Jennifer Hayward’s THE ITALIAN’S DEAL FOR I DO, Or “How to Slay Your Dragons”

Italian's_Deal_For_I_DoOstensibly, the HP category romance is all about the glamour: heroes are nothing less than billionaires, their looks, physical and intellectual strengths, and sexual prowess are super-human; heroines may occasionally be a little less than, but more often than not are virginal, breathtakingly beautiful, possibly secretively super-accomplished, and loveable. Moreover, the attraction between the hero and heroine is of fireworks calibre.  Jennifer Hayward’s The Italian’s Deal For I Do has all the trappings an HP reader could wish for in the glamor department: wealthy, good-looking hero running his family’s Milan fashion house and a super-model heroine. But, in the HP, while glamour reigns, its true success lies in the writer’s ability to convey the hero and heroine’s humanity: all that fantasy building up has to be brought down, vulnerabilities and fears and feelings have to crack open the glamour to expose the hero and heroine’s less-than-super-human soft “just-like-us ordinary mortals” cores. Continue reading

REVIEW: Liz Talley’s SWEET TALKING MAN, Or Jane and the Viking

Sweet_Talking_ManWhen you read a lot of romance, like Miss Bates does, it’s inevitable the narrative becomes stale. You lose patience and are more likely to curl your lip and DNF. There are romance writers, however, who renew your faith in the narrative’s ability to be fresh, yet familiar. The romance reader is this creature: she wants the familiar because it has meaning and the familiar to be sufficiently deviant to keep her interest and delight her. Liz Talley’s Sweet Talking Man was such a narrative for Miss B.: familiar and fresh, well-known conventions unfolding like beloved Christmas ornaments and their subversion unfolding like unexpected gifts. Thus transpires the story of B&B owner, PTA president, organizer-of-all-things, super-single-mom, forty-year-old divorcée heroine, Abigail Beauchamp Orgeron, and artist, teacher, vegan, ukulele-playing, thirty-four-year-old hero, Lief Lively, or as strait-laced Abigail calls him, “resident cuckoo bird.” The familiar is evident in the “opposites-attract” trope and romance narrative deviations in a 40-year-old heroine and the un-alpha-like interests of her December-to-his-May hero.  Continue reading

Another One of Those Sort-Of REVIEWS: Victoria Dahl’s FLIRTING WITH DISASTER and Betrayal in Romance

Flirting_With_DisasterIf you’re literal-minded, or a prig, or easily titillated, the stand-out elements of Victoria Dahl’s Flirting With the Disaster are explicit love scenes and the hero and heroine’s foul mouths. These may be good reasons to read Dahl’s contemporary romance, or reject it in outrage. Which is why Miss Bates wants to get the review part over with pronto. Because she has other things to say. The first quarter or so, the set-up, left Miss Bates dubious: like taking that first bite of a new dish. The uncertainty: “Do I like this? What’s that strange flavour?” By the time the heroine’s combination of vulnerability and independent spirit were established, she was a fan. The hero had to work harder to win her. By the time things were heart-wrenching, she was a goner. If you don’t want to read how Dahl’s romance about U. S. marshal hero, Tom Duncan, and hermit-artist heroine, Isabelle West, got Miss Bates thinking about genre conventions, don’t read on. Read the novel (consider yourself warned about its rawness; she’ll let its tenderness take you by surprise). Then come back, tell her what you think about what follows. Or not. As long as you read it. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sarah Morgan’s PLAYING BY THE GREEK’S RULES and Winning the Heart’s Desire

Playing_By_Greek's_RulesMiss Bates’ introduction to Sarah Morgan was the lovely but unfortunately-titled medical category Dare She Date the Dreamy Doc? She read HP Twelve Nights of Christmas fast on its heels. The latter stayed with her: maybe because of its fairytale quality, a quality Morgan knows how to play, poking a little tongue-in-cheek fun at the HP Cinderella-trope, but affectionately, lovingly. Twelve Nights‘ opening prefigures Playing By the Greek’s Rules‘ elements: the making-ends-meet, Cinderella heroine moonlighting as a cleaner, billionaire hero sexy as heck but not alpha-holish, arrogant, or bossy; the funniest, most delightful dialogue, the heroine with-the-heart-of-gold who melts the icy hero. In Morgan’s two HP-category romances, the hero has everything, money, power, looks, status, but cannot match the heroine for irrepressible optimism, loving-kindness, and an unabashed élan of wearing her heart on her sleeve. The boundless felicity heroine Lily Rose takes in everything and everyone she encounters breaks down every wall of Jericho around hero, Nik Zervakis’s stony heart. Miss Bates cheered, laughed, and cried along with Lily and admired, once more, Morgan’s ability to create a heroine the reader adores as much as the hero is exasperated with – until blinded by the light of her exuberant sunniness and inexhaustible empathy.  Continue reading

