Miss Bates loves the opposites-attract romance trope, especially when the hero’s and heroine’s surface characteristics mask their opposites. Opposites-attract “squared” describes Sabrina Jeffries’s second Sinful Suitors 1830-set romance, The Study Of Seduction. “Grumpy Edwin” Barlow, Earl of Blakeborough, pits himself against “frivolous beauty” Lady Clarissa Lindsey, his sister’s best friend. In time, Edwin reveals a wicked wit and Clarissa, a gravitas borne of pain.
Edwin is a member of the St. George’s Club, a gentleman’s circle dedicated to protecting their families’ and friends’ women from scoundrels, socalled “sinful suitors.” Edwin’s friend, Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, Clarissa’s cousin, has watched out for her and her widowed mother, Lady Margrave. Knightford is called away to the continent to help Clarissa’s brother, Niall. Edwin and Clarissa, long-acquainted, have sparred and jabbed at each other since Clarissa and Yvette, Edwin’s sister, tittered, gossiped, and shopped together. Edwin’s steadfast, stodgy, introverted propriety rubs Clarissa’s social butterfly effervescence and flirtatious energy to poke and prod at his restrained demeanor. Nevertheless, Edwin insists he take Knightford’s place, protecting Clarissa from a stalker. Count Geraud Durand, France’s chargé d’affaires, follows, goads, importunes, and forces his unwanted, oily attentions on Clarissa and infuriates Edwin.
Now that Miss Bates has read Bliss Bennet’s second romance novel, she can place her in histrom-world with Rose Lerner, Cecilia Grant, and recent discovery Blythe Gifford. They all have the rare, and becoming rarer, ability to create main characters who reflect their times and are in turn uniquely, likably themselves. Their main characters’ constraints are not solely those of personality or circumstance, but political, economic, social, and/or gender strictures. Bennet creates creatures of their time and yet uniquely themselves, approachable and sympathetic to the reader. In her second Pennington romance, Bennet tells the story of Sibilla Pennington, sister to Rebel Without A Rogue‘s Kit Pennington. Like Lerner’s Lydia in True Pretenses, Bennet’s heroine is a young woman grieving her beloved father’s recent loss. Neither Lydia nor Sibilla were daddy’s-girls-spoiled-princesses. Their fathers’ love and acknowledgement allowed them the unique opportunity for women of their time, to lead lives of social and political purpose. Without their paternal lodestones, they’re adrift. Their only recourse is to place their political championing onto their reluctant brothers and make marriages of convenience to further their charitable causes. Continue reading
Elizabeth Hoyt: Miss Bates just can’t quit you. Thus Miss B. found herself reading Hoyt’s, yes, ninth Georgian-set, Maiden-Lane novel, Sweetest Scoundrel. And what a scoundrel Asa Makepeace was, paired with a plain-Jane heroine, his “harpy,” as he called her, Eve Dinwoody, sister to Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery (the previous novel‘s villain). As the old duke’s illegitimate daughter, Eve lives an introvert’s ideal life: Val provides her with a lovely home and servants, ample income to indulge her miniature painting hobby, keep her caged dove in fancy seeds, and a bodyguard, a great character in and of himself, Jean-Marie Pépin. Eve is the only person who genuinely loves her nefarious brother. Responsible for Val’s interests in his absence (his shenanigans sent him into “exile” on the continent), she ensures his investment in Asa Makepeace’s grand rebuilding project, the pleasure garden known as Harte’s Folly, is solid. Officious, book-keeping, and dignified Eve meets volatile, foul-mouthed, and crude “Mr. Harte”, Asa, when she confronts him about his cavalier spending of her brother’s money and then goes about controlling Asa’s purse-strings.
Miss Bates approaches a new-to-her author, especially a self-published one, with trepidation. Witness? Her DNF posts. But Bliss Bennet is the writer of the Romance Novels For Feminists blog, which Miss B. reads and enjoys. And she was curious: what kind of a romance would a long-familiar blogger write? Given the blog content, will it be “feminist”? Though Miss Bates calls herself a feminist, she doesn’t read romance, or rather she doesn’t deliberately read romance because it carries a particular stance. She went into reading Bennet’s romance with these questions and departed, as she tapped the final page on her Kobo, not really caring how they were, or not, answered. Because she was completely swept up in the story.
