I never start a first-person-narrated romance with any confidence that I will enjoy it. I’m old-ish and old-fashioned and with the exception of Jane Eyre want my romances to be thirdly-centred. While I didn’t love Clayborn’s mannered “Chance of a Lifetime” series, I did enjoy it and thought her a thoughtful romance writer, trying too-hard to bring a self-conscious emotional complexity to the romance novel (while not sacrificing the HEA). Like the third-person, I prefer a more definitive HEA, but I wasn’t dissatisfied with Love Lettering‘s ending, thanks to its nod to Austen’s Persuasion.
As a non-fan of planners and pens and gel-vs-ink aficionados, I wasn’t keen on Love Lettering‘s premise: calligraphic heroine Meg Mackworth, with some kind of vague woo-woo sense, weaves the word M-I-S-T-A-K-E into hero Reid Sutherland’s wedding program. One year and a broken engagement later, Reid appears at Meg’s sometimes-paperie-employer, Cecelia’s, with an accusatory tone and the said wedding program. As a genius-IQ, Wall Street quantitative analyst, Reid sure can read a pattern where others might not and he wants to know how Meg knew his engagement would end.
I have droned on and on, to your great boredom, about how I love romance and how my second love is the mystery-romance-historical combo, like Deanna Raybourn, or Susanna Kearsley, C. S. Harris, Jennifer Ashley … *sobs* and the no-longer-writing-new-Renegades-of-the-Revolution Donna Thorland. Let’s face it, I love the hybrids as much as I love romance, so let’s let that second love thing die. Now, with Tessa Arlen’s first in A Woman of WWII series, I’m adding another much-anticipated series to the beloved list. Given the stay-at-home state of things, Arlen’s Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders made for the perfect comfort read: with a Christie-Foyle’s-War-inspired English village + eccentrics setting and intrepid, engaging, loveable heroine, the eponymous Poppy, a too-charming-for-his-and-Poppy’s-own-good American Army Air Force hero … and no less than a Midsommer Murders corps of village-body-count! While I toiled away at WFH and dabbed lipstick for Zoom meetings, I enjoyed, in the time-interstices, my reading of Poppy, her American hero, and their joint sleuthing. Continue reading
Megan Crane’s Sergeant’s Christmas Siege is the second Alaska Force romance I’ve read, nabbing this second one after loving the first, Sniper’s Pride. (Let me take a moment to say that I missed out on the actual first in the series, Seal’s Honor. My reading order is not the series order if you’re keen to check them out.) In comparing the two, I would say that Christmas Siege was heavier on suspense than rom and I definitely enjoyed Sniper’s romance more. But Crane sure can write and, therefore, it’s always pleasurable to follow her protagonists’ journey. In this case, with a hero and heroine consistently, relentless verbally sparring, a dearth of tender moments, made for a romance that could’ve used some ramping up. Alaskan state trooper and investigator, Kate Holiday, arrives at Grizzly Harbor, where Alaska Force runs its save-the-vulnerable operations. Kate suspects they’re a paramilitary group with nefarious purposes, only one of which is to upstage conventional law enforcement, such as her own outfit.
I anticipated Lucy Gilmore’s second Forever Home romance, Puppy Christmas, from the moment I turned the last page on the first, Puppy Love. I’m sorry it took me this long to read the former. Equally laugh-out-loud funny, heart-wrenching, and rawr-sexy, it would have made a hellacious work month so much better. Lesson learned: I’ve settled into my romance reading (thirteen years since I picked up a copy of Garwood’s Shadow Music at the local Costco and reignited my love for the genre) with the knowledge that romance is the best respite from daily stress, an oasis of happy in a desert of demands. Gilmore’s series, including this latest (as I anticipate the third, Puppy Kisses!), deserves a spot in the happy-reader Hall of Fame. Continuing with her initial premise, three sisters running a service-dog non-profit, “Puppy Promise,” Puppy Christmas focusses on the eldest, 31-year-old Lila Vasquez, as she works to build the confidence of six-year-old, hearing-impaired Emily Ford with the help of cockapoo Jeeves, while falling in love with Emily’s father, ridiculously-named Ford Ford. Gilmore’s second Forever Home romance is plot-light, but character-deep and chock full of lovely anecdotes, including a funny meet-cute, first date set in a snow maze, Elsa-allusions, cocked-puppy-head adorableness, and hot phone sex.
I was pleasantly surprised at the complexity and page-turning élan of Sarah M. Eden’s The Lady and the Highwayman. Eden is a new-to-me author and I’m glad I’ve discovered her romances; this first read won’t be my last, thanks to her robust backlist.
