Miss Bates reveled in reading Maisey Yates’ Shoulda Been A Cowboy like a piglet in her sty. She loved reading and reviewing Laurie R. King’s Dreaming Spies, but it felt good to put on her romance-reading slippers and settle into her favourite genre. She had a moue of disappointment when she noticed that Yates’ story was a novella – not enough, dammit. But she was also glad to see Yates charm her all over again, after a one-too-many sheikh-set duds. Though only a soupçon of romance reading, Shoulda Been A Cowboy delivered a bad-boy-good-girl-unresolved-HS-attraction-prodigal-son-return romance, all beloved romance tropes. Hero Jake Caldwell returns to his home town, Copper Ridge, Oregon, after a fifteen-year absence, to sell his inheritance, a run-down ranch and a few dilapidated buildings. One of those buildings has been given new life by leasee heroine, Cassie Ventimiglia, who runs a coffee shop on the premises, The Grind, and lives in one of the apartments. Jake and Cassie share a history beyond being from the same town. Cassie tutored Jake when they were in high school together, when he was resident heart-throb and bad boy, his Johnny “Wild One” to her “Kathie.” Continue reading
Reading 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
Miss Bates reiterates that she’s not a fan of romance novellas. They’re often used as a means of “hooking” a reader into a series. Miss Bates dislikes that publishing ploy. However, the two novellas she read amidst merry-making and writing her year-end post were enjoyable, not heart-stoppingly memorable, but a pleasant way to wile away an hour. She didn’t feel manipulated by them; they were genuine. The authors wanted to tell these stories, enjoyed telling them. Weir’s “Geek With the Cat Tattoo” was initially alienating, with its first-person Sam-the-Cat narrator and immature protagonists, but she warmed to it. Denise Hunter’s inspirational, “A December Bride,” caught Miss Bates unawares. She expects inspirational romances to be preachy and smarmy, but it wasn’t. Though truncated and possessed of caricaturish secondary characters, it was kinda sexy. Who’d have thunk it! Continue reading
Miss Bates is not a fan of the workplace romance, but Stacey’s Snowbound With the CEO is both salvaged and marred by its brevity … and it contained elements that helped Miss Bates overlook the office-romance ick-factor. The workplace, especially involving the corporate world, is difficult for Miss Bates to imagine as terribly romantic, with its ladders and ambitions and competition, though she’s aware that many a relationship has had its beginnings over the water-cooler, “statistics prove.” But the corporate world is also the place where women have to work very very hard to earn their place, where they are subject to harassment and discrimination. All of that to say it’s difficult to laud a romance narrative that has its setting in the boardroom and the bedroom. Nevertheless, Stacey pens a fairly appealing little narrative because she makes the boardroom the problematic arena and the bedroom the oh-so-right one. The brevity of the novella form, on the other hand, aids in this and takes away from it. The writerly hand giveth and taketh away. Continue reading for more lauding and caveats
An assumption accompanies a reader cracking open a romance novel: fate brings our hero and heroine together; caprice, human and/or otherwise, pulls them apart … will steers them back to each other. Now Miss Bates is a strictly free-will kind of gal and, even though she hails from an indolently fate-believing culture, she likes to cling to free will as the determinant of human lives. Certainly the romance novel takes this fate into account to our, its faithful readers, satisfaction: think of all the meet-cutes you’ve read, the tumblings into a room, the snow/rain/ice storms that strand strangers, sojourners, lovers or enemies, the circumstances that bring about marriages-of-convenience, the random doors that open onto the rest of a life (Miss Bates’s favourite being the opening scene of Sarah Morgan’s The Twelve Nights of Christmas) that bring our hero and heroine together. We swallow it hook-link-and-sinker, this benevolent force ensuring that kindred spirits (think “carrots” and a boy named Gilbert) meet and mate. However, for an HEA to be complete and satisfactory, the spirits must recognize the kindred in each other and, in an act or acts of transformation and will actively seek and request of the other to join them on life’s journey.
For a bitty novella, Julia London’s The Bridesmaid serves up questions of fate and will and their role in the romance novel and does so with humour and delightful characters in an engaging plot that echoes what we love about romantic comedy. In this modest, in length not scope, novella, London writes a romance and reflects on the genre; it’s not pedantic or self-conscious, but sheer fun. Truth be told, however, there are things that may grate on some readers’ nerves/sensibilities, but Miss Bates is forgiving when a writer tickles both her funny and intellectual bones. Continue reading for Miss Bates’s further ruminations
In the spirit of Disclosure! that has been the subject of an interesting discussion at Something More, Miss Bates confesses to being disposed to like Barry’s Brave In Heart for reasons other than her love of: American-set historical romance, spinster-schoolmarm heroines, military heroes, and Ken Burns’s The Civil War. Ms Barry is a sympathetic and likeable blog presence to Miss Bates, though they’ve never met in person, nor communicated in any other fashion. Frankly, Miss Bates was whew-relieved when Brave In Heart, Barry’s Connecticut-Civil-War-set romance captivated her from the opening sentence … and proved to be without any connection to one of Miss Bates’s most abhorred novels, Gone With the Wind. With only minor bumps along the road to reader-joy, Miss Bates loved Brave In Heart … and, like Oliver Twist, begs for, “Some more, please.” Continue reading for Miss Bates’s thoughts on this wonderful novella
Miss Bates had the privilege and good luck to be able to ask Ms Knox a niggling question about “Making It Last.” It focuses on one of Miss Bates’s favourite lines. The result is that Ms Knox’s answer serves as an interesting counterpoint to Miss Bates’s review and it’s much better written! Read on, if it’s of interest
