Angela Bissell’s Defying Her Billionaire Protector gets a “wow” from the get-go thanks to its cover. While MissB is loathe to try a new author (burned one too many times), she wanted to know what an author, especially in the glamor-puss HP-world, could do with a wheel-chair-bound heroine. Bissell centres on a hero and heroine who have both lost a lot. Drunk, teen-aged Marietta Vincenzi got into a car with an inebriated driver and now, at thirty, lives with the consequences of that decision, as a paraplegic. While Bissell wants to throw a spotlight on the problem of drinking and driving, to her credit, she isn’t judgemental, or didactic. Marietta has regrets, but overall, she’s a heroine who is at peace with her life and living it fully. Marietta is an aspiring visual artist who runs a successful gallery. She lives on her own, but is close to her family, a brother, sister-in-law, and pretty adorbs baby nephew. But, she has a problem – someone is sending her creepy anonymous notes, gifts, and flowers. Marietta has a “secret-admirer-turned-stalker”. Into her full Rome-set life arrives Nico César, her brother Leo’s friend, and owner and operator of a security company. With the bond between Leo and Nico strong from ties forged in the Foreign Legion, Nico will personally oversee and be the primary operative of Marietta’s security detail. Like Marietta, Nico suffered loss when his beloved wife Julia was kidnapped and killed fifteen years ago. Nico is haunted by his inability to save her and, as a result, inures himself to love and commitment. Our hero has never concluded that it is better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all.
Miss Bates declares her love of category romance loud and clear. The category has given us Betty Neels, after all. And the contemporary faves, Sarah Mayberry, Sarah Morgan, and Molly O’Keefe, some of whom may’ve moved to longer-length pastures, cut their teeth on, and made us happy with, category-length romance. Miss Bates is always eager to try something new in category and does so disposed to like it. Thus she read Marsh’s Romance For Cynics to try the “Kiss” line which, according to Harlequin’s writing guidelines is all about a “young, urban feel” and “21st century alpha male hero;” it’s “fun” and “flirty.” These are kisses of death to Miss Bates, but she was surprised by Marsh’s romance. Wading through these parameters like murky, reedy water was a “traditional,” enjoyable category romance trying to make its way to the surface, to the light. Marsh’s romance novel was uneven: a poorly executed cross/hybrid between a “Presents” and “Romance.” Parts were good, but the whole was inconsistent. Continue reading
Miss Bates is not a fan of the workplace romance, but Stacey’s Snowbound With the CEO is both salvaged and marred by its brevity … and it contained elements that helped Miss Bates overlook the office-romance ick-factor. The workplace, especially involving the corporate world, is difficult for Miss Bates to imagine as terribly romantic, with its ladders and ambitions and competition, though she’s aware that many a relationship has had its beginnings over the water-cooler, “statistics prove.” But the corporate world is also the place where women have to work very very hard to earn their place, where they are subject to harassment and discrimination. All of that to say it’s difficult to laud a romance narrative that has its setting in the boardroom and the bedroom. Nevertheless, Stacey pens a fairly appealing little narrative because she makes the boardroom the problematic arena and the bedroom the oh-so-right one. The brevity of the novella form, on the other hand, aids in this and takes away from it. The writerly hand giveth and taketh away. Continue reading for more lauding and caveats
Until she read Sometimes A Rogue, Miss Bates’s only Putney novel was The Bargain, a revised version of the 1989 Would-Be Widow. It had a great premise, great first third or so … then, it all went to hell in a hand-basket. Sometimes A Rogue has its “problems,” i.e., the unique position of being peculiar and soporific. Much of it was … yes, boring. It comprises three, consecutive, not-well-executed narratives: with the same hero and heroine in strange mutations of their personalities over three contortions of the plot in one of the flattest-toned romance novels Miss Bates has ever read. Whew. More often than not, Sometimes A Rogue felt like Putney was assiduously following an outline, sketching in every scene: novel by fill-in-the-blanks, paint-by-number. Miss Bates had the same question at the end of Putney’s latest as she’d had at the end of one of her earliest: what happened here? Why did everything go so wrong in a book that had a modicum of potential? Read on; Miss Bates tries for droll
