REVIEW: Amy Andrews’s SWEPT AWAY BY THE SEDUCTIVE STRANGER

Swept_Away_By_The_Seductive_StrangerMiss Bates has been reading rom long enough, ten years to date, that it’s harder and harder to find a new-to-her category author (category being her primary romance consumption). BUT Amy Andrews is new to Miss Bates and she’s sorry she took as long as she did to read her. There was much to like about Andrews’s Swept Away By The Seductive Stranger and the title wasn’t it. The characters, their conflicts, inner and outer, the setting, and their surprisingly honest and realistic romance were.

Nurse Felicity Mitchell is fulfilling the dream of a life-time riding the Indian-Pacific rail to Adelaide when she meets and is attracted to Callum Hollingsworth. Though neither are one-night-stand aficionados, their overwhelming attraction, during dinner with the retirees they share the train with, it appears will lead them to share their deliciously cramped overnight berths. A medical emergency puts a stop to their soon-to-be-tryst and reveals their respective professions as nurse and doctor, respectively. Nevertheless, the post-adrenaline restlessness following the medical emergency’s resolution has them share a night of never-to-be-repeated passion between “strangers on a train”. With the inevitable hokey coincidence of the romance novel plot, it turns out the strangers on the train will soon be co-workers in the clinic, as Callum appears at Nurse Felicity’s Vickers Hill clinic to take over for two months while one of their doctors goes on maternity leave. Continue reading

REVIEW: Candace Calvert’s STEP BY STEP

Step_By_StepCandace Calvert’s contemporary inspirational medical romance Step By Step is second in her Crisis Team series. It is Miss Bates’s first Calvert romance novel and won’t be her last. Whatever liking Miss Bates holds for this title, she acknowledges that the problem with inspirational fiction is its appeal to a niche market. This is problematic when Miss Bates finds an author who merits a wider audience. The dilemma remains, however, because inspie romance, even when it’s as well-written and psychologically nuanced as Calvert’s, contains elements that alienate the general reader.

Calvert’s Step By Step is a second-chance-at-love romance for two widowed protagonists. The wounds are deeper and grieving still fresh for nurse Taylor Cabot: ” … the rings had finally come off, after migrating from her left to her right hand in a painfully slow march through grief – like a turtle navigating broken glass.” Step By Step opens with Taylor and her cousin Aimee watching the San Diego Kidz Kite Festival. A private plane crashes, wreaking havoc and death on festival goers. This disaster scene is one of the “crises” that ER health care workers contend with and are heart-stoppingly described in Calvert’s novel. Taylor rushes to help, abandoning her conversation with Aimee about returning to life and love after grieving her beloved Greg for three years. The transfer of patients to San Diego Hope’s ER reunites Taylor with Seth Donovan, crisis chaplain with California Crisis Care and the man who offered Taylor friendship and compassion when she lost her husband.
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REVIEW: Marion Lennox’s SAVING MADDIE’S BABY

Saving_Maddie's_BabyMarion Lennox sure knows how to put her heroes and heroines in a dangerous pickle. The last Lennox Miss Bates reviewed had a heroine dangling over a ravine. The hero rode in on an SUV to rescue her. In Lennox’s latest, the puerile-ly-titled Saving Maddie’s Baby, Dr. Maddie Haddon, eight months pregnant, is trapped in a mine shaft with an injured miner. She went harrying in to help, with no thought to mine collapses or massive baby belly. It would appear that Lennox, at least on the basis of her last two efforts, does love a TSTL heroine, except the heroine acknowledges she’s TSTL:

Heroes and heroines don’t choose to be brave, Maddie decided. Mostly they have bravery thrust upon them. In her particular case, a heroine was created when vast chunks of rock trapped one doctor in an underground mine, a mine she should never have been near in the first place. This heroine wasn’t brave. This heroine was stupid.

And with that rueful opening, Miss Bates had to forgive the TSTL heroine because she was thoroughly engaged in Lennox’s re-united-husband-and-wife medical romance.
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REVIEW: Marion Lennox’s FROM CHRISTMAS TO FOREVER, Or Through the Tangle to a Happy Ending

From_Xmas_To_ForeverMiss Bates wasn’t enamoured of the first Marion Lennox romance she read, Her Royal Baby. There was something treacly to it, a heroine too good to be believed, a hero so honorable under his gruff exterior, he makes Capt. von Trapp look like a debauché. But something happened when she read Lennox’s latest, From Christmas To Forever. The elements that irritated suddenly charmed, the syrup goo-y sweetness moved. And Miss Bates lost her Lennox side-eye. Sometime it takes a while to “get” a writer (and sometimes, one never does … delegating said to the heap of “I tried, but she doesn’t work for me.”): to learn to appreciate her thematic concerns, understand her choice of narrative threads, her particular take on the classic romance narrative of encounter/attraction-repulsion/consummation/disintegration, and reconciliation. Lennox clicked for Miss Bates when she saw Lennox as a contemporary Carla Kelly, a Kelly transplanted to a contemporary Australian-set romance. Like Kelly, we find the officiously caring hero, slightly broken but eager to do good in the world heroine, and thematic concern with service and love making for the happiest couples. Continue reading

Exorcising DNFs: #2

Writing her first DNF round-up post was cathartic for Miss Bates. She didn’t exactly enjoy discarding some TBR titles. But she didn’t want to “dismiss” them either. She just didn’t think she’d be back with another so soon. Articulating why a book left her cold, as she wrote in her previous DNF post, is as revealing, hopefully, and interesting, as why it did. Here are some more romance novels that didn’t work for Miss Bates and reasons why not. Every time Miss Bates writes one of these posts (and they are sorta fun to write), she feels like she should break out into an Adele song, setting fire to rain … Continue reading

REVIEW: Elizabeth Camden’s WITH EVERY BREATH

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Attractive cover!

