Liz Talley’s Perfectly Charming is her second Montlake-published Morning Glory novel. Talley used to write great Super-romance for Harlequin. While Miss Bates loved Talley’s Harlequin work, the first Morning Glory, Mississippi, novel was shrug-worthy. But Talley is a strong enough writer to convince MissB. to give the series another try. The series premise is an interesting, though conventional one. Three childhood friends lose #4 in their tight, supportive circle to cancer. Lucy leaves a charm bracelet and wish for each with enough money attached that each heroine can have an adventure, take a chance, and make a change in her life. When her life has taken its turn, she passes the bracelet on. Jessica Culpepper, Perfectly Charming‘s heroine, has already had her life turned upside down when the novel opens. Her “American Dream” existence, the cheerleader who married the wealthy high school football star and had a white-picket fence life, ended in divorce when Benton slept with the florist and told Jess their marriage no longer fulfilled him. Jess’s world crashed, but Lucy’s legacy allows her to leave her loving Morning Glory family and friends, to take a nursing job in Pensacola. Now a year after the divorce, Jess has healed and Florida is the final step in making her psychic cure complete. Continue reading
As you may already know, Miss Bates is a great fan of Christmas-set romances. She anticipates them annually, with much love for publishers’ covers going all out on snow, tinsel, sparkly trees and eggnog-sipping lovers. Romance writers offer a plethora of love in the snow, under the tree, and on the slopes. But there is no romance as good as the one when our couple is snowed in. One of Miss Bates’s favourite Christmas titles is a snowed-in-closed-cabin joy (actually a truck bed, but you’ll have to read it to find out), category romance Kathleen Creighton’s One Christmas Knight. One of Miss Bates’s favourite historical Christmas romances is Lauren Willig’s The Mischief Of the Mistletoe, with its projectile Christmas pudding as THE key plot point and one of the most endearing heroes ever written. Miss B. has written of her great Christmas romance loves before and won’t bore you, dear reader, with more. Well, maybe one, because it’s a recent addition and deserving of praise: Kat Latham’s Three Nights Before Christmas. This year, MissB’s inaugural Christmas romance post is classic vintage rom, Betty Neels’s The Fifth Day Of Christmas. Because if The Divine Betty can do ordinary days well, with such warmth and wit, what will she do with Christmas!!?? Continue reading
Candace 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.
“The choppers appeared just after the sun.”
Human beings make sense of experience’s ephemerality by embodying it in art. Maya Lin’s controversial Vietnam Veterans War Memorial was/is integral to healing war’s wounds. It offers solace and remembrance as vets and families, foreigners and natives, bring offerings of flowers, pictures, etc., touch, wonder, and heal as they meditate on the war’s wastes and ravages (war is a universal experience, is it not?). Yusef Komunyakaa’s Vietnam-War-Memorial-set poem, “Facing It” also embodies the war, recounting a vet’s turbulent, ambivalent emotions as he touches and is reflected in the wall, naming loss, anger, and the ever-present American tragedy of race. (Don’t read this humble post, but read and listen to the poem as linked. It’s powerful.) The humble romance genre offers its embodiment in Kathleen Korbel’s A Soldier’s Heart (1994). The novel’s opening line is the prologue’s introduction to nurse Claire Henderson, who held dying Marine Tony Riordan and willed him to live. Twenty-three years later, Tony’s final act of putting his war wounds to rest, psychic where physical are long-healed, is to seek, find, and thank Claire. What he finds in her haunted eyes is the confusion, guilt, and self-destructive impulses of his own struggle with PTSD. Continue reading
Miss Bates is peeved by the claim, and many readers make it sheepishly eyes downcast, that romance fiction is “a comfort read.” It may very well be, and she’s happy if enjoyed as such, but it’s often used to diminish the genre. She applauds rom writers, like Molly O’Keefe, who make reading romance anything but, who make the reader work to earn that HEA (and why O’Keefe runs the risk of making it meh-anti-climactic). It’s great that romance can be visceral and uncomfortable and we have O’Keefe, and others in her company (Cecilia Grant, Victoria Dahl are two who come to mind) who offer this reader experience couched in the “pretty and titillating” many readers who don’t read romance accuse the genre of being. Convincing them otherwise? That ship sailed with the Pinta and Santa Maria for Miss Bates. Second in the Into the Wild historical romance series, Tempted, like its predecessor, Seduced, proves a fine punch to the reader-gut, tackling how the horrors of war inflict psychic wounds on men and women, obstructing and obscuring intimacy and love. Continue reading
Miss 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
If there’s one thing grown ubiquitous in the past five years in the genre, it’s the small-town romance. Beth Andrews’ fourth title in the “In Shady Grove,” Pennsylvania, series stands for the very idea behind the small-town romance. If urban dwellers leave big-lights, big-city behind, with its rat race, stress, temptations, and sped up lives where we lose sight of our humanity, to return to a smaller world, communities where everyone knows you and you know everyone, our lives will somehow be redeemed. As the hero of Small-Town Redemption suggests, less than a year in Shady Grove and he’s turned into a “boy scout.” The refuge that the small-town purports to offer is a venue by which life is renewed and made better, more human, less overwhelming, where a person can belong by laying down roots and participating in the life of the community, where the community gives the heroine and hero the perfect matrix, ultimately, to live a more sedate pace and bring up children. How accurate is this picture? Not terribly, but it is a powerfully attractive one. What is interesting about Andrews’ romance novel is that the small town promise of redemption figures next to … not at all. It is a novel devoid of a strong sense of place, focussed as it is on tormented hero, Kane Bartasavich, and paragon of virtue and compassion, heroine Charlotte Ellison. The town figures only as a foil for the hero to reject his dissipated Houston past. If this were a historical romance novel, Kane would be an intemperate rake and Charlotte, the sensible, loving, plain virgin-heroine who leads him to the promised land of virtuous family life in the country. In Miss Bates’ opinion, too many romance novels laud and advance the idea that couplehood and family life are defined by a withdrawal from society to a domestic enclave. Andrews’ novel is a romance heavily invested in characterization, not setting. It was a solid read; Miss Bates enjoyed it. She was, however, frustrated with it as well. Continue reading
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
Miss 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
Melinda Curtis’s Summer Kisses is the second romance that Miss Bates has read from Harlequin’s Heartwarming line. If this and Sinara’s The Promise of Rain are the standard, the line offers some fine stories. If Harlequin’s “Writing Guidelines” are anything to go by, “wholesome contemporary romances that celebrate traditional values, strong communities, family connections, and true love” (Oxford comma is Miss Bates’s), this would not be to Miss Bates’s taste. Yet, she very much enjoyed Sinara’s and Curtis’s novels. Of the two, Sinara’s is the more technically perfect: the writing is smoother; the characterization, more consistent; the structure, tighter; but Curtis’s novel is strong, interesting … flawed, but definitely worth reading. Truth be told, Harlequin’s descriptor brings on fear of the insipid; however, these titles were engaging, portrayed believable dilemmas and difficulties, gave us intelligent heroes and heroines, complex family connections, and communities that were less cutesy than many small-town contemporary romances. Thus far, Heartwarmings are like Superromances sans nooky. They are also akin to the contemporary Inspired line without the prissiness or de rigueur conversions. (Curtis’s romance narrative brought to mind O’Keefe’s “Notorious O’Neills” trilogy, a category favourite of Miss Bates’s.) Continue reading