Miss Bates loved Emma Barry’s The Easy Part trilogy of political romances. Its trio of committed, intelligent, patriotic couples can serve as an antidote to the awfulness of the present election campaign. If you haven’t, you should read it. Though Barry was tried and true for Miss Bates, she had doubts about Barry’s dual writing effort with Gen Turner. Miss B’s wariness was dispelled with the first title in the Fly Me To the Moon series, Star Dust. Earth Bound‘s hero featured there as the shouting, unsmiling, mean engineer Eugene Parsons. Neither Parsons nor his heroine Dr. Charlie Eason are sunshine and light. Parsons hires Charlie as part of the team trying to beat the Soviets to the moon in 1960s America. As a woman in a man’s world, Barry-Turner make real the viscerally painful experience of being dismissed and overlooked even when you’re the smartest person in the room. Miss Bates felt Charlie’s anger and frustration as she would were she right there being smart and ignored. MissB burned up for Charlie on so many occasions while reading Earth Bound. Navigating the male world while playing the beautiful woman card and hiding your intellectual light is all too familiar to women. Except for demanding, insufferable Eugene, with whom Charlie embarks on an illicit and seemingly sordid, anonymous affair. Only to the hypocrites. Charlie and Eugene may at first only give and take bodily pleasure, but the heart and head of two compatible, beautiful loner-outsiders will have their way.
Sarah M. Anderson’s His Forever Family has a dramatic opening and an intriguing premise. Chicago billionaire hero, Marcus Warren, and his executive assistant, Liberty Reese, are jogging along Lake Michigan. They’re sharing a near-banterish conversation about Marcus’s attendance at his ex-fiancée’s wedding. Liberty is urging him to find a date, then intuiting that he really doesn’t want to attend. Marcus is insistent on attending (because his mommy wants him to) while resisting selecting a date from the list his uber-efficient assistant compiled. He hits on the idea of taking Liberty. The reader senses that Liberty is afraid of Marcus’s social world, but we’re not yet privy to the reasons. Anderson balances witty dialogue with character revelations. We learn that Marcus is nervous about being attacked, distant from his self-serving parents, and yearns for love and belonging. We learn that Liberty’s beginnings are as far removed from her role in Marcus’s world as Lake Michigan is from Alaska. Into this complex little scene, Anderson drops a – BABY! – an abandoned baby, a foundling. Nearing Chicago’s famous Buckingham Fountain, Marcus hears a mewling and notes some strange movement. He drops to his knees, thinking it might be an abandoned kitten. He is shocked to discover ” … an African-American newborn in a shoe box by the trash can.” Liberty to the rescue! She cradles and croons to the baby, cools him off with their water bottles, and evokes warm, fuzzy, protective, and desirable feelings in Marcus.
With a nod of thanks for Willaful who nominated Miss Bates for this challenge. Miss B’s having a blast!
The category romance is the humblest and most succinct manifestation of the romance narrative: the encounter, the attraction/detraction, the separation and dark night of the couple soul, and the grovel and HEA. Category romance distills the romance narrative to its essentials: two people working out, in their relationship, a beloved romance trope. Take, for example, the wondrous Molly O’Keefe contemporary category, His Wife For One Night, a contemporary marriage-of-convenience, so difficult to pull off. And yet, O’Keefe convinces, moves, and engages her reader in Jack and Mia’s story.
Marriage of convenience is a beloved trope for Miss B.: it satisfies her old-fashioned sensibilities for sex within the sanctity of marriage and makes for courtship-within-marriage an interesting narrative twist. And yet, her favourite category romance is built on a hated trope: the office romance. Yuck. Boards and profit margins and pencil skirts just ain’t her thing. Besides, everything that could possibly go wrong with the trope is inherent in it, like power differentials, usually to the detriment of the heroine. But here she is LOVING today’s opening line romance, Jessica Hart’s execrably titled, Promoted to Wife and Mother:
Perdita drummed her fingers on the sleeves of her jacket and tried not to look as if she were sulking.