As Miss Bates discussed elsewhere, she was a fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mysteries. She enjoyed Lady J.’s cool, independent demeanor and was in love with Nicholas Brisbane, Julia’s sometime-partner, occasional-antagonist, at-long-last husband, enigma-in-an-alpha-hero. Her quibble remains: long on long-winded mystery, short on romance. And then … this … Raybourn’s new historical mystery series, with a delightful dose of romance, the début Veronica Speedwell mystery, A Curious Beginning. Set in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, Raybourn’s murder mystery leaves behind the distancing characterization of Lady Julia and Brisbane to revel in an endearing heroine and hero, poignant back stories, humour and, dare Miss Bates say it, sentiment.
Miss Veronica Speedwell, 25, buries her Aunt Nell Harbottle in Little Byfield, England. Veronica is irrepressible and intrepid: a world-adventuring lepidopterist, sexually uninhibited, no-nonsense, and fiercely independent. She is nonplussed when Aunt Nell’s Wren Cottage is ransacked and finds herself in the protective hands of the kindly, mysterious Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach.The Baron travels with her to London and leaves her in the protective custody of his friend Stoker, a taxidermist with a workshop on London’s docks, whose robust musculature, piratical eye-patch, blue eyes, and wild Beethovenian black hair stir Veronica’s womanly desires. But Veronica lives by the rule never to take an English lover. Once Stoker growls and snarls, only a tad friendlier than Huxley, his bull dog, sparks fly and, to Raybourn’s credit, flicker, sparkle, and burn bright, depending on the poignancy, or comedy of Veronica and Stoker’s scenes. Continue reading
Miss Bates is going to miss this quote challenge, so much she might keep doing the occasional opening line review. And for this, she has to thank Willaful who nominated her!
Tonight Miss Bates indulges in rom-reader nostalgia. A chance purchase at the local Costco, Julie Garwood’s 2007 Shadow Music, and Miss Bates was thrown down a vista of years, over thirty, to her early adolescence reading of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower. She’s never looked back. She scoured AAR lists for rom titles. One of the first she read after Garwood was Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, consumed, an apt metaphor, in one long languorous summer afternoon into early evening. It sent her to Crusie’s back-list; though Bet Me and Welcome to Temptation remain among Miss Bates’ favourite cerebral contemporary romances, it’s an early Crusie that serves as sentimental favourite. Miss Bates uses the term “sentimental” in the best way possible, as a book replete with sentiment, open and unabashed in celebrating the heart, wallowing in emotion. As Crusie herself wrote in the preface to a new edition, ” … if there was one thing I’d learned in my creative writing classes it was to avoid melodrama, to never be sentimental, to go for irony and detachment whenever possible, because otherwise I’d get killed in the critiques. But I think I knew all along I was wimping out, that if I’d had any backbone, I’d have gone first for the hearts of my readers, so I decided that for my first book for Bantam, I’d try something new, something different. Hearts would be touched, tears would be shed. By God, I was going to be emotional.” That book was The Cinderella Deal and its opening line is as good as any Crusie wrote:
The storm raged dark outside, the light in the hallway flickered, and Lincoln Blaise cast a broad shadow over the mailboxes, but it didn’t matter.
