I’m not certain what possessed me to want to read Fiona Davis’s The Masterpiece, other than a yen to leave the familiar reader-world of genre fiction for a while. Romance and mystery fiction are like comfortable only-at-home pants and sweatshirt. I ease into them and enjoy their sense of familiarity; on occasion, they also stifle. I need “something else,” so I venture into other reading territory. As a result I’ve read some remarkable non-fiction, Philippe Sands’s East West Street, the overhyped Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, or left-me-agog Yuval Harari’s Sapiens. This time around, I went for historical fiction, that in retrospect, has a great dose of women’s fiction to it (cue moue of disappointment) Fiona Davis’s The Masterpiece. I love all things art and museums and thought this might be the thing to refresh my romance-murder-mystery-reading malaise. Written in third-person POV, The Masterpiece tells the story of two women, very much of their time and circumstance, 1920s-30s illustrator Clara Darden and 1970s breast cancer survivor, newly divorced Virginia Clay. The main character, however, is NYC’s Grand Central Terminal, its fortunes and misfortunes, its acme and nadir, its glory, dereliction, and resurrection. Of all the novel’s elements, I liked the building and Virginia the best.
I admit I was very curious to try a Jenny Holiday’s romance, after hearing Twitter-praise amidst murmurs of rom-com … BUT, I’m not a rom-com fan. Sex and the City is puerile (Holiday takes a sentimental nod to it here). I like some gravitas to my roms; I like wit, but not humour. With lawyer (*moue of disappointment*) romantic leads, Holiday had several prejudicial strikes against her. Add protagonists who watch baseball over hockey (even though, as a Toronto-set romance, *shudders* that would mean Leafs), I can’t really say I was disposed to love this. I’m also not a fan of wedding settings, especially contemporary wedding settings, with their propensity for destination, vineyards, officiates in place of synagogues, rabbis, priests, and churches, imams and mosques. I sound like a cranky, old lady, but I might as well own it and enjoy it. It’s my crank and I’ll cackle and snark if I want to. So, the series premise: weddings of (best) friends, wedding planning, brides and maidens of honour, dress disasters, bachelor and bachelorette parties. In the case of series novel #2, It Takes Two, the heroine is Wendy Liu, best friend to bride Jane. The hero? The bride’s brother, Noah Denning, the guy who took care of Wendy when her father died, the guy Wendy’s been sparring with for years … and the guy who also stood her up at the high school prom. Continue reading
The day-job ate all of MissB’s reading time in the past few weeks. She greatly missed writing her blog and is so happy to be back this week with a review of Ruthie Knox’s Madly. Hopefully, a two-week hiatus won’t be repeated.
Truth be told, part of it was work and part of it was MissB trying to get through Knox’s long-anticipated return to romance with New York #2, Madly. And, it is “mad,” a wildly unhappy, chaotic romance about Allie Fredericks (Truly‘s heroine’s, May’s, baby sister) and Winston Chamberlain (About Last Night‘s hero’s, Nev’s, older brother). Madly is one of the most fraught romances Miss Bates has ever read (barring Judith Ivory’s Beast, which MissB. loathed) and she struggled to get through it. Continue reading
Much as Miss Bates loves the HP line, she’s never been much for the connected HP-series. A few years ago, the line went with a crud-awful interconnected hotel-setting series and it was ugh. So MissB. was leery of trying another one in this “Di Sione” series, but, hey, Jennifer Hayward! woot!, one of the more original, more interesting HP writers (her The Italian’s Deal For I Do one of MissB’s favourite HPs EVAH). The past few books have never reached The Italian’s Deal‘s heights, but they’ve consistently been well-written and absent of the insane WTF-ery that distinguishes the line. Hayward seems to like the idea of the “deal” as a romantic premise, essentially the opening to a good ole marriage-of-convenience romance narrative, in this case, a marriage-deal for Nate Brunswick and Mina Mastrantino. The product of Benito Di Sione’s affair with his secretary, Nate has a huge-o-rama shoulder chip about his illegitimacy, place in the Di Sione family, except in his relationship with his paternal grand-father, Giovanni, his eschewing of marriage and anything that says “feels”. When Nate was a teen, Giovanni gave him a place at the family-company-table, thus saving him from a life on the streets. Now that Nate’s created and expanded his personal fortune as well as the family one, he wants to give dying, fragile Giovanni the gift of the “Di Sione ring,” which seems to have a mysterious special significance for Giovanni. In one of Nate’s Palermo hotels, he meets an adorably curvy, tiny chambermaid who, it turns out, is none other than the possessor of the precious ring.