Victorian-set among the humble and working-class, Eden’s thriller-melodrama-romance boasts a former-“guttersnipe” hero, now successful penny dreadful author, and girls-school headmistress heroine. Fletcher Walker struts the streets of 1865-London with the swagger of a man who brought himself out of the gutter and into success. But Fletcher is not an advocate of the every-man-is-an-economic-island making his own way in the world. He is the defender, rescuer, and fighter for the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of London’s invisible people, the widowed, fatherless, and orphaned; the sweep’s agony, the harlot’s cry come under Fletcher’s protection and his penned stories tell of their pathos, endurance, and spunky survival, the importance of helping one another, and defending those who cannot defend themselves. His author’s income isn’t for himself alone, but largely given to the poorest of the poor. Continue reading
While Lucy Gilmore is a new-to-me romance author, some of you may know her under the name Tamara Morgan. (I may even have some of “Morgan’s” romances lurking in the TBR.) Though I’m leery of new-to-me romance authors, I succumbed to the cover puppy’s cuteness. If I were to ever have a dog, it would be a Pomeranian, though in truth, I’m a cat-lady. Reading Gilmore’s first volume in the Service Puppies series, I didn’t regret my venture to new-author territory for a moment. Gilmore’s romance may not break new genre ground, but it delighted me. To start, I loved the premise and meet-cute and recounting them will give you a good idea of what you can expect. Harrison Parks is my favourite kind of hero: huge, grumpy, rhetorically monosyllabic, introverted, and a sentimental softie under the bluster and muscle. He’s also a wildfire firefighter and type 1 diabetic, whose workaholism put him into a diabetic coma. Now his boss, Oscar, wants him to get a service dog to detect his blood sugar — before he’ll let him anywhere near a wildfire again. Harrison loves his work and, grumbling and whinging up a storm, he finds himself at the Puppy Promise kennel staring down at a ball of fluff named Bubbles and a bitty woman in a ruffled dress telling him Bubbles is his new lifeline to getting back to the work he loves.
The distance in time from my last review, on April 26th, and today, the eve of a new month, feels like a lifetime. I wrote my Yates review Friday morning and spent that afternoon and evening and the week-end in church, experiencing the magnificent journey of the Eastern Orthodox Pascha. I cannot describe how meditative and profound is the experience, at the same time as it’s joyful and renewing. Every year, these few days are a precious time of juxtaposition to the mundane world of work, taxes, and a city going about its business without consideration of the enclaves of worship occurring in it. I like that feeling of being in a protected space out of time (even while I was aware of how blessed I was, given that miles away, in Sri Lanka, safe spaces were devastated). More than anything, the Holy Week of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection is the privilege of entering into a profound, endlessly-giving Narrative. I always take this time to think about what sustains my spirit, other than, obviously my faith, which I rarely mention on this blog. And will not be making a habit of … but it does connect to my social media Lenten fast and why I write this blog.
Maisey-Yates romances breed like bunnies. Yet another one on the recent horizon, fifth in the Gold Valley series, Unbroken Cowboy, features two of my favourite sequel-bait characters from previous books, animal-loving Bea(trix) Leighton, and bull-trampled rodeo star-no-more, Dane Parker. Because, like Betty Neels, I read and review every Yates romance, my review will always be tainted by my mood, whether Yates’s brand of theme and ethos work for me “in the moment,” or not. When they’re published as close together as Yates seems to produce them, I tend to feel less well-disposed. When a whiley-while goes by, then I’m eager to immerse myself in her world. If my introduction to Yates had been Unbroken Cowboy, I’d have been all in with enthusiasm and praise. As it’s one of many and followed by the recently reviewed, Need Me, Cowboy, I read it more for because she’s Yates and I read’em all. No surprises here. In “yatesian” fashion, hero Dane and heroine Bea experience personal transformation, in this case, as the title suggests, from brokenness to wholeness. The glue that brings their resurrection about is the mystical power of love. Continue reading
Lucy Parker writes one of my favourite contemporary romance series, “London Celebrities,” with heroes and heroines as denizens of London’s West End theatre scene. In the series’ fourth volume, however, the West End is in the background. Heroine-actress Freddy Carlton (for Frederica, a nod to Heyer?) joins the cast of a “digital mash-up of characters from different Jane Austen books, transplanted into a murder-mystery, house-party scenario. Outcome guided by the choice of the player,” that is, the televison and app audience. All taking take place on a estate, à la Downton Abbey. The estate, 16th-century Highbrook Wells, magnificent and crumbling, is the mortgaged-to-the-gills family home of acerbic theatre critic and Freddy nemesis, James “Griff” Ford-Griffin. Griff can’t afford to say no to the “digital mash-up” and the company of actors, Freddy too, arrives at Highbrook as if it’s Elsinore. Put Griff and Freddy together in this enforced intimacy and let sparks fly: antagonists to lovers, opposites-attract denying their attraction. Not really. This isn’t a criticism. Parker hasn’t written what at first appears to be your romance trope of antagonists-to-lovers. No matter how witty and thick the banter ( it is fabulous), Parker juggles three simultaneous narratives, of which the romance between Freddy and Griff is the gentlest, the most assured of a positive outcome.
Theresa Romain has the wonderful capacity to sustain a delightfully funny, rompish feel to her romances while underlying them with seriousness. Her latest, Lady Notorious, 4th in the Royal Rewards series and one of her strongest novels yet, exhibits this balance. It’s heartfelt romance, adorable hero, loveable heroine, compelling suspense plot, thematically underlined with the idea that love coupled with purpose make for contented lives. Romain brings together her cross-class heir-to-a-dukedom hero, George Godwin, Lord Northbrook, and Bow-Street-Runner heroine, Cassandra Benton, via the mystery surrounding George’s father’s, Lord Armore’s, involvement in a “tontine”, a monetary agreement whereby a set amount increases on interest and is “won” by the last person left living. But many of the tontine’s members are dying under mysterious circumstances. George fears for his father’s and godfather’s lives and sets Cassandra Benton the task of helping him both protect and discover who’s threatening them. Cassandra joins the Ardmore household disguised as a notorious cousin, hence, how the “notorious” made it to the eponymous “lady”. Continue reading