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
Donna Alward’s foray into longer contemporary romance is akin to Sarah Morgan’s: coming from wildly, deliciously wonderful categories to extended characterization, detailed setting, and broader themes with mixed success. Readers, like Miss Bates, who adored their categories, followed them, if not happily, then trustfully into new romance territory. Alward and Morgan never fail to deliver heart-stirring and thoughtful romance, however, and surprise readers in the varied ways they use romance conventions. If you enjoy Morgan’s Puffin Island, you’re sure to like Alward’s also Maine-set Jewell Cove. Summer On Lovers’ Island is fourth in the series, after The House On Blackberry Hill, Treasure On Lilac Lane, and novella, Christmas At Seashell Cottage. It stands alone, but Miss Bates enjoys Alward’s small-town world, especially how she imagines and imbues it with a strong sense of its historical past and interconnected characters and families. Her premise is strong, each novel illustrating a character’s growing pains entering small-town life new, or anew in Treasure‘s case, and meeting, not always cutely, a long-established, town-native mate. Lovers’ Island‘s heroine is newcomer Dr. Lizzie Howard, on leave from her high-powered ER position at a big-city hospital. She agrees to take Charlie’s, her best friend’s, maternity leave practice for a few months, a practice Charlie shares with veteran and goldenboy-hometown-hero, Dr. Josh Collins. Lizzie’s got him pegged when she considers his star status at Jewell Cove’s Fourth of July baseball game, “Local star, hometown hero, Jewell Cove’s favorite son.” Continue reading
Jessica Gilmore’s latest category romance, Expecting the Earl’s Baby, holds out the promise of a marriage-of-convenience between opposites. Gilmore is a good hand at tropish writing, aware of the genre’s conventions in a witty, loving way; the last Gilmore category Miss Bates reviewed was a wonderfully written reunited husband-wife story. Though marriage-of-convenience is difficult to pull off in contemporary romance, Gilmore made a great start with a magical castle setting to add a touch of old-world fantasy and top it off with cheeky regency allusions. It reminded Miss Bates of one of her favourite castle-set romances (which also has the advantage of being Christmas-set!) Fiona Harper’s Snowbound In the Earl’s Castle. Gilmore’s heroine, like Harper’s, is an artistic working gal. Daisy Huntingdon-Cross, a wedding photographer, is doing a shoot at Hawksley Castle when her dedication to be last of the party to leave lands her, her stilettos, and flimsy car tires in a foot of snow. Her about-face to the castle to ask for help has her: ” … skid[ding] straight into a fleececlad chest. It was firm, warm, broad. Not a ghost. Probably not a werewolf. Or a vampire. Supernatural creatures didn’t wear fleece as far as she knew.” Said chest belongs to one pragmatic earl who offers chains for her tires because ” ‘… wouldn’t want you to freeze to death on the premises. Think of the paperwork.’ ” Humming “Good King Wenceslas” as she tiptoes in his steps’ wake, Daisy is attracted to The Chest. As is the guy in possession of The Chest, Sebastian Beresford, Earl of Holgate … and, well, one thing leads to another … six weeks later, Daisy returns to Hawksley Castle to tell Sebastian he’s going to be a daddy. Continue reading
If you asked Miss Bates her favourite romance trope, she’d tell you “marriage-of-convenience.” Truth be told though, she gets more pleasure out of opposites-attract than she’s realized. This means that a “marriage of convenience” between “opposites attract” would be her favourite rom reading cocktail. 😉 Alas, Maisey Yates first novel in the Copper Ridge Oregon series, Part Time Cowboy, is not a marriage of convenience narrative, but it sure as heck contains two spitting-fighting protagonists in Deputy Sheriff Eli Garrett and crisis-counselor-turned-B-&-B-owner Sadie Miller – and you all know Miss Bates is a fan of fighting in romance. Also close to her heart is a narrative that sees a character, in this case, Sadie, return home years later with unfinished business (wild teen years of drinking, smoking, and trouble-making) to work through. (The theme also features in the returning hero of Yates’ introductory novella, “Shoulda Been A Cowboy.”) The opposites attract trope is obvious in a wonderful opening scene between Sadie, her car out of gas, and a certain Deputy Sheriff who rescues her, but had once arrested her for shenanigans ten years ago. Sadie’s barely entered town limits before she has a re-meet cute with her nemesis, “Officer Hottie,” Eli Garrett – if he’s filling her tank now, ten years ago, he cuffed her. It doesn’t take him long to become “Officer Stick-Up-His-Ass.” Continue reading