I never knew I was a fan of the tropish goodness of a marriage-in-trouble romance until I read Nicole Helm’s Bride For Keeps. It’s not that I avoided the trope, it’s just not one that’s done often, or at least favoured by the authors I tend to read. One of my earliest reviews was of Ruthie Knox’s marriage-in-trouble novella, “Making It Last.” There was an edge to Knox, an anger, that made the marriage compromise, no matter how cheerfully I tried to review it at the time, about diminishing the hero and heroine. This is not the case for Helm’s category-length romance.
Bride For Keeps opens with a family bombshell for the hero: the diagnosis of his father’s MS accompanied by the revelation that he is the product of his mother’s affair. Dr. Carter McArthur is floored: he has striven to be the perfect son, to stand in his father’s medical and community footsteps, giant, important, arrogant footsteps. His one rebellion, his one out-of-perfection decision was to marry wild-child Sierra Shuller. Continue reading
I read Jessica Gilmore’s first romance novel, The Return Of Mrs. Jones, and hailed her a romance-writer of great promise. I was disappointed in her second book and she dropped off my reviewing radar. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Some reviewing-Tinkerbell pushed me towards her latest, Baby Surprise For the Spanish Billionaire and the Gilmore magic was reinstated! Baby Surprise is conventional and uses some annoying conventions, BUT the writing is elegant and smooth, the dialogue clever, witty, funny, and moving, and the romance, well, so romantic, that I was reconverted to Gilmore.
Dr. Anna Gray, not medical, but an Oxford-trained historian, with a successful book in the world, arrives at her feckless mother’s Spanish island, La Isla Marina. Sancia has sent out “help” signals to her daughters: the resort Sancia inherited from her parents, one of Spain’s most beautiful tourist destinations, has gone to ruin, thanks to Sancia’s dreamy, negligent ways. But there is now a chance to restore its past splendor because one of the year’s great society weddings has booked the island as its venue. Practical, efficient, list-making daughter Anna (prodigal Rosa eventually also shows up) comes to the rescue, with begrudging resentment well in control, and one month to bring the resort up to Instagram-Twitter-hashtag-photo-snapping elegance. Continue reading
Miss Bates will always love Donna Alward’s categories, but her move to longer contemporaries offers readers uneven results: some books, reviewed here, have been great; others, so-so. But Alward’s depth and sensitivity will also see Miss Bates’s return to her books time and again. She did so with Alward’s second Darling, Vermont, contemporary romance, Someone To Love.
Willow Dunaway, owner of The Purple Pig Café, is Darling-born and raised. An unhappy childhood and adolescent trauma saw her leave Darling for years. Now she’s back with a new-found contentment in her business, yoga practice, and embracing of serenity. Willow has fought a long, hard battle to come back from some devastating experiences and the semi-colon tattoo on her forearm proves it to herself daily. She has found many things in her re-found hometown that she sought: friendship, community, and purpose. She does not, however, date … until she meets widowed single-dad and firefighter, Ethan Gallagher. In some delightful initial exchanges, Willow’s flower-child, vegetarian ways clash with Ethan’s carnivorous alpha-tendencies. Continue reading
Jonathan Bear, grumpy, huge, solitary, made cameo appearances in previous Copper Ridge romances, as Rebecca Bear’s overprotective, gruff, scary older brother in Last Chance Rebel, one of many Yates contemporary roms set in fictional Copper Ridge, Oregon. With each one Miss Bates picks up, she thinks this’ll be the one to break her, where she throws her hands up to say, “I’m done.” Well, hell no. Seduce Me, Cowboy is fresh and moving and one of the best of the lot. It gripped MissB., kept her up till the wee hours. She’d been drumming her fingers in impatience and anticipation of Jonathan’s story and Yates delivered, giving him an unlikely, perfect heroine. Twenty-four to Jonathan’s thirty-five, Hayley Thompson’s life is far removed from Jonathan’s. She is “good girl” to his “bastard son of the biggest bastard in town,” a beloved, coddled, protected pastor’s daughter to his abusive, abandoned childhood and virgin to his one-night-stand experience. But Hayley is breaking out, to be more than what she calls her family’s “beloved goldfish” and starts by taking a job with the elusive, mysterious, close-mouthed Jonathan Bear, step one of her escape from Copper Ridge and “plan for independence.” Continue reading
In 1817 London, 20-year-old heroine Georgette Frost, “accustomed to flights of imagination” leaves the family business, Frost’s Bookshop, to seek her fortune, in pursuit of reward money for locating 50 000 Royal Mint stolen gold sovereigns. Hero Sir Hugo Starling, 32, Georgette-described “hawkish of feature, and stuffy of temperament … [r]epresentative of everything chill and sterile about the life of the mind: study, solitude, and sternness,” discovers boy-clad Georgette on her way to adventure and fortune. As a self-styled stodgy rescuer of females and taker-carers of everyone, doctor and younger son of a duke, Hugo cannot allow Georgette to proceed on her foolish errand without protection. He resolves to return her to his friend and her brother, Benedict, and she resolves to foil him. Theresa Romain’s witty pen is immediately evident in Passion Favors the Bold. Among histrom writers, Romain is gently humorous and deeply compassionate towards her characters and never more so than in her second Royal Rewards romance.
