Don’t let Kate Hewitt’s light-hearted Falling Hard cover fool you into thinking this is a rom-com. Falling Hard has hard and difficult truths for its hero and heroine: they’re either living them, heroine Meghan O’Reilly, or living with them, hero Quinn Freeman. Falling Hard opens innocuously when Quinn’s mother, Margo, asks him to return to their home town, Creighton Falls, New York, to renovate a hotel the family lived in and owned until they abandoned the town and took their wealth and success to New York. Ah, thought MissB, typical charmingly roguish, wealthy but drifting bad boy hero receives his comeuppance by small-town cute and a more-than-capable Amazonian heroine. Miss Bates should’ve known that Hewitt always delivers more than that: more complexity, more nuance, more vulnerability. And vulnerable they are; Miss Bates would even say two of the most heart-breakingly sad protagonists she’s read. Which only makes their HEA, of course, the more deserving.
Miss Bates has been reading rom long enough, ten years to date, that it’s harder and harder to find a new-to-her category author (category being her primary romance consumption). BUT Amy Andrews is new to Miss Bates and she’s sorry she took as long as she did to read her. There was much to like about Andrews’s Swept Away By The Seductive Stranger and the title wasn’t it. The characters, their conflicts, inner and outer, the setting, and their surprisingly honest and realistic romance were.
Nurse Felicity Mitchell is fulfilling the dream of a life-time riding the Indian-Pacific rail to Adelaide when she meets and is attracted to Callum Hollingsworth. Though neither are one-night-stand aficionados, their overwhelming attraction, during dinner with the retirees they share the train with, it appears will lead them to share their deliciously cramped overnight berths. A medical emergency puts a stop to their soon-to-be-tryst and reveals their respective professions as nurse and doctor, respectively. Nevertheless, the post-adrenaline restlessness following the medical emergency’s resolution has them share a night of never-to-be-repeated passion between “strangers on a train”. With the inevitable hokey coincidence of the romance novel plot, it turns out the strangers on the train will soon be co-workers in the clinic, as Callum appears at Nurse Felicity’s Vickers Hill clinic to take over for two months while one of their doctors goes on maternity leave. Continue reading
Karina Bliss’s Woo Me is one-third of a unique three-part novella series. Its events occur concurrently with those in Joan Kilby’s Win Me and Sarah Mayberry’s Wait For Me. The novellas recount the story of three friends, “sisters-of-the-heart,” attending a traditional Bachelor and Spinster Ball in the Australian outback. Ellie, Jen, and Beth forged friendships in a girls boarding school, seeing each other through farce and tragedy. Now, at 28, they’re in various stages of heartbreak. They congregate at Ellie’s father’s cattle station and resolve to heal their broken, neglected hearts by romping through the bacchanalian shenanigans at the local Bachelor and Spinster Ball. Bliss’s Woo Me is Jen Tremaine’s story. Jen was dumped by her slick ex-boyfriend, the one who re-fell-in-love with his ex-wife. While drowning heart-sorrows with drinkie-poos, Jen accepts Ellie and Beth’s dare to wear Ellie’s “Clarabelle” cow costume at the B&S ball. With Dave’s betrayal fresh, Jen isn’t looking to mend her heart with a fling. She’s going to support Ellie in her unrequited love pursuit of her father’s wrangler, Rick, and heal her newly-divorced, fragile friend, Beth. One sexy, funny, and loving security guard later, Jen re-assesses her “man-ban”.
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
Some time in the late 90s, Miss Bates saw a film she hasn’t forgotten, much as she’d like to. It was bleak, depressing, definitely anti-romance. In it, the heroine had opportunities to save herself, to achieve an HEA. She was so passive, so unable to accept help from the people she encountered that she perished needlessly. The film is Amos Kollek’s Sue: Lost In Manhattan (it’s available, in its entirety, on YouTube, if you’re so inclined). What does this bleak portrait, in the centre of which is an anti-heroine with a strangely compelling passivity, have to do with Molly O’Keefe’s Indecent Proposal? Miss Bates couldn’t help but recall the film as she read O’Keefe’s final book in her Boys of Bishop series. Kollek’s Sue is unemployed, evicted, and meanders through Manhattan looking ethereally, cadaverously beautiful. She worked as a temp and has a degree in psychology. She’s friendless and without family. She cleans up well and is intelligent and soft-spoken. Sue carries a defeated look, her eyes say “I’ve lost even before I’ve begun.” She meets a wonderful friend (actually, she’s a bartender!) and a beautiful man: the friend wants to help her, the man to care for her. She doesn’t reject them: she’s so tired of life she doesn’t call on them.
