Dear friends and readers, another year with Miss Bates in the waning light of blogs everywhere. Romance review blogging has given way to Twitter, #bookstagram, etc. and you can find me there, as well as Goodreads and Netgalley, if that’s where you get your reviews. The new and shiny is always a temptation, but I happen to think that the best engagement for reading books is writing about them. So I shall continue to do so. Thank you for reading, commenting, and plain old sticking by me and whatever idiosyncratic reading thoughts and opinions I throw your way. I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, prosperous, inspired and inspiring 2019 and oodles of wonderful books.
I had a great reading year, exceeding my Goodreads goal of a hundred books. I enjoyed many romance novels this year and expanded my non-fiction reading to balance out the HEAs. Below are the best books I read in 2018. I started this post on the first of 2018 and it blossomed with many-a-title till December 31st. It originally had over 30 “favourite” titles. My criteria for the final twelve that follow was simple: if I could vividly remember scenes, ideas, characters, or atmosphere, then it merited inclusion. If the book was “great” at the time of reading but faded over time, well then, it was excised. I hope to articulate, with a few lines for each, what stayed, lingered, and impressed me … strictly from memory, so these will be, at best, impressionistic “reviews”. Continue reading
So Nicole Helm takes her place with Maisey Yates in the I-read-all-their-books category of my romance reading. And even though I was feeling surfeited? satiated? on Yates-Helm, I can’t resist those Harq romantic suspense covers. It’s too bad that lanky, near-clean-shaven, moderately-good-looking dude on the cover has nothing to do with one of the most marvelous romance heroes I’ve read in ages. Grady Carson is HUGE, broad, bearded, rough, a saloon-owner with dubious liquor-selling practices, who gets mixed up with the straight-and-narrow town deputy, Lauren Delaney. As it turns out the Carsons and Delaneys have been harboring a feud in Bent, Wyoming, that makes Capulets and Montagues, Hatfields and McCoys, look like spats. Enter one dead cousin, Jason Delaney and a half-brother suspect, Clint Danvers, and Deputy Delaney and saloon, “Rightful Claim”, proprietor, work together and argue and fight their attraction to find the culprit in Laurel’s case and exonerate baby bro in Grady’s case. All pretty standard RS stuff and ho-hum, so what makes this great?
After nearly a month of reading Harari’s 21 Lessons, I sure needed a heavy romance dose. Who better than Nicole Helm to provide an antidote to Harari’s intellectual harshness? Why Helm? There are romance writers who love romance and that comes through in their writing, say Mary Balogh, the romance classicist, or the contemporary Lucy Parker. Then, there are romance writers who believe in romance and one of those is Helm. Another is her sister-in-writing, Maisey Yates. There’s a genuine belief in their stories as being tangible, possible, and attainable outside the pages of a book, no matter how idealized their characters. Though I’d recently read and reviewed a Helm romance, I knew she was going to cleanse the reading palate: Harari was nice, like having an exotic meal once in a while, or eating on vacay what you wouldn’t at home. But I was ready for my usual fare and enjoyed every but five minutes of it (more of that later).
I don’t know that you can really trust my review: maybe it’s too coloured by my relief and happiness at reading a hopeful book? I wanted the whole deal, a romance, yes, and one set during Christmas, with a Christmas “deal” of friends-with-benefits between what have been two antagonists through the first two books in Helm’s Navy SEAL Cowboys series – WOW, bring it on. Continue reading
We meet Cora Preston, the heroine of Nicole Helm’s A Nice Day For A Cowboy Wedding, as she comes into her own: “She was reaching for the stars now, or maybe those snow-peaked mountains. Strong, immovable, and majestic.” Five years ago, Cora and her then seven-year-old, Micah, lived with an abusive husband and father. When Stephen threatened Micah rather than her, Cora divorced him, got full custody of Micah and a restraining order. In the intervening years, Cora and Micah moved to small-town Gracely to live with Lilly, her sister. They’ve been difficult, growing-pain years, but the movement has been forward and positive. Cora and Micah are forging a new life. Cora’s gleaned herself off of total dependence on her older sister, is living on her own with her son, and partnering with Lilly to launch a wedding-planning business. More importantly, she and Micah’s therapy, while a work in progress, is helping them cope with the day-to-day. Micah is showing signs of teen-age rebellion and sullenness, but Cora is mothering more than being mothered. Micah is in baseball day-camp and Cora on her way to her first wedding plan client, Deb Tyler of Tyler Ranch. Cora is a vulnerable heroine, but determined to succeed and do right by her son. I liked her from the get-go.
Nicole Helm’s Navy SEAL Cowboys series builds a world of hope and love for broken people. It is no wonder that its geographic setting, fictional “Blue Valley” Montana, is a land of sky, mountain, and range, a world the noise of urban life, or the bombs of deserts far away haven’t touched. Except they have. By war and those who’ve returned from it, broken in spirit and body. Helm’s heroes are men who served in Afghanistan and were injured externally and internally, when one of the them, the ghost who stands sentry to their worst memories and their best (because they cared so much for one another), Geiger. But they are now in Montana, Alex Maguire, Jack Armstrong, and Gabe Cortez, to bring renewed life and hope to broken vets at their aptly-named Revival Ranch. Helm’s heroines are often survivors of domestic wars, now grown women who knew a childhood of abuse, fear, and neglect. Helm brings the broken man and woman together so they can build a new life. Sex doesn’t have the answers (though there’s that too and it’s good), romance doesn’t (though candles are lit and flowers are bought), but healing comes through therapy, talking to each other, striving for understanding, and being honest with, and true to, oneself. Like her obvious professional buddy Maisey Yates, Helm writes to her own tune of redemptive love, through confession (secular and personal), connection, and creating bonds with others, rather than breaking or avoiding them. To reach this point, however, hero and heroine must go through an agon of being broken open and exposed.