In Making It Last, Ruthie Knox re-invents one of Miss Bates’s favourite historical romance tropes: the re-united husband and wife. She cleverly separates her lovers/husband-wife not with physical distance, as so often happens in historical romance, but by the emotional distance that comes of a long-standing but floundering marriage. This novella was painful to read in places, but, in the end, it was hopeful and positive. It is all about “making things last” in a marriage: love, attraction, friendship, and desire. It’s about endurance and resilience, even though the hero and heroine are two of the most vulnerable, fragile figures Miss Bates has read in a long time. This is not a romantic narrative to cozy up to; there are uncomfortable feelings here that flow from the characters’ weaknesses to the reader’s, but it is worthy of the reader’s admiration and consideration. Continue reading
Along with the frisson of utter delight that the first commentator (Pamela from Badass Romance) to MBRR gave Miss Bates, in the exchange, she articulated what always pulled at her when she read Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Yes, Jane got her man, a little broken, but she got him; yes, in the end, she was an heiress. Yes, she had her allotted babies, an indication he wasn’t broken where it counted. Jane won her glorious HEA. More than anything, however, in reading Jane, Miss Bates asks: quoting Hamlet (because Shakespeare always says it better) why do we endure “the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes”? Why indeed? Why does Jane endure the nastiness of Rochester’s house-party, the fortune-telling fiasco, Blanche and her mother’s jibes, the horrible aunt and cousins, the evils of Lowood? (To a certain extent because she has to, but let’s not be reductive, Jane never is.) Why do we sob in self-pity when we read these passages and secretly remember every hurt to our self-worth and read on and on even though reading causes us pain? Because at the end of Jane Eyre, at the end of every GREAT romance novel, the heroine (or whoever stands in for the “heroine,” but that’s for another discussion) isn’t just LOVED, SHE IS VINDICATED. Hah, we say, see, she showed them! (The ugly-duckling-fat-girl-awkward-girl-heroine incarnates our vindication fantasy … maybe it’s even sweeter than getting your man, the foiling of the queen bee and bullies?) If you read on, yes, Miss Bates’ll link this inchoate burst to Milan’s novella and more
Miss Bates hasn’t recovered from her snark regarding novellas, so don’t expect her to make nice in this review. Even though The Perks of Being a Beauty is better written and better all-around than The Misbehaving Marquess and Hot Under the Collar, Miss Bates is even less enamoured of the novella than in her previous reviews. Collins is in firm control of the form here; she doesn’t let the plot take over from the romance. She maintains a nice balance of character and narrative. Her transgression comes in the form of backstory; because Perks follows from her Ugly Ducklings series and centres on the bully-girl in those books, she provides a lot of filler to help the reader understand the heroine and how she arrived at this point in her life. After the first few chapters set up the love story, backstory takes over and makes for tedious reading. Therein lies the problem that Miss Bates has discussed before: because these novellas come from an understandable desire to sell an upcoming series or bolster a previous one, authors write them as marketing fodder, which should not diminish what is a pleasant read. So is blanc-mange … and even though Miss Bates is a 19th century spinster who often partakes of blanc-mange, she still prefers a cake-pop.
Amelia Snowe is the mean girl brought low by circumstance and a desire to make amends for her former nastiness. Her mother’s death has left her destitute and debt-ridden, working as a debutante’s companion in the bosom of an up-and-coming nouveau riche family, the Smithsons. Our hero, Quentin Fortescue, younger son of an aristocrat, Amelia’s childhood sweetheart and rejected suitor, reunites with Amelia when he attends the Smithsons’ house-party. Quentin’s addition to the party makes for an odd number of men and Amelia is recruited to “make up the numbers,” much to the chagrin of her haughty and resentful mistress, Mrs. Smithson. When straws are picked for partners in the scavenger hunt, of course Amelia and Quentin are thrown together. Here is another problem that Miss Bates finds with the novella: because length does not allow for a natural development of the romance, coincidence reigns and coincidence does not make for convincing characterization or interesting plot. Expediency seems the best an author can do under the circumstances.
One of the initial strengths of this novella, unfortunately not sustained, is the honest and open conversation between the re-united sweethearts. What is less convincing is the habit of authors, like Collins here, to endow their historical characters with modern sensibilities. Though it’s obvious that Quentin is attracted to her and willing to take up where they left off, Amelia resolves that she doesn’t want him. Let’s be realistic: why would a young woman of straitened circumstances, whose future holds nothing more than a journey from one genteel but menial job to another, reject a young, healthy, handsome and rich man? Though some reviewers have disliked Grant’s upcoming A Woman Entangled for the heroine’s mercenary attitude, it makes perfect sense to Miss Bates, all the more so when one considers her own straitened circumstances and spinster status.
Quentin is a lovely hero, forgiving, generous, and even more possessed of a modern sensibility. He is as much hero as psychologist, nursing Amelia through her self-hatred, even while making love to her (which, by the way, they do without thought for reputation or consequences, such as, well, pregnancy). When Quentin learns of the extent of Amelia’s bullying behaviour, he recognizes how she’s been trying to amend for it through reparation to those she wronged and by being a loving and nurturing companion to her ward. He is a dear when he soothes her self-recrimination thus, ” … you had no one to rely upon. And that made you a little … hard.” In lines such as these, you can see where Collins’s strength lies. Does this novella do it justice?
Miss Bates would say, these snippets of goodness are not enough to render a rating of more than “Tolerable comfort.” Mansfield Park (Collins’s novella is available on June 18, 2013)
As for the novella trend, Miss Bates is not pleased and joins Mr. Knightly in saying, “It was badly done, indeed.” Emma (Miss Bates thanks her readers for their forebearance as she spouted snark regarding novellas. She promises not to repeat the activity, unless you enjoyed it, in which case, let her know. She has plenty snark left over.)
This honest review was made possible thanks to a courtesy ARC from St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley.