelling way: adding a twist of what Miss Bates calls “nature-gothic,” whereby natural surroundings support the suspenseful and danger-filled atmosphere. In this case, murky and dangerous water imagery makes this stomach-tightening tale all the more moody and ominous. This is not a ground-breaking book by any means, and it suffers from some typical criticisms leveled against the romantic suspense sub-genre, but Miss Bates would still heartily urge you to read it for the sheer enjoyment of a roller-coaster ride of a thriller and love story well-told.  Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’s thoughts