Jennifer Hayward’s Tempted By Her Billionaire Boss coulda been a dud. The signs: office romance … ick … worldly tycoon-hero and innocent secretary-heroine (hallelujah, not virginal) … ick-compounded by a ten-year age difference between hero and heroine. And yet, it’s not the tropes you’re dealt, but how you play the game. Hayward took on HP-dom’s tried-and-true in the first of her Tenacious Tycoons duet, Tempted By Her Billionaire Boss, and gave them a good twist. When the romance opens, Francesca “Frankie” Masseria, 23 and PA to an automotive company’s VP, Coburn Grant, watches Rocky Balboa, her fish, swim. Like “Rocky,” Frankie and family are an Italian-American success story: her father built a thriving restaurant; her many siblings, from doctor to business owner, flourish; and Frankie used tip money to attend business school and fulfill her dream of working as a PA for a glamorous Manhattan-based corporation. Coburn asks her to fill in for his brother’s pregnant PA. Unlike easygoing Coburn, CEO Harrison Grant is intimidating and demanding. The Grant family, with a congressman grand-father, are American “aristocracy,” but dark struggles haunt them. Harrison and Coburn’s father died in the midst of a gubernatorial run and financial crisis: his sons had to rebuild. Tempted By Her Billionaire Boss is sexy and romantic. However, it’s also about family obligation, the ethics of revenge, and conflict between justice and mercy. Continue reading
Miss Bates knows Nalini Singh as a popular PNR author. Miss Bates doesn’t read PNR – not since she was traumatized by one Blackdagger Brotherhood title she picked up “impulsively” – but Singh’s Slave To Sensation was on AAR’s Top 100 Romance Reads and that left her curious. When it was cheaply available on audio, Miss Bates listened to it in fits and starts – because it bored her silly. The overwrought growly hero and tough-as-nails-but-really-vulnerable heroine – why must PNR heroines sound so pugnacious? – and keeping track of the various groups/packs and other growly males was tedious; she got through it, but doesn’t care to repeat the experience. As a result, she was wary of Singh contemporary romance “Rock Kiss” series, but wanted to give Singh one last try.
Singh’s Rock Hard is light on plot and primarily focussed on the relationship between Gabriel Bishop, former NZ rugby star, and office clerk, though soon promoted to PA, Charlotte Baird. Gabriel is brought in as CEO to save the luxury good store chain Charlotte works for. Gabriel’s specialty is to swoop in and ruthlessly but fairly, bolster failing companies and render them competitive and profitable. He recognizes Charlotte’s superior abilities under her diffident, bespectacled, mousy appearance and ensures she has the company position she fulfilled all along – doing others’ work. As he cuts a swathe through the company, rewarding loyalty, work ethic, and smarts, Charlotte guides and assists him. His attraction to her and hers to him is, of course, immediate and powerful. He recognizes her qualities, but also her “bitable” lips and soft blonde curls. her “pocket Venus” of a bod and beautiful smile. She’s smitten with him as well: his steel-grey eyes, broad shoulders, and sheer hugeness draw her. But something is very wrong in the city of Aukland (which, BTW, sounds magnificent): it’s obvious Charlotte was once hurt and is still traumatized, inspiring Gabriel’s protective instincts. He wants her to open up to him because he’s ready to ensure her safety and love her body and soul. Continue reading
It isn’t revolutionary to say that a writer has a quirk, or propensity that threads throughout her work: a recurring image, character, theme, trope, etc. It identifies her and can be both bane and strength. In Grace Burrowes’ work, it’s the officiously kind hero. When Burrowes’ first two histroms were published, The Heir and The Soldier, Miss Bates, early in her romance reading journey, read them with relish. By the time she read Burrowes‘ seventh Lonely Lord, Andrew, the officiously kind hero was at saturation point, as Miss B. scathingly wrote about in her review. That quirk/trope/image/style that identifies can also stultify, or stall a writer, or turn to caricature – unless she brings new life to it. Grace Burrowes’ foray into contemporary romance takes a steady writerly predisposition and puts it in a new world, the contemporary world of the courtroom drama of family law and practice. Continue reading
Miss Bates is not a fan of the office-romance, even less so of the boss-and-secretary scenario. Nowadays, the secretary is promoted to personal/executive assistant; however, as they exist in HPs, their tasks and challenges are pretty much those of a secretary, which is not to denigrate a position that millions of people, mainly women, have held, hold, and will hold. However, it does not render the romance set-up palatable, given the power inequalities it entails. It’s a rare romance that does it justice by giving the upper hand to the heroine-secretary rather than powerful and wealthy hero. (The only one that comes to mind is Susan Napier’s so-good In Bed With the Boss, with her signature nut-ball, vain hero and peevishly tough heroine. Read it, it’s great.) As for Blake’s What the Greek’s Money Can’t Buy, cut from boss-secretary cloth, well, Miss Bates wanted to give it a fighting chance. It had some good stuff going for it, including an ex-con heroine (more of that later!) and your standard growl-y Greek billionaire. It had a promising start, but went downhill soon thereafter; the chinks in everything that is wrong with the office-romance and an idiosyncratic and ludicrous use of demotic Greek (yes, this is a point with Miss Bates) ran it aground. Continue reading to find out what sank the ship
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