Now that Miss Bates has read her second Michelle Smart romance, she can say that Smart is writing some awfully interesting HPs. Plot- and convention-wise, her roms are made of melodrama and hyperbole, but they’re also wonderfully tongue-in-cheek aware of the HP’s tropes. In Married For the Greek’s Convenience, melodrama and hyperbole come in the form of the novel’s premise and hero’s and heroine’s fraught families. Elizabeth Young and Xander Trakas met, wooed, wedded, and consummated their love as just-past-teens ten years ago from the story’s opening. When it opens, bitterness reigns, especially for Elizabeth. Mere days after their Caribbean-beach wedding, Xander abandoned Elizabeth (ostensibly because he cared about her and was protecting her) and asked her to ensure their marriage was annulled. Now Xander needs Elizabeth. Firstly, he recently discovered the judge never confirmed the annulment. Secondly, he needs a “convenient” wife to present a respectable front to a judge who will decide whether he can retain temporary custody of Loukas, his eight-year-old nephew, while his brother and sister-in-law are recovering from addictions, so severe that SIL needs a liver transplant. Wow. Moreover, the people vying for Loukas’s custody? His cold-hearted, avaricious, negligent parents. Xander’s mother makes Cruella de Vil look like Florence Nightingale. Continue reading
Last year, Miss Bates named Liz Talley’s Sweet-Talking Man one of her best 2015 roms. And even though Talley has left behind Miss Bates’s beloved category, the Superromance, Miss B. followed her to a new publisher hoping for the same blend of humour, realistic characterization, and love coming at the hero and heroine from unexpected places. Talley has a real talent for creating heroes who’ve been hurt by a past love, without turning alpha or cold. They’re vulnerable and a little lost in affairs of the heart, susceptible to too easily falling for a girl again. Her heroines are no wilting southern belles, though they retain a kind of genteel naïveté. Then, they surprise you, with earthiness and a plunge into free-spiritedness and their discovery of possessing an independent self, free from familial and social constraints. Charmingly Yours contains these elements and new ones. Unlike the realistic superromance, Charmingly Yours has a definite women’s fic woo-woo vibe. Rosemary Reynolds of Morning Glory, Mississippi, and her coterie of besties, mourn the loss of their dear friend, Lacy Guthrie. In true women’s fic woo-woo fashion, Lacy has left a potentially woo-woo object and mission to her friends – a charm bracelet, for which they must each provide a new charm in the pursuit of a mission Lacy set for them. In Rosemary’s case, Lacy exhorted her to have an adventure, to leave behind her staid life and overprotective mother, and do things well-brought-up young southern ladies wouldn’t. Continue reading
Lauren Layne is a new-to-Miss-Bates romance writer. Miss Bates read the third in her New York’s Finest series, Cuff Me, without reading the first two. Miss B. makes two conclusions: one, Layne is a rom-writer she wants to read again; and, two, part of the reason is, though third-in-series, Cuff Me didn’t have that tired-formulaic feel that too many “series” books do. It helped that Cuff Me has one of Miss Bates’s favourite rom-tropes, opposites-attract, especially when the opposites are a grumpy hero and effervescent heroine. Layne’s contemporary romance reminded Miss Bates of Maisey Yates’s Part Time Cowboy, which Miss B. adored. So if you love Yates’s Copper Ridge series, you’re sure to love Cuff Me.
Our curmudgeon-hero is Vincent Moretti, one of the NYPD’s finest homicide detectives, his perfect-solution record testifying to his abilities. His bubbly, tiny, blonde partner is Jill Henley. Together, playing on their bad-cop-good-cop personas, they’ve been getting their man for six years. When the novel opens, Vin is anticipating Jill’s return from Florida, where she’s been taking care of her injured mum. Vin’s restless desire to see Jill again perturbs him. He adorably grunts through a haircut, a further sprucing up at his apartment, and several rides around town trying to find the perfect welcome-home gift. He finally settles on her favourite donut, which he brings in a crumpled paper bag to his family’s celebratory dinner on Jill’s behalf. Vin’s close-mouthed happiness at seeing Jill again is dashed when his brothers and sister Elena, Jill’s BFF, corral him at the door to tell him about Jill’s engagement.