After two lemons, Miss Bates finally scored a peach in Elizabeth Camden’s Into The Whirlwind. It’s not sweet, but it’s refreshing and substantial. Miss Bates sought to read Camden’s effort after the recommendation that Against The Tide received from Dear Author. There is much to love about this story, says Miss Bates, but there are caveats and warnings for the unsuspecting reader. The narrative is sweeping, interesting, and well-written. The hero and heroine are admirable, likeable, and real. This novel is designated as “inspirational” and “romantic,” but exhibits a dearth of both, which is not to say that you shouldn’t read it. You should; pleasure awaits you. It is a novel that requires patience and understanding as character is revealed, internal worlds unfold, as we come to know and love our hero and heroine and all who surround them. We have to enter “into the whirlwind” with Zack and Mollie, the people they interact with, and the stalwart, hard-working, resilient, teeming city of Chicago at one of the most difficult and triumphant moments in its history; Chicago is as much a character as the fictive figures who make their lives in it. Read on, for Miss Bates’s further assessment of this complex novel
Karen Ranney is a long-established romance writer and her books much-beloved to many readers. The Devil of Clan Sinclair, however, was Miss Bates’s first Ranney novel. While Miss Bates never says never, and always gives an author a second chance (if the sins are literary and not ethical), she’ll remain wary of any and all of Ms Ranney’s titles if this is what she has to go by. Though there are echoes to Judith McNaught’s Once and Always, Downton Abbey, and Grant’s A Lady Awakened, all of which Miss Bates loved (well, maybe not the McNaught, but Downton and Grant are the non-pareil), The Devil of Clan Sinclair does not inspire similar enthusiasm or loyalty. Only after a two-thirds slog of a read was Miss Bates somewhat engaged, the characters elicited a modicum of sympathy, and the writing style became less off-putting, but problems remained, festered, and left Miss Bates dissatisfied. She realized there may have been serious purpose to Ranney’s tale: to convey a theme of “forgiveness,” “acceptance,” and “understanding,” as the hero states, necessary to forging a solid marriage; the journey to that HEA however, fraught with lies, deceptions, and a good dollop of blackmail and kidnapping, and that doesn’t even describe the villain, only the hero and heroine, was not fun. If you’d like the details of Miss Bates’s displeasure, read on
Miss Bates’s favourite chocolate is dark and encrusted with sea salt and caramel; she waits for it to go on sale (it’s a bit pricey for the spinster budget) at the local drug mart and nabs as many of its knobby bars as she can. It’s not nearly as good as some of the “chocolat artisanal” available in her city, but it isn’t candy-bar dross either. It is, she admits sheepishly, a “designer” knock-off. This is where Florand’s contemporary romance, The Chocolate Touch, stands in the romance spectrum. It’s not the best romance you’ll read this summer, nor the worst. It has stock-in-trade characters, especially the tedious poor-self-esteem-themed hero and heroine, a weak to non-existent conflict, copious amorous scenes to make up for the lack of conflict, and angsty internal monologues also to make up for the lack of conflict. On the other hand, the writing is solid and it’s set in Paris. It’s set in Paris! The author obviously can parlez-vous because the French phrases peppered throughout are kind of cool. Florand captures the spirit and charm of the city. Paris is an expensive city, much like hand-made luxury chocolate, and Florand’s novel serves an armchair traveler like Miss Bates quite well, maybe more than her romance did. This pretty much sums it up, but for details, read on
After floundering in the richness and nuance of Gaffney’s To Love and To Cherish, Miss Bates wanted her romance reading to come down to something simple and predictable. What better than an HP for what ailed her? An HP with its clear-cut universe of billionaires and ingenues, overwrought frissons of physicality and high-pitched emotions. She knew exactly what she was getting in Caitlin Crews’s The Replacement Wife, and even got something more: stronger characterization, purpley but smooth prose, and a palatable ethic of love winning over money and fame. She was pleasantly surprised by this romance novel about a hero and heroine trying to fit in, to be “good enough” in a world of money, power, and privilege. Miss Bates enjoyed her foray into the hyperbole-ruled HP universe. There’s more, if you care to keep reading