Miss Bates anticipates an Elizabeth Camden novel. She appreciated Camden’s previous novel, Into the Whirlwind. Since then, she follows Camden into her inspirational-lite, historical bent because Camden is a writer with ideas. Into the Whirlwind had grand sweep and great drama in its setting, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Camden is a thoughtful writer who considers context and a story to tell about how historical circumstances affect individual lives, important. She researches carefully and conveys time, place, and the concerns of ordinary people living in that time with skill and sensitivity. Miss Bates lays, however, the same caveats at With Every Breath as she did Into the Whirlwind. Those shortcomings are more apparent in the former. Set in the fictional Washington Memorial Hospital in 1891 Washington D. C., Camden tells the story of Dr. Trevor M. Kendall, tuberculosis specialist and researcher, and his statistician assistant, Kate Livingston, as they battle to cure a deadly and widespread disease. What a compelling idea for the background to a romance, thought Miss Bates, how unique and interesting. Moreover, how inspiring to have a mathematician heroine! Camden’s novel offers all this in concept, but suffers somewhat in execution. Continue reading

Betty Neels’ FATE IS REMARKABLE: The Permanence of Beautiful Things and Places

Fate_Is_Remarkable_2007Miss Bates is going to make wild and wooly assumptions about Betty Neels. Her 1971 Fate Is Remarkable will be the ground in which Miss Bates will sow outlandish seeds by saying that Neels’ romances can be read as historical romances in disguise, or at least that Neels was NOT interested in telling a romance of her day. This is not unique to Miss B. Liz from Something More said that Neels’ romances are set in a post-WWII England, rather than the 1970s, 80s, and 90s in which Neels wrote. As long as one is willing to suspend one’s disbelief and replace a fast car with a fast curricle, then they may as well be set in the Regency Era as well. This comes through in Neels’ to-some-tedious, detailed descriptions of interiors and architecture. Miss Bates eats them up … along with any references to clothes, food, or gifts, as she’s written about before. Neels often fails in incorporating details from the time and place in which she actually wrote. In Fate Is Remarkable, for example, there are references to awkward cigarette moments, which Sarah, the heroine, dismisses with a titter. Hugo, the hero, smokes a pipe, like a good Victorian gentleman. There are a few telephone conversations, but one knows that Hugo and Sarah would rather correspond. As a matter of fact, more often than not, their day begins with the post. Neels is good on sleek cars, but even those are the kind that last forever, that go from showroom to vintage in a lifetime. Neels’ interiors and her descriptions of furniture and objets d’art are about finding permanence in a changing world. Miss Bates would say that this is her appeal to readers as well. Continue reading

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

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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: Carol Marinelli’s SURGEON IN A TUX And Nurse In A Ballgown

Surgeon_In_A_TuxMiss Bates is not a fan of the workplace romance, especially when the power dynamic between hero and heroine is unequal. She’s looking at you boss-and-secretary trope and you, nurse-and-doctor. It’s “ick.” Except there’s Betty Neels and her doctor/nurse hero and heroine and Miss Bates loves those to pieces. The only hard-and-fast rule in romance is never say never. Surgeon In A Tux did not bode well from the get-go and not only because it’s a boss-and-employee set-up: as Head Nurse Lizzie Birch says of her soon-to-be employer and the novel’s hero: “Leo Hunter was a heartbreaker, surgeon to the stars, irredeemable playboy and, as of Monday, he would also be her boss.” Here we go, thought Miss Bates. Everything in Carol Marinelli’s Surgeon In A Tux started out a total turn-off for Miss Bates: stilted writing, lack of development in the relationship between heroine and hero, neither of whom were terribly likeable and appeared to be cut from some 1950s code of ingenue and man-of-the-world, an episodic at best, disjointed at worst, plot, even the smarmy cover was unappealing … well, lo and behold, did Miss Bates make a complete turn-around on this one. It took For Evah, but this is the beauty of the category, folks, you’ll stick with it because you can see light at tunnel’s end; in this case, it was worth it. The last 30% or so was FANTABULOUS. Is it worth reading for the concluding 30%? Miss Bates says, in this case, it is. Continue reading to find out why

REVIEW: Tina Beckett’s HER HARD-TO-RESIST HUSBAND Is Easy To Resist

Her Hard To Resist HusbandAfter historical romance, Miss Bates loves category.  Ever since she read some of Wendy’s recommendations, she’s found the concentrated-focus-on-the-romance bent of them so satisfying.  And, darn it, Harlequin, though no longer the sole publisher of category-type romance, has such appealing covers that, truth be told, they’ve drawn Miss Bates in.  There are promises in those covers and Miss Bates has stood at the bookstore till hoping they’ll bear fruit.  Many times they have: she’s loved many a category romance and counts Sarah Mayberry as one of her favourite romance writers, followed by Molly O’Keefe, Karina Bliss, Donna Alward, Liz Fielding, Jessica Hart, and the beloved Betty Neels, of course.  She’s loved the HP line (she’s looking at you, Sarah Morgan and Kelly Hunter) with a love that is matched only by her love for funky shoes and frothy coffees.   With so many lines and volumes appearing monthly, however, quality can vary … and Tina Beckett’s Her Hard To Resist Husband, with its mouthful of a title, was flawed, not the worst Miss Bates has read, but most definitely not memorable, or interesting, or quirky as category romance can be. Continue reading