Tag: Plain-Jane Heroine

Review/Response/Appreciation: Jo Beverley’s EMILY AND THE DARK ANGEL, Seeing Lucifer, Finding Michael

Emily_2Jo Beverley’s 1991 Emily and the Dark Angel restores your faith in the genre. That was Miss Bates’s thought as she turned the last page with a satisfied reader’s affection-sigh. Miss Bates is glad she read Emily Grantwich and Piers Verderan’s wooing on paper: a traditional format for a traditional Regency, which never loses its freshness, elegance, or emotional power. What brings about that lift, the reader’s spirit-rise, the recognition of “I’m in the presence of one of the genre’s greats”? It’s difficult to pinpoint, as elusive as catching a sunbeam. It’s trope-manipulation, or gentle tinkering; it’s psychological acumen. It’s the bringing-to-life of time and place; it’s secondary characters who breathe. It’s turn of phrase the reader recalls long after the last page is turned. It’s banter and confession and the fulfilled promises of desire and being understood.

Emily and the Dark Angel contains one of Miss Bates’s favourite romance pairings, opposites-attract: Emily is sensible to Ver’s imprudence, countryside respectability to Ver’s citified worldliness, propriety to his flouting of social conventions, innocent to his debauchery, staid to his temperament, plain to his gorgeousness, and Miss Bates’s absolute favourite, her diminutive stature to his gargantuan. When this yin-yang romance combination is handled as cleverly and sensitively as Beverley’s, the HEA is about the couple’s integrating the best of each other in themselves. Core identity is preserved for tension and interest, but tempered to show us how they will live in harmony.
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REVIEW: Bliss Bennet’s A MAN WITHOUT A MISTRESS, Or The “Primrose Path of Dalliance”

Man_W:O-MistressNow 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.  (more…)

REVIEW: Elizabeth Hoyt’s SWEETEST SCOUNDREL

Sweetest_SccoundrelElizabeth 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.
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Opening-Line Mini-Review: L. M. Montgomery’s THE BLUE CASTLE

Blue_Castle“If it had not rained on a certain May morning, Valancy Stirling’s whole life would have been different.”

Thus opens Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Blue Castle, a novel that should be as beloved to Montgomery readers as Anne of Green Gables. Its opening line encompasses what happens to a life at the crossroads of arbitrariness and opportunity, circumstance and freedom. Valancy is a 29-year-old mousy spinster, a Miss Bates without the supportive community or tolerant mother, living in her contemptuous family’s shadow and reminded daily she is her supercilious mother’s cross to bear. Valancy is simultaneously cowed, dismissed, pitied, and exploited.    (more…)

TBR Challenge Review: Blythe Gifford’s SECRETS AT COURT

Secrets_At_CourtSometimes a romance writer’s vision lies in wait. Miss Bates started reading Blythe Gifford’s Secrets At Court two years ago and, to her shame, dropped it. The heroine is clubfooted: Miss Bates was uncertain how well the author would handle her disability. The opening left her doubtful. Wendy’s TBR Challenge, however, led her back to neglected titles, buried TBR shames and uncertainties. Miss Bates doesn’t know why a novel whose opening left her cold captured her on second reading (but there’s a lesson there for us all), but it grabbed her like the hero’s firm and gentle touch on the heroine and didn’t let go until she tapped the final glorious page. As poor Guildenstern and Rosencrantz say to the mad Prince, they are neither atop Fortune, nor underfoot, but abide amidst her “private parts.” Thus with our heroine Anne of Stamford, lady-in-waiting, companion, and confidante to Joan, Countess of Kent and Prince Edward’s secret wife, and hero Sir Nicholas Lovayne, emissary and right-hand-man to both Edwards, king and prince. Our protagonists aren’t nameless servants. They attend to the highest in the land and navigate the dangerous waters of royal whims and strategems; as our hero says, ” … the privilege of royalty. To be rewarded for behaviour that would damn any other mortal.”
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REVIEW: Jeannie Lin’s A DANCE WITH DANGER, Or An “Irrational Act For Love”

