Amy Sandas’s THE UNTOUCHABLE EARL

Untouchable_EarlIt’s rare that Miss B. reacts to a romance (maybe because her choices tend to the tried and true these days) as she did to Amy Sandas’s The Untouchable Earl. About half way through, she wanted to DNF. But there was a sense of purpose and theme to it that said, “No, no, keep reading.” So, she did. And now that it’s done, she doesn’t quite know what to say about it. At its heart is a sexual healing theme that Miss B. despises, akin to her curled-lip reaction to Lisa Valdez’s Passion, possibly rivaling Old Skool romance to be the worst romance novel ever written. And yet, she also can’t dismiss The Untouchable Earl the way she can Passion. Its premise is the stuff of high eye-rolling melodrama. Melodramatic circumstances conspire to bring Plain-Jane husband-seeking ton debutante Lily Chadwick, kidnapped and drugged, up for auction at Madame Pendragon’s, a brothel. It’s all pretty sordid and awful until the eponymous Earl, a hero with possibly the most ridiculous name in romance, Avenell Harte (with, yes, the obvious pun there) purchases Lily and her intact maidenhead. As far as maidenheads go, hers isn’t half as impressive as Passion’s, but still. It doesn’t look like her maidenhead’s in any danger when we find out that Avenell (she’s strictly forbidden from saying his name and when you consider how lame it is, you can understand the guy’s reluctance) … well, he’s functional and all, but he can’t bear to be touched.
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Lauren Layne’s TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH

To_Love_and_To-CherishMiss Bates was ignorant of Lauren Layne’s Wedding Belles series and ended up reading book three, To Love and To Cherish, without reading one and two. S’allright though, because Wedding Belles #3 fills in the romances of the first two heroines as they weave in and out of the heroine’s story. Alexis Morgan is the Wedding Belles’s head honcho, the guru of wedding planners, with Brooke and Heather close behind. The company was her baby, her vision and sole focus. But there’s someone behind the scenes too. While Alexis is the Wedding Belles’s face, heart, and soul, she is not its only purse. Her silent partner is hero Logan Harris, friend, accountant, and bankroll from the moment they met in a Harlem bar eight years ago. For Logan, it was love at first sight; for Alexis, it was a niggling feeling of “something,” but her focus was so strongly on her business that her awareness of Logan has been akin to a cold cup of coffee you leave on the counter. As the years roll by, she takes their bi-weekly financial meetings for granted. She takes him for granted. Her emotional and physical skittishness and Logan’s British gentleman manners have long put the kibosh on seduction. Now, with Logan and Alexis in their early thirties, things coalesce. Logan’s Alexis-torch is more-than-smouldering, especially when his father is ready to retire and hand the London-based family company to him. Logan must let Alexis know how he feels, find out if she cares for him as he does her – or, he returns to London.   
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MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s THE SPANIARD’S PREGNANT BRIDE

Spaniard's_Pregnant_BrideMiss Bates is always suspect that Maisey Yates can be as prolific as she is and still retain her novels’ high standards. Yates pulls it off with an ensured hand for the most part. Though Miss Bates prefers Yates’s more realistic contemporary romance, she also can’t resist an HP by an author she consistently enjoys. And so … Yates’s Spaniard’s Pregnant Bride, wherein Yates really rocks a lovely reversal of the princess in the tower narrative, with a towered and towering prince, oops duke … the prince is the heroine’s rejected fiancé. Allegra Valenti, at 22, is set to marry Prince Raphael DeSantis of Santa Firenze thanks to the match-making efforts of her brother’s best friend, Cristian Acosta. Cristian, despite his name, is an arrogant donkey-butt of a hero, purporting to know what’s best for the heroine, even choosing her husband. But, like any good HP, the hero’s high-and-mighty will be hoisted on his own petard. Allegra is smart and possesses what Miss Bates most admires in a heroine, integrity and spunk. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Jennifer Hayward’s MARRYING HER ROYAL ENEMY

marrying_her_royal_enemyMiss Bates is at the mid-point of her heavy winter: the new parka’s lost its cachet and there are only so many cocoas you can drink. Her romance reading is a great winter sustainer and she’s had a run of good luck with darn good reads lately. The trusted HP, short enough to get through in a few evenings and yet so concentrated on the couple’s romantic journey that it really hits the escapist sweet spot, is a fave pic around this time of year. Jennifer Hayward’s Marrying Her Royal Enemy, third in the mythical Greek-speaking kingdoms of Akathinia and Carnelia series, tells the romantic journey of Akathinian Princess Stella Constantinides and her marriage-of-convenience Carnelian king, Kostas Laskos. Stella and Kostas share a fraught backstory. Their royal families of adjoining kingdoms spent time together, as children, teens, and into adulthood. Kostas’s friendship with Stella’s brothers, Nikanos and Athamos, brought Stella and Kostas together often. Ten years ago one night, Stella waited in Kostas’s bed, her teen crush-faith emboldening her. Kostas squelched his desire for honour’s and frienship’s sake and rejected Stella … even though he wanted her badly. A familiar story to the romance reader and, in Miss Bates’s now-decade-old romance-reading habit, somewhat a tired one. The experience left Stella feeling a failure and harboring dislike and resentment for Kostas. 
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REVIEW: Mira Lyn Kelly’s MAY THE BEST MAN WIN

may_best_man_winMiss Bates’s first reading of a Mira Lyn Kelly romance (from the defunct KISS line) left her murmuring “meh, meh, meh”. Her recent Kelly read, May the Best Man Win, The Best Men #1, was a different experience. Miss B’s pre-reading prejudice was wary to say the least, especially in light of that rom-com cover (though she liked the urban background). She side-eyed reading May the Best Man Win for several days before taking the plunge. Once she got into it, however, she knew …