O’Keefe’s heroine, Ryan Kaminski, could have easily been Sue: a high-school drop-out, a divorcée who survived a shiftless and violent man, a 15-minutes-of-fame teen-age model who makes ends meet by working as a bartender in a Manhattan hotel. Ryan lives in a tenement and buys used psychology books because that’s what she’d like to study if she ever goes back to school. She’s 32, too old, she feels, to call it opportunity. The connections between Sue and Ryan are compelling. Miss Bates couldn’t help but think of these disparate texts because their juxtaposition spotlights what distinguishes the romance narrative. Same girl, same narrative, same edge of hopelessness, same seediness, cheap clothes and worn-out beauty … what does the romance narrative do with the same stuff, the same material, but imbues it with hope in place of despair? (As a side-note, she loved O’Keefe’s Indecent Proposal: marriage-of-convenience, a heroine who gains in strength and love, a Hubbell-hero humbled. What’s not to love?) Continue reading
Miss Bates loves the 1963 film, Love With the Proper Stranger, Angie Rossini and Rocky Papasano’s one-night-stand story (Wood and McQueen are wonderful). Angie lives with her widowed mother and brothers and is constrained by their control over her life. In an act of rebellion, she sleeps with Rocky and thereafter realizes she’s pregnant. Angie seeks Rocky to ask for help to pay for an abortion and he agrees. They spend several days together making arrangements. Two things happen: the day of, in a place sordid and frightening, Rocky stops Angie from going through with the abortion; and, Angie and Rocky reluctantly grow to know and like one another. There’s no insta-love. Rocky begrudgingly asks her to marry. Angie refuses and, yes, he has a hard time with that. It spurs his interest, however. (Another aspect to the film that is interesting is how Rocky and Angie want to escape the stifling atmosphere of their overly protective but strong-on-the-family-loyalty Italian-American clans.) The film ends with Angie’s “upper hand.” The possibility of an HEA is there, but not the surety. Angie is vindicated. Miss Bates loved Angie: determined to forge a life for herself, uncompromising in her desire for love and independence, resolved to marry on her terms, not her family’s or Rocky’s, or not marry at all. She is fearless and glowingly beautiful mama material, this Macy’s shop-girl barely scraping a living.
Miss Bates suspects that Mira Lyn Kelly aimed for the same effect in Waking Up Pregnant. Unlike the 1963 film, the 2014 novel doesn’t manage this as successfully. Miss Bates enjoyed reading it, thought it well-written, with innocuously sympathetic leads; however, its ethos was conventional and she couldn’t help comparing it, and it coming up short, to a film over 50 years old. It is a novel with a situation similar to that of Sarah Mayberry’s More Than One Night, which is not a Mayberry novel that received the attention it deserved, but Miss Bates liked it very MUCH. Kelly makes all the right noises for her heroine, Darcy, wanting independence and finding herself pregnant after a one-night stand; at least initially, makes her hero, Jeff, if not reluctant, then gobsmacked. But what’s most interesting about Stranger’s Rocky and One Night’s Rhys is their reluctance for insta-love for the heroine. They’re responsible and decent, but man, this is not where they want to be. The development of how they end up wanting to be there, as dads and husbands, is so much more believable and natural than the utterly-smitten-I’m-all-in-all-the-time Jeff. Romance novels are to a certain extent, yes, fantasies and Jeff’s sheer goodness, sexiness, and emotional open-ness are attractive, just not terribly compelling. It’s not as much fun when the hero doesn’t have far to fall (do check out Stranger‘s Rocky and his near-clownish antics at the end). Darcy too is an etiolated version of the Amazonian Angie. She pays lip-service to a “feisty” independence, but never enacts it. What does Waking Up Pregnant have going for it? Continue reading to find out