Dance_With_DangerDevoted romance readers are super-readers: reading, when LIFE permits, several books a week and in possession of TBRs stretching “to the crack of doom”. This makes the rom reader knowledgeable about romance archetypes (more familiarly known as tropes) and, as a result, possessing a vocabulary with which to talk about the genre. Rom readers are pretty awesome in the ways they understand the genre. Moreover, they are knowledgeable about their favourite rom authors’ oeuvre. They compare favourite romance narratives and an author’s books to others she’s written. All of Miss Bates’ rigmarole to say that, when she read Jeannie Lin’s The Jade Temptress, the rom reader’s “hallelujah chorus” played at peak volume. When Miss B. saw Lin’s latest (and celebrated her return to category print), A Dance With Danger, she did the Snoopy happy dance. Reading The Jade Temptress, Miss Bates felt herself in the hands of someone who was doing wonderful things with the genre: interesting, original things, things that would linger and influence, set new bars and revive histrom’s flagging presence. Having read A Dance With Danger, Miss Bates can still say, with conviction, that Lin writes some of the best histrom on offer. Comparing A Dance With Danger to The Jade Temptress, however, leaves the former a tad in the dust. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sophia James’s MARRIAGE MADE IN MONEY, And Convenience Questioned

Marriage_Made_In_MoneyMiss Bates is grateful NOT to be adding Sophia James’s Marriage Made In Money to a DNF post. She was sooo glad to find a romance novel that at least kept her attention to the HEA. James’s alliteratively-titled Marriage Made In Money echoes Mary Balogh’s A Christmas Promise and Rose Lerner’s In For A Penny, favourites of Miss Bates’s. (If you haven’t read them, do it now!) Marriage-of-convenience on the basis of one of the two characters’ need for money, usually the impoverished lord, is often a difficult trope-variation for Miss Bates to stomach. It takes subtle skill to convince a reader that the marriage-deal’s mercenary nature can turn to love and devotion; after all, one of the two protagonists is morally compromised from the get-go. Balogh’s and Lerner’s romances convince. James’s tried. Amethyst Amelia Cameron, 26, and widowed, her former marriage a  sham of abuse and trauma, agrees to marry Daniel Wylde, 6th Earl of Montcliffe and Napoleonic war veteran, to make her tradesman-father, gravely ill, happy. Lord Daniel agrees to marry Amethyst to save his crumbling, debt-ridden estates, brought to this low point by his gambling brother, Nigel, whose untimely death also left him a peevish, spendthrift mother and two unmarried sisters. (Just once, Miss Bates would like to read a romance that reverses that convention … but then mercenary women are not half as attractive as men, right?) The novel follows Amethyst and Daniel as they interact, attract each other, misunderstand each other, and stumble their way to an HEA. Continue reading

When Only Short and Sweet Will Do: Liz Fielding’s THE SHEIKH’S GUARDED HEART

_Sheikh's_Guarded_HeartTruth be told, as far as romance reading goes, Miss Bates is a category aficionado. Now that she’s somewhat extricated herself (and she was the sole person responsible for putting herself there) of the ARC-shackles, and given that the day job will make relentless demands on her until Christmas, you can expect A LOT of category reading and ruminating. Liz Fielding is an auto-buy and go-to author for Miss Bates. Why? Because the writing is laudable; characters; finely drawn; and, there’s humour and gravitas to the story. For example, Miss Bates loved the 2004 A Family of His Own, with its broody hero, grubby gardener-heroine, and gardening metaphors out of Wilde’s “Selfish Giant.” Fielding’s The Sheikh’s Guarded Heart has similar elements: an oasis-garden setting, a loving heroine, a cute moppet, a brooding, suffering hero and elegant writing. And the idea that the love of a good woman can water the soul of a brooding hero. Was it a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience for Miss Bates? Continue reading