Mini-Review: Jennifer McKenzie’s TEMPTING DONOVAN FORD, Cooking For the CEO

Tempting_Donovan_FordJennifer McKenzie and the second volume of her Family Business series, Tempting Donovan Ford, is new-to-Miss-B. She’s sometimes keen to try a new author, especially in one of her favourite category lines, the meatier Super-Romance. Also on the look-out for that romance rarity, an HEA-journey set in her “home and native land,” Canada, in this case, Vancouver. McKenzie’s romance had sufficient narrative enticements to forego Miss Bates’ dislike for a chef heroine (really? another chef) and businessman hero (one-CEO-too-many in romance these days). Its tropish ways familiar and beloved, antagonists-to-lovers and opposites-attract, Jennifer McKenzie’s Tempting Donovan Ford tells the story of the eponymous hero, head of his father’s wine-bar business, and Julia Laurent, executive chef of established, if a tad dated, French resto, La Petite Bouchée. They are thrown together when Donovan’s father buys La Petite Bouchée, a surprise to Julia, to whom Jean-Paul, the previous owner, had promised to sell. La Petite Bouchée is Julia’s professional and personal grail: her mother, recently deceased, still terribly missed and mourned, was its original executive chef. Donovan’s tall-dark-handsome presence, though an immediate physical lodestar to Julia, is, nevertheless, her dream’s usurper … unless she can convince him to sell her the restaurant. Donovan was against his father’s purchase of the demodé establishment. His aim is to modernize, redesign, and re-sell. He knows Juliet’s cooking is a selling point. Their plans align: renovate the restaurant and give Julia first dibs on its purchase. Until Donovan’s father, now recovered from a recent heart attack, informs Donovan he won’t sell.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Marin Thomas’s A COWBOY OF HER OWN, Or Girl Gets to Have It All

Cowboy_of_Her_OwnMarin Thomas’s A Cowboy Of Her Own is the final volume in her Cash Brothers series and it shows. There are plenty of brothers, wives, and babies peopling the narrative, though the first half focuses near-exclusively on the hero, baby brother Porter, and heroine, Wendy Chin. Thomas is a new-to-Miss-Bates category author and she was loathe to read this romance: she’s not keen on entering a series at the end and, frankly, she’s tired of cowboys. Cowboys seem to have taken over from the military, or ex-military heroes that were de rigueur in contemporary romance. (Now that our countries are once again embroiled in various Middle East conflicts, they should reappear.) Nevertheless, there were other deviations from the norm in Thomas’s romance that proved most interesting.

Though it’s a frequently-used trope, opposites-attract is one of Miss B.’s favourites for its potential banter-conflict. In Thomas’s hero and heroine, we have a bad-boy/good-girl pairing; with a Chinese-American heroine, the appeal turned out more original than your generic white-middle-class female protagonist. Thomas manages a nice set-up in the first chapter: “He was more interested in partying and working only when he needed money to fill the gas tank or treat a buckle bunny to a night on the town. Wendy was Porter’s polar opposite. She was a go-getter and a staylater at the job” and “As an only child and a daughter, she felt the weight of her parents’ high expectations of her. The constant pressure to climb the proverbial career ladder was overwhelming.” Add a romance-unusual profession for heroine, insurance adjuster, and a hero who transports cattle from rodeo to rodeo; add a mystery plot involving disappearing valuable cattle and you have a nice combination of narrative threads. When Wendy’s boss asks her to ride-along with Porter to unmask the cattle-rustling culprit, we have, in turn, a road romance. Continue reading

WENDY’S TBR CHALLENGE REVIEW BOOK: Series Catch-Up With Karina Bliss’s A PRIOR ENGAGEMENT