I never knew I was a fan of the tropish goodness of a marriage-in-trouble romance until I read Nicole Helm’s Bride For Keeps. It’s not that I avoided the trope, it’s just not one that’s done often, or at least favoured by the authors I tend to read. One of my earliest reviews was of Ruthie Knox’s marriage-in-trouble novella, “Making It Last.” There was an edge to Knox, an anger, that made the marriage compromise, no matter how cheerfully I tried to review it at the time, about diminishing the hero and heroine. This is not the case for Helm’s category-length romance.
Bride For Keeps opens with a family bombshell for the hero: the diagnosis of his father’s MS accompanied by the revelation that he is the product of his mother’s affair. Dr. Carter McArthur is floored: he has striven to be the perfect son, to stand in his father’s medical and community footsteps, giant, important, arrogant footsteps. His one rebellion, his one out-of-perfection decision was to marry wild-child Sierra Shuller. Continue reading
Nicole Helm’s Cowboy Seal Homecoming gave me exactly what I was looking for: Helm’s brand of emotional honesty, quirky animals, uber-masculine heroes whose mission is to set the world aright, heroines who call them on their bullshit and yet don’t shame them for their vulnerabilities, and a beautifully -rendered rural setting, in this case, rancher-country Montana. Honorably discharged wounded warrior hero Alex Maguire comes home to his deceased father’s ranch. He claims an inheritance he shares with heroine Becca Denton, who found, in Burt Maguire’s ranch, a home and father. Now, she’s invited her stranger stepbrother to share in a joint project, creating a therapeutic ranch for war veterans like Alex and the two buddies (sequel-bait!) he brings along on his and Becca’s venture, Jack Armstrong and Gabe Cortez. As far as the romance’s outer trappings are concerned, originality isn’t what makes them up. But then, what romance’s tropes, trappings, and narrative structure do that? The romance’s attraction lies in all the ways the story can be told of how two alone become one united and fulfilled. Continue reading
Nicole Helm’s Need You Now, first in the “Mile High Romance” series, at first appeared to be run-of-the-mill, contemporary, small-town romance, but proved more complex and interesting. Nevertheless, its opening wasn’t auspicious, with a scene of rugged he-men ribbing each other and indulging in scared-of-deep-communication man-talk. Ugh. Usually, in contemporary romance, these bros are, well, bros, or best friends, or business partners. In Need You Now, they are bearded, handsome “lumbersexuals”. Two are brothers, the hero Brandon, and his twin, Will, and their friend and business partner, Sam. They operate an “outdoor adventure excursion company,” Mile High, in the Colorado mountains, near the fictional town of Gracely. With much manly teasing, the jokester Will informs his austere, a polite way of saying “grumpy”, brother Brandon that they’ve hired a PR consultant to help promote their business, cue one cute heroine, Lilly Preston, freshly arrived from Denver. Lilly shows up, sparks fly, angst follows, much banter, and yet care, affection, and friendship grow, one glorious sexy time follows, then, a terrible sundering of the relationship and, the rest, as we say in the genre, is HEA. Continue reading
Nicole Helm’s True-Blue Cowboy Christmas is the third and final volume of her Montana-set Big Sky Cowboys series. Miss Bates enjoyed the series’s combination of humour, angst, strained family dynamics, and theme of love’s healing, reconciling power. And when it comes wrapped in a Christmas-set romance narrative, all the better! One of the thematic aspects Miss B. enjoyed the most about Helm’s series is her creation of characters at a crossroads. Helm’s MCs come from difficult places, with pasts that hurt and thwart. When we meet them, they’re caught between a crippling past and the glimmer of breaking free of it, with the help of the transformative experience of love. Breaking out of old psychological habits and personal-history constraints is painful, like giving birth, but the potential rewards are great: the promise of living a better, different way is too potent and our protagonists too honest, desirous of it, and good, to forego the opportunity. Continue reading
Ever since she was a tween, Miss Bates has loved the film version of Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Miss Bates cannot resist the ethereally beautiful, vulnerable Audrey Hepburn or poignant Golden-Boy George Peppard. What Blake Edwards made of Capote’s novella is pure romance genre. More than anything, Miss Bates loved watching two morally compromised characters find love. They are, of course, morally compromised in their eyes, not the viewers’. Their growing love helps them re-evaluate who they are, see themselves in a better light, and give themselves what they deserve: love and belonging. In Nicole Helm’s Outlaw Cowboy, second in the Big Sky Cowboys series, Miss B. found just that, a viscerally satisfying romance about two people who are hardest on themselves emerging out of their dark nights of solitude to love, connection, family, and hope. Caleb Shaw is Mel Shaw’s brother; Mel is the heroine of Helm’s first romance in the series, Rebel Cowboy. That novel opened with Mel’s struggles to keep the Montana family ranch afloat. Bro’s on the bottle and father, paralyzed in an accident five years ago, has given up, checked out, and broods throughout the family home. When Outlaw Cowboy opens, baby bro Caleb has taken the ranch reins. He stopped drinking and desperately wants to retain ownership of the family land. Caleb is haunted by his mother’s abandonment and one terrible night he almost beat a man to death when he saw him holding a gun to his daughter’s head.