Georgette Heyer’s DEVIL’S CUB Foiled By A Heroine “Mistress of Herself”

Devil's_CubIn April, Miss Bates followed a discussion about the question of a romance canon. The debate began with a thorny Salon article which, nevertheless, inspired interesting responses. For Miss Bates, said article was of minimal regard: its noblesse oblige attitude towards the genre ensured she stop reading by first paragraph’s end. The responses, however, were a boon: the always fearlessly incisive Vacuous Minx, no-nonsense sharpness and smarts of Wendy the Superlibrarian, perspective of Love In the Margins, take of Romance Novels for Feminists, and Jody at Momentum Moonlight. Miss Bates, though agreeing with these points of view, found Jody’s stance the most helpful because it summarized the problematic nature of canon setting/launching/exploding and offered an alternate term and means of pointing to seminal texts in the genre. Jody defines “iconic” texts as those which “affect the genre in a meaningful way.” Simple, direct, flexible, and workable. Miss Bates borrows Jody’s term “iconic” to identify “affective/effective” romance texts, such as Heyer’s, subject of her present post. Jody’s definition implies that iconic romance texts are those to which other romance texts accrue. They represent something important to the genre, not that they are necessarily meritorious in and of themselves, though they may very well be. They’re a hub; other texts are the spokes. They’re texts around which discussion occurs. (Sometimes, they may be denigrated, or rejected texts, representing things we don’t want to see in the genre, such as elements found in Old Skool romances.) They may change; more may be added, or forgotten, as the genre develops, grows, or regresses. Time is the only given. Miss Bates also thinks that the genre benefits more from pointing to an author, rather than individual texts, to identify an iconic moment in it. Heyer would certainly be present in such company.

When Miss Bates read her first Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades, she wasn’t aware of Heyer’s iconic status for romance readers. On reading her second, Devil’s Cub, published 1932, a sort of sequel to Shades (not 50!), educated somewhat in the genre (though by no means is she done, nor does she purport to be an expert), it’s evident that Heyer contributed iconic texts. Heyer’s tropes echo in every duke, rake, and plain-Jane; nonetheless, reading Devil’s Cub was alienating. That may be because of a narrative shift in more recent romance that Miss Bates’ refers to as the main characters’ endless internal ruminations. In that sense, Heyer appears quaint vis-à-vis character development and an excess of madcap plot; she forewent modernism. Yet, Miss Bates found something refreshing about a romance narrative where reader has to decode gesture and pose rather than thinker-tells-all of characters’ internal worlds in close point of view. Ye shall know them by their gesture … this is her subject. Bear with her: bodies in Heyer, what do they tell us? How does she establish character through the physicality of gesture, pose, tone, and gaze?  Continue reading

REVIEW: Louise Allen’s UNLACING LADY THEA, Or “A Talent for Friendship”

Unlacing Lady TheaOne of Miss Bates’ favourite literary exchanges occurs between snarky Hamlet and his doofus-y friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in Act 2, scene 2:

Hamlet: “My excellent good friends! How dost thou?” …

… Guildenstern: ” … On Fortune’s cap we are not the very button.”

Hamlet: “Nor the soles of her shoes?”

Rosencrantz: “Neither, my lord.”

Hamlet: “Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours?”

This exemplifies how Miss Bates considers most of the romance novels she reads, neither the “very button,” nor the “soles” of goodness, but somewhere about the middle and somewhere about the middle of Miss Bates’ favours is where most lie. This may be said about Louise Allen’s Unlacing Lady Thea, the first half of which Miss Bates slogged through, annoyed with much of it. Nevertheless, competent, smooth prose kept her reading. The second half proved much better: with atmosphere, thanks to lovely descriptions of France and Venice, and a hero and heroine who grew on her. The result is a romance that started out “meh” and ended up fairly good, a lot like our hero and heroine’s journey from solid friends to glorious lovers, from gently green and misty England to the magnificence of canals, gondolas, and the Piazza San Marco. Continue reading