Prior_EngagementReading Karina Bliss’s A Prior Engagement was a long time coming for Miss Bates. She’s hoarded this romance novel since it came out in 2013. She read and loved the three previous titles in the Special Forces series, Here Comes the GroomStand-In Wife, and Bring Him Home. They’re about soldiers returning home from war in Afghanistan, after a horrific roadside attack, and the loved ones who waited for them. With this being the fourth title, and sensing that Bliss is thoughtful but not prolific, Miss Bates indulged in a title-hoard … you know, those romances you allow to linger in the Tottering TBR because “some day” you might have a bitch-day at work, or a fight with the BFF/partner, and YOU’LL NEED IT. Heck, Bliss’s romance novel, sublime as it is, has plenty of cringe-worthy scenes, they’re just not your cringe-worthy scenes and that makes the wait all the more worthwhile. Bliss’s New Zealand-set series is one of the best romance treatments of the effects of our recent wars that Miss Bates has read. As a Canadian, the news of Afghani roadside attacks were sadly familiar. Bliss’s series, however, describes what happens to the survivors, the soldiers, yes, but the family, friends, and lovers as well. Or, as Leonard Cohen sings in “Democracy,” “for the grace of God in the desert here and the desert far away.” Continue reading

REVIEW: Leah Ashton’s NINE-MONTH COUNTDOWN

Nine_Month_CountdownMiss Bates is a conservative romance reader, as she is in food choices and ownership of sweater sets, below-the-knee skirts, and Edwardian-style shoes. She’s wary and mistrustful of new-to-her authors; reading a tried and true author, one whose sensibility is in keeping with Miss B’s preference for themes of fidelity, commitment, decency, and a minimum of love scenes, is reassuring. It sits well, goes down easy. There’s a streak of break-out rebellion in Miss B, however, and sometimes, from the comfort of her easy chair, she takes the plunge into a new-to-her romance author. With category romance, the commitment, at least of time, is easier. Because, like all of you, Miss Bates likes to get that lift from discovering a gem. Reading Leah Ashton’s Nine-Month Countdown was such an experience for Miss B. Ashton’s Kiss-line category has a few flaws, but it led Miss B. to that wonderful discovery: a romance writer about whom she can say, “I like how your mind works. I want to follow you to see how you’ll surprise, delight, even disappoint me next.” More than anything, it’s how Ashton plays with some contemporary romance conventions that delighted Miss Bates: the unplanned pregnancy, returning soldier, helpless, “caught” heroine and still retain the “fidelity, commitment, decency, and, though hot, minimum in-keeping-with-the-development-of-the-relationship love scenes.” Continue reading

REVIEW: Emma Barry’s PARTY LINES, Or The Best Minds of a Generation

Party_LinesEmma Barry writes Miss Bates’ favourite kind of romance novel: rich in context, with characters immersed in a definitive place and time, uniquely themselves, but also emerging out of that place and time. Barry sets her contemporary romances in the arena of contemporary American politics. It was the stew that bubbled forth the first in the Easy Part trilogy, Special Interests, and second, Private Politics. Barry’s third “politically-set” romance, Party Lines, is her most “politically dense” novel yet, but it also offers a gloriously interesting romance. It contains a delicious irony in premise and title. Party politics/lines, especially modern party politics, are constantly in the public eye in this social-media age. How to carve space for intimacy, friendship, love, for “private spaces” in the midst of an election campaign as a key organizing player? That is the story of Democratic campaign manager, Michael Picetti, and Republican assistant to the deputy campaign manager, Lydia Reales. What if the furthering of one’s career hinges on this performance? What if the object of one’s love and desire is on the opposing side? Ideology, conviction, ambition, loyalty come into play and clash with desire, friendship, love, fulfillment, when political affiliations draw the line on what lines can’t be crossed for love. Continue reading

REVIEW: Connie Brockway’s THE SONGBIRD’S SEDUCTION, Or Love Among the Crofts

Songbird's_SeductionMiss Bates will expose her uncouth romance-reading ways and admit she’s not keen on Brockway’s books. She read rav-y reviews about As You Desire, dutifully read it, and it left her cold. She read All Through the Night and liked it better, but wasn’t inspired to read more of the oeuvre. Miss Bates suspects that there was something about Brockway’s voice, a privileging of it, a bringing into the forefront of the narrative that made the reader too conscious of it. When The Songbird’s Seduction came along … well, there was a mitigating factor, the Edwardian setting. Surprise, surprise … Brockway’s latest won her over. The novel was charming and funny, and pulled at the heartstrings. The voice was captivating, droll, affectionate towards its hero and heroine’s youthful foibles. The distancing was still there, but it was gentler. Though it may be deemed a light read, frothy and fun, there were also lovely, poignant moments, moments of pain in the characters, whose effervescent mood and carryings-on, embracing of life, willingness to forgive wrong-doing, were endearing. And did Miss Bates mention the laugh-out-loud moments … Continue reading