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.
“No, no, Papa. I won’t. You cannot make me.”
Anne Gracie’s 1999 Gallant Waif opens with Julia Davenport’s rejection of hero Jack Carstairs as she pleads with her father to release her from their engagement. Jack returned from the Peninsular War scarred and disabled. Julia could live with his disfigurement and inability to trip the light fantastic, but his poverty is unforgivable. And so, disowned by his father, barred from war’s arena, and spurned by his fiancée, months later Jack still broods and drinks in his neglected estate like a big, handsome male version of Miss Havisham. Until Lady Cahill, his irascible, adorably officious grandmother, befriends Kate Farleigh, her deceased god-daughter’s daughter, and deposits her in his household, ostensibly as his housekeeper. Jack and Kate were wounded by the war. She followed the drum to care for her pastor-father and soldier-brothers until they died and, to her shame, was then captured and became a French officer’s mistress. Jack and Kate share a deep shame for their war experiences and cannot separate what happened to them from what they perceive their failures and shortcomings. Continue reading
Finding a TBR challenge title for July’s theme, a RITA Award winner, was easy for Miss Bates. She loved Simone St. James’ Silence For the Dead and The Other Side Of Midnight; it was natural to choose St. James’ first hybrid gothic-romance-ghost-story-mystery novel to read, The Haunting Of Maddy Clare, which won Best First Book and Novel With Strong Romantic Elements in RITA’s 2013 competition. Again Miss Bates had to read with the light on, again she read non-stop to reach the HEA, and again St. James delivered gothic romance’s promise: eerie atmosphere, a naïve, intelligent, diffident heroine, mysterious, dark hero, haunted places and unsettled spirits, and the heroine’s voice, growing in strength and understanding as she sets the world aright. The Haunting Of Maddy Clare opens in London in June 1922. Alistair Gellis, ghost hunter, seeks an assistant to help him investigate the ghostly presence of Maddy Clare in the village of Waringstoke. His request to a temp agency brings him solitary, lonely, poverty-stricken, sad Sarah Piper. While he already has an assistant in volatile Matthew Ryder, Maddy Clare’s ghost is particular in her hatred and violence towards men. With Sarah’s help in approaching and recording Maddy’s ghostly presence, Alistair and Matthew hope to rid Mrs. Clare, Maddy’s foster parent and employer, of the malevolent spirit residing and wreaking havoc in her barn. Continue reading
Small-town contemporary romance is ubiquitous. Miss Bates reads her fair share, especially when it’s by Donna Alward, or Virginia Kantra, who write wonderful contemporary small-town romance in their Jewell Cove and Dare Island series. Sarah Morgan’s Puffin Island series now takes its place next to Alward’s and Kantra’s. Morgan’s first title, First Time In Forever, doesn’t break any molds. It’s typical in characterization, narration, and setting. Miss Bates is interested in the small-town romance as a vision of utopia; she’d argue the hero’s/heroine’s role is complemented by the small town utopian ethos, even so far as to say some of the HEA work is done by its denizens. Our hero and heroine need help and the small-town comes through for them.
For now, Miss Bates sticks to plot and character basics. Emily Donovan arrives at coastal Maine’s Puffin Island a desperate woman, seeking sanctuary and anonymity, the anxious, uncertain, and recent guardian of a niece, six-year-old Lizzy. She meets boating/sailing club owner, tall, dark, and handsome Ryan Cooper, when he knocks on her door offering help, friendship, and smouldering sexy looks. Their encounter breaks open two people wary of love, commitment, and family. Their closed-off selves, cautious and doubtful, are healed as much by the virtues/values of small-town life as falling in love. Emily, in particular, experiences a conversion to small-town living. Ryan, by virtue of having been home for four years, is one of her guides. While he may be advanced in his journey, he needs to take the final steps to finalize/entrench his place on Puffin Island and those steps entail overcoming his commitment-aversion. Continue reading
Miss 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
Miss 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
Miss Bates lauded Kelley’s first book in the “Country Roads” series and this, her second, had the potential to be even better. The first half was wondrously good and Miss Bates excited to have landed a keeper. “Best laid plans” and all that and the second half, except for one or two scenes, fell apart (which is not to say that MissB’d discourage anyone from reading it.) Au contraire, the parts that are good are worth enduring the cringey bits, but let Miss Bates say that the cringey bits are pretty seriously messed up and dominate the second half. There is much to like about The Place I Belong: the initially nuanced hero and heroine, a role for religion that is NOT inspirational and sufficiently ambivalent to make it interesting, the requisite rift between hero and heroine is ideological instead of circumstantial, and the descriptions of the beauty of West Virginia’s mountains are loving. What goes terribly wrong in the second half, so much that it possibly negates the terrific first? Continue reading
Every spring, in Miss Bates’ cold, northern land, people visit the sugar shacks, where they use what-look-like-wooden-tongue-depressors to scoop warm maple syrup from snow. They take sleigh rides through grey-white woods and sit to a meal of eggs, ham, and baked beans … doused in maple syrup. Precious memories for Miss Bates from her early school years, even if present comforts don’t mind relinquishing maple syrup goodness to avoid muddy boots, bumpy rides, and artery-hardening fare.
When Miss Bates went to primary school in the early seventies, her teachers wore fringed leather skirts, peasant blouses, and sported long hair. They played guitar and had students sing along. One of the songs they sang was John Denver’s “Country Roads.” Miss Bates didn’t know where West Virginia, the Blue Ridge Mountains, or Shenandoah River were and didn’t care. She sang her heart out and not terribly well to the accompaniment of teacher’s guitar: “Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong … ” Her then sophisticated and risqué native city was as far from the Appalachians as bodies can get in North America, but the sentiments of home, nostalgia, and belonging are still with her.
What do Miss Bates’ happy reminiscences of sugar shack outings and Denver’s “Country Roads” have to do with her latest romance read? Everything. Because the running of the sap and a mountain mamma have everything to do with Inez Kelley’s latest, Take Me Home, the first in her “Country Roads” series, which Miss Bates really really liked, with caveats, but liked. Continue reading