Hmm, Miss Bates had a somewhat bizarro thought after reading Andrea Laurence’s The CEO’s Unexpected Child: can it be that a not-very-good book can’t be discussed without spoilers? Because awfulness lies in the plot dominating, in a bad plot dominating? It struck Miss Bates that she can always discuss a good rom without spoilers. Would love to hear your thoughts on this, dear readers.
Onto to Laurence’s Desire and sifting through Miss Bates’s thoughts. Laurence’s CEO-mystery-mommy-plot-moppet smorgasbord is one of those roms which could’ve been great. The premise is wild (and possibly therein lies some of Miss Bates’s sour-puss face): what happens when an Italian’s CEO’s stored sperm is mixed up and ends up impregnating an IVF-ed woman instead of her husband’s? What happens when said husband dies in a car crash and pregnant lady finds out he was NOT the man she thought him? What happens when ten months later, studly-CEO discovers the fertility clinic’s error and sues new mommy to six-month-old-daughter for shared custody? That, folks, in a nutshell, is Laurence’s premise. When it opens, Luca Moretti, mega-millions CEO of Moretti Family Kitchen, and Claire Douglas confront each other, with their lawyers, across a negotiating table, trying to work out how Luca will play a significant role in his daughter’s, Eva’s, life.
Jennifer Hayward’s Carrying the King’s Pride, first in the Kingdoms and Crowns series, opens with a break-up. ” ‘We should end it now while it’s still good. While we still like each other. So it doesn’t get drawn out and bitter. We did promise ourselves that, after all, didn’t we?’ “, says heroine Sofía Ramirez to lover and hero Prince Nikandros Constantinides. Hmmm … then, they have mind-blowing sex, “exit Sofía”. Whirl-wind sex is followed by a dizzying sequence of events: Nik’s brother dies, father suffers massive heart-attack and Nik’s spare-heir, billionaire-businessman-playboy status goes down like ebbing fireworks. Meanwhile back in Sofía-World, our heroine is working hard at her fashion-design and boutique business and eating A LOT of chocolate. Poof, add a little nausea and Sofía is preggers. Little does she know … Nik had her watched all along and knows immediately when she sees a doctor to confirm the pregnancy. He flies back to Manhattan and scoops her away to his Akathinian island-kingdom-paradise. All improbably delicious events and the premise to Hayward’s marriage-of-convenience romance: how can King Nik, though engaged to a Countess whose family’s wealth can save the island-nation, give up his heir? He can’t, of course, but fully expects Sofía to give up her life to marry him. Sofía puts up a feisty fight. Alas, she loves the arrogant ass and wants to have this baby too.
Reading Victoria Dahl’s Taking the Heat means taking the heat. To a love-scene-shy reader like Miss Bates (what else when you’ve lived in a Jane Austen novel?), Dahl’s raw love scenes stand in contradistinction to Miss B’s sensibilities. But Dahl convinces in the best way possible: intelligently, using love scenes to reveal character, show growth, and develop a relationship from superficial fun to emotional stakes that come with vulnerability and openness to the Other. Taking the Heat follows from the thematic concerns we saw Dahl work through in the novel that precedes it in the Girls Night Out series, Flirting With Disaster.
Taking the Heat picks up on the woebegone friend of Isabelle and Lauren, Veronica Chandler, a mysterious young women, déprimée, dominated by her powerful, indifferent-to-her judge father, and difficult to know. But Isabelle and company befriend her and bring her along on their girls night outs. Getting to know Veronica is one of the pleasures of Taking the Heat: she’s an endearing heroine. She’s funny, kind, and intuitively smart, which serve her well because she’s “Dear Veronica,” the local rag’s advice columnist. When we meet her, her publisher-editor has talked her into a stint at the local bar where she’ll pull Dear Veronica letters out of a fishbowl to respond to as bar patrons listen. She’s terrified and, as we soon learn, feels a fraud. Veronica Chandler is a girl living a lie: she dispenses advice like a pharmacist eking out pastilles, but she’s a virgin whose dream of big lights big city ended in failure. She returned to Jackson, Wyoming, needing her father’s help to find work and a place to live. Much of the novel’s success lies in witnessing Veronica’s emergence into strength and confidence without losing her generous heart. Our Veronica-butterfly comes forth from the chrysalis of her encounters with Gabe Mackenzie, librarian, rock climber, search-and-rescue officer, looker and lover extraordinaire. Continue reading