Miss Bates loved Kate Hewitt’s A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure and willingly delved into Hewitt’s women’s fic/romance incarnation in Meet Me At Willoughby Close. Meet Me has enough romance, and a likeable one at that, to satisfy a rom-reader. It contains an endearingly goofy heroine, Ellie Matthews, working at figuring out her divorced, single mum life, moving away from family and, for the first time, at 28, tackling life with eleven-year-old daughter, Abby. Ellie has a new job as an “administrative assistant” in the University of Oxford history department and new cottage in Wychwood-on-Lea, at Willoughby Close. Ellie is paired with her “boss,” a history professor she’s temporarily assigned to, the Darcy-like, upper-crust, Victorian-Era historian Oliver Venables, he of the grey-green eyes and impressive physique. Meet Me At Willoughby Close is funny and romantic. It tackles some serious subjects, with a light touch but no less profoundly: parent-child relationships, bullying, family dynamics, deadbeat dads, and class. Oh, and the joys and vagaries of pet ownership. Ellie’s dog, Marmite, is a great loping mutt whose exuberance (and wee bit of flatulence) elicit reader-giggles in every scene he snuffles into. Continue reading
Maisey Yates’s The Last Di Sione Claims His Prize concludes the multi-author Di Sione family series. Apropos of being the last volume, it tells the story of Giovanni Di Sione’s eldest grandson, Alessandro “Alex”. It completes Giovanni’s journey to rediscover a lost love, while fulfilling his secret wish to guide each grandchild to love and commitment. Of the volumes Miss Bates has read, the series’ unifying premise never faltered in meaningfulness. Giovanni’s benign machinations and his grandchildren’s adventures to love and the fulfillment of their grandfather’s request were compelling. This is as true of His Prize as any of the others, though Hewitt’s A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure remains the best of the lot. Nevertheless, reading a Maisey Yates romance is never a loss for Miss Bates. Yates is consistently one of the genre’s finest practitioners, whether writing fantasy-driven HP, or closer-to-reality contemporary.
True to premise, Giovanni asks Alex to travel to Aceena in a “search-and-rescue/retrieve” operation to reunite him with a painting entitled “The Lost Love.” The painting, like the other lost and then recovered objects of Giovanni’s youth, is connected to a woman he left behind when he came to America to make his fortune. The portrait is in the possession of the disgraced, exiled royal family D’Oro. Though jaded and surly, Alex agrees to his grand-father’s request, aware of what he owes Giovanni – his upbringing, success, and most importantly, his rearing with love and care when Alex’s wastrel parents died in a car crash.
Amanda Ashby’s opening meet-cute to her new series, Sisters of Wishing Bridge Farm, won MissB over. Heroine Emmy Watson works hard to retain ownership of her deceased Aunt Ivy’s farm by turning the Connecticut venue into a wedding site and herself a wedding planner. Not everything has gone as planned, however, and she’s at the airport, waiting to pick up the best man whose local-inn accommodations were flooded by the groom’s gormless brother. There’s nought to be done, the best man’ll have to stay with her. Unfortunately, the airport terminal also coughs up a ghost from Emmy’s past, her one-week-end-stand, Christopher Henderson. Ashby’s talent for witty writing is evident in the re-meet-cute, as Emmy echoes Casablanca‘s Rick: “Of all the arrival gates in all the world, he walked into this one.” It turns out he not only walked into her arrival gate, he’s walking into her first wedding planner’s job as – the best man. Christopher too is non-plussed by seeing Emmy again, especially when she whisks him into her truck and drives away. As a travel writer, he’s seen some weird stuff, but this is a first: “He’d been in a lot of strange situations on his travels, but as far as he was aware, this was the first he’d ever been kidnapped by a wedding planner.” Ashby’s witty writing and pop-culture references engaged MissB and she looked forward to the novel.
Contemporary romance is a big and diverse animal. Its “infinite variety” inhabits a breadth of verisimilitude, from HP fantasy to the realistic, at times gritty, MC urban wasteland, which, MissB argues, meet and mate in the fantasy realm when the straight-line continuum is arced to a circle. All this to say that along realism’s continuum, where tropes work at one point, may fail on another. Sarah Morgan’s third “From Manhattan With Love” romance, Miracle On 5th Avenue, is an example in comparson to her HP, Playing By the Greek’s Rules (possibly MissB’s favourite HP were it not for that pesky Lynne Graham writing annoyingly good HPs, like The Greek’s Chosen Wife.) The Greek’s Rules contains a naïvely endearing, full-force of positivity heroine and brooding, cynical alpha hero, as does Miracle. What works in one doesn’t in t’other, or maybe imitation isn’t the highest form of flattery when an author imitates herself?
Miss Bates is a Tessa Dare fan. She read the first three Spindle Cove novels and adored them, especially the third, A Week To Be Wicked, with its bespectacled paleontologist-heroine and dissolute rake-hero. Also, it’s a road romance and Miss B. loves a road romance almost as much as she does a closed-cabin one.
Do You Want To Start A Scandal, Spindle Cove #5, doesn’t take place in Spindle Cove, but at the Nottinghamshire estate of Sir Vernon Parkhurst and, as such, is more a closed-estate romance, with a dash of closed-room mystery thrown in. Heroine Charlotte Highwood and hero Piers Brandon, Marquess of Granville, are Sir Vernon’s guests. When the novel opens, neither is in a good place. Charlotte’s marriage-machinating mum, reminiscent of Austen’s Mrs. Bennett, has landed her in the humiliating position of being a gossip-rag’s ridiculed gull, the Prattler‘s. Charlotte is the source of the eponymous “scandal” and the moniker plagues her throughout. Piers, on the other hand, is everything proper, controlled, and aristocratic. His presence at the Parkhurst estate, however, is not in the convention of the languid gentleman enjoying a few weeks in the country. He’s on official crown business, spying on Sir Vernon, who may be asked, by the government, to take a sensitive overseas position. Piers is there to find out if scandal, tryst, blackmail, or any politically-lethal weakness, may put the crown at risk of humiliation. So, Charlotte, prodded by her mother, is on a husband-finding mission while Piers is on a fact-finding one.