There are several ways you capture Miss B’s reading respect and enjoyment: you make her laugh; you do something tropish-ly clever or twisty; or, you write well, not fancy or original, but smooth, elegant, ease-ful. In this her first of the series, Kelly did all three. Premise-wise, May the Best Man Win is run-of-the-mill. Built around four wise-cracking late-twenties buddies who play best man to a groom-buddy, find love and make their way, bruised and battered (there be reasons) to the altar. The novel uses a clever framing device (Miss Bates LOVES a good frame), opening with hero Jase Foster, staunch bachelorhood in place, playing best man to buddy Dean Skolnic, as only a best man can, by holding a trash can as Dean vomits into it. The other three male friends the series will be built around show up as groomsmen. Jase is caring, but feeling pretty superior as he looks down at nervous-wreck groom. At the end of the novel, with Jase’s own wedding-HEA, we round off with a torn sleeve and cut lip and hint at the next novel’s groom-to-be.
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Review: Maisey Yates’s TOUGH LUCK HERO

tough_luck_heroIt seems appropriate that Miss Bates open her reviewing year with one of her favourite contemporary romance writers. Maisey Yates’s Tough Luck Hero is part of that sprawling fictional Oregon town that Yates has created around the Garretts and Wests, as well as various inter-connected denizens. Yates’s Copper Ridge tales have yet to grow stale or pale. Some are stronger than others, but each one is a necessary part of Yates’s compellingly woven whole. (Brokedown Cowboy remains Miss Bates’s unwavering favourite.) Copper Ridge is a place of mountainous and sea-set beauty, complicated family dynamics, and the small-town warp and weft of stricture and support. With every book, Copper Ridge grows, as the lonely and disparate find someone special. The road to love, commitment, and many babies, however, is fraught with Yates’s particular vision of what falling in love and committing entail: a crap-load of resistance and torment. Tough Luck Hero‘s hero, town Golden-Boy Colton West, really has had a run of terrible luck. Mayoral candidate Lydia Carpenter is sitting pretty … until Colton and sympathy shots at Ace’s bar see her luck run out too.
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Mini-Review: Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s EARTHBOUND

EarthBoundTest6Miss 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.
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Mini-Review: Nicole Helm’s OUTLAW COWBOY

outlaw_cowboyEver since she was a tween, Miss Bates has loved the film version of Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Miss Bates cannot resist the ethereally beautiful, vulnerable Audrey Hepburn or poignant Golden-Boy George Peppard. What Blake Edwards made of Capote’s novella is pure romance genre. More than anything, Miss Bates loved watching two morally compromised characters find love. They are, of course, morally compromised in their eyes, not the viewers’. Their growing love helps them re-evaluate who they are, see themselves in a better light, and give themselves what they deserve: love and belonging. In Nicole Helm’s Outlaw Cowboy, second in the Big Sky Cowboys series, Miss B. found just that, a viscerally satisfying romance about two people who are hardest on themselves emerging out of their dark nights of solitude to love, connection, family, and hope. Caleb Shaw is Mel Shaw’s brother; Mel is the heroine of Helm’s first romance in the series, Rebel Cowboy. That novel opened with Mel’s struggles to keep the Montana family ranch afloat. Bro’s on the bottle and father, paralyzed in an accident five years ago, has given up, checked out, and broods throughout the family home. When Outlaw Cowboy opens, baby bro Caleb has taken the ranch reins. He stopped drinking and desperately wants to retain ownership of the family land. Caleb is haunted by his mother’s abandonment and one terrible night he almost beat a man to death when he saw him holding a gun to his daughter’s head.
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Mini-Review: Maisey Yates’s ONE NIGHT CHARMER

one_night_charmer(Dear Readers, Miss Bates continues to toil at the day-job above and beyond the call of duty. But when Friday night rolled around, she needed to put the feet up, brew the green tea, add the honey, and read the romance. It was a good one and there was late-night-in-bed reading. And this is why today, she offers her 300th review, compact as heroine Sierra West in Maisey Yates’s One Night Charmer.)

A Maisey Yates review is apropos for Miss Bates’s 300th. Yates is one of her favourite contemporary romance authors, balancing a visceral contemporary voice with traditional-values rom-HEA (marriage and babies). Her characters fall in love, work things out, and commit, but also go on a journey that transcends their weighed-down-with-negativity past. This is no less true for One Night Charmer than all the fabulous Copper Ridge novels and novellas. Moreover, One Night Charmer‘s elements are missbatesian rom-nip: an older, surly hero, wounded and jaded, a “bouncy”, smart ingenue heroine, drunken sex, the wages of sin, marriage-of-convenience, and a baby-filled epilogue. Continue reading

Review: Maisey Yates’s TAKE ME, COWBOY

Take_Me_CowboyMiss Bates has never NOT had a book on the go; once she finishes one, she has the next lined up. Sometimes, new-book-starting is a desultory affair: tepid, reluctant, maybe even a tad depressing. “Will this satisfy my reading-pleasure-principle?” “I have limited reading time, will this be worth the precious half hour I have nightly?” MissB started reading Maisey Yates’s Take Me, Cowboy in this mode: half-heartedly, maybe even sullenly. But she’d loved so many Yates-romances and went into that good-reading-night anyway. Yates’s Oregon-set Copper Ridge series has had one winner after another, would Take Me, Cowboy exhibit series-exhaustion?

Certainly the romance’s opening had Miss B. scowling: wait a minute, this sounds awfully like the last Yates Miss B. read: Bad News Cowboy, with its plain-Jane, best-bud heroine and looker-womanizer hero who find themselves on friendship’s wrong side, as lovers, prey to powerful desires and frightening feelings.
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