It seems appropriate that Miss Bates open her reviewing year with one of her favourite contemporary romance writers. Maisey Yates’s Tough Luck Hero is part of that sprawling fictional Oregon town that Yates has created around the Garretts and Wests, as well as various inter-connected denizens. Yates’s Copper Ridge tales have yet to grow stale or pale. Some are stronger than others, but each one is a necessary part of Yates’s compellingly woven whole. (Brokedown Cowboy remains Miss Bates’s unwavering favourite.) Copper Ridge is a place of mountainous and sea-set beauty, complicated family dynamics, and the small-town warp and weft of stricture and support. With every book, Copper Ridge grows, as the lonely and disparate find someone special. The road to love, commitment, and many babies, however, is fraught with Yates’s particular vision of what falling in love and committing entail: a crap-load of resistance and torment. Tough Luck Hero‘s hero, town Golden-Boy Colton West, really has had a run of terrible luck. Mayoral candidate Lydia Carpenter is sitting pretty … until Colton and sympathy shots at Ace’s bar see her luck run out too.
Nicole Helm’s True-Blue Cowboy Christmas is the third and final volume of her Montana-set Big Sky Cowboys series. Miss Bates enjoyed the series’s combination of humour, angst, strained family dynamics, and theme of love’s healing, reconciling power. And when it comes wrapped in a Christmas-set romance narrative, all the better! One of the thematic aspects Miss B. enjoyed the most about Helm’s series is her creation of characters at a crossroads. Helm’s MCs come from difficult places, with pasts that hurt and thwart. When we meet them, they’re caught between a crippling past and the glimmer of breaking free of it, with the help of the transformative experience of love. Breaking out of old psychological habits and personal-history constraints is painful, like giving birth, but the potential rewards are great: the promise of living a better, different way is too potent and our protagonists too honest, desirous of it, and good, to forego the opportunity. Continue reading
Ever since she was a tween, Miss Bates has loved the film version of Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Miss Bates cannot resist the ethereally beautiful, vulnerable Audrey Hepburn or poignant Golden-Boy George Peppard. What Blake Edwards made of Capote’s novella is pure romance genre. More than anything, Miss Bates loved watching two morally compromised characters find love. They are, of course, morally compromised in their eyes, not the viewers’. Their growing love helps them re-evaluate who they are, see themselves in a better light, and give themselves what they deserve: love and belonging. In Nicole Helm’s Outlaw Cowboy, second in the Big Sky Cowboys series, Miss B. found just that, a viscerally satisfying romance about two people who are hardest on themselves emerging out of their dark nights of solitude to love, connection, family, and hope. Caleb Shaw is Mel Shaw’s brother; Mel is the heroine of Helm’s first romance in the series, Rebel Cowboy. That novel opened with Mel’s struggles to keep the Montana family ranch afloat. Bro’s on the bottle and father, paralyzed in an accident five years ago, has given up, checked out, and broods throughout the family home. When Outlaw Cowboy opens, baby bro Caleb has taken the ranch reins. He stopped drinking and desperately wants to retain ownership of the family land. Caleb is haunted by his mother’s abandonment and one terrible night he almost beat a man to death when he saw him holding a gun to his daughter’s head.
(Lately, Miss Bates has been thinking about how reading interweaves with our everyday lives. Maybe it’s because she’s having onerous days at work, maybe because she’s nursing a wicked head cold, but she was very much aware of what it meant to come home quite late, after a long and difficult day, and find a book waiting for her. A romance novel, even as this one, Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass, without much romancy romance, without sexy times, and with a meandering cast of characters, often NOT the hero and heroine. And yet, it was viscerally satisfying to know that good will triumph, brokenness healed, loneliness assuaged, and families melded.)
Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass is romance #3 in the Ransom Canyon series. No one book stands out as memorable, but the series itself stays with Miss Bates as a place of refuge. After reading the third book, Miss Bates realized that each novel’s romantic central couple fades and the characters who remain are the ones who appear to us book in, book out: the lonely, stalwart Sheriff Brigman, his ethereal daughter Lauren, her love for the elusive Lucas Reyes, and the retired teachers of the Evening Shadows Retirement Home. Most of all, Miss Bates carries with her Thomas’s fictional town as a “crossroads,” also the town’s literal name (place names in Thomas’s series are allegorical) where hero and heroine leave the broken past behind (often covered in family enmity and strife) and build a new world of love and family; black sheep are taken in; and community is healed. Continue reading
Jodi Thomas’s Rustler’s Moon is the third Ransom Canyon romance. Miss Bates liked the first one, Ransom Canyon, and reviewed it with much lauding. In Rustler’s Moon, Thomas continues to weave several narrative threads set in the allegorically-named, fictional town of Crossroads, Texas. Thomas recounts four story-lines, some of which end in an HEA, while others are HEA-pending. The main story-line and HEA-concluded romance is the bantering, wooing story of Angie Harold, newly-arrived and sole curator of the Ransom Canyon Museum, and Wilkes Wagner, local rancher and historian. Thomas continues the story of Yancy Grey, ex-con and custodian and protector of the “old folks” living at the Evening Shadows Retirement Community. She also continues the story of Sheriff Dan Brigman’s daughter, Lauren, experiencing her first year at Texas Tech and trying to negotiate a relationship with the driven Lucas Reyes. Thomas introduces the character of septuagenarian Carter Mayes, whose memories of cave paintings of stick figures haunt him still sixty years later and bring him to Ransom Canyon in search of them every spring. Alternating story-lines in third-person deep POV, Thomas captures something about small-town romance that many of its writers miss. She creates an authentic sense of community because she doesn’t sacrifice her secondary characters to one-dimensionality. It may be she sacrifices all her characters to one-dimensionality – Miss Bates leaves that judgement up to Rustler’s Moon‘s readers.
Donna Alward is one of Miss Bates’s favourite category romance writers, How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart one of her favourite romances. Miss Bates has reviewed wonderful Alward roms, including 2014 fave, Her Rancher Rescuer. In The Cowboy’s Convenient Bride, Alward tackles a contemporary marriage-of-convenience romance. It’s spring in Gibson, Montana, and ladies’ man Tanner Hudson is “sick of the bar scene”. Tanner’s wife left him, claiming he was “built for fun, but not for a lifetime.” Since then, he hides his yearning for love and commitment behind a loose-and-free persona. Laura Jessup is town pariah because she slept with Gavin, golden-girl Maddy Wallace’s husband. Gavin died and Laura is mama to four-month-old Rowan, apparently Gavin’s daughter. Appearances are deceiving, however, because Gavin was a friend, offering his lawyer-services to help Laura extricate herself from drug-dealing boyfriend Spencer. Spencer was in jail when EMT Tanner helped Laura give birth: ” … she vaguely remembered pleading with him to stay with her. She’d felt so alone, so afraid, so … adrift”. Laura breaks down and tells Tanner the truth, also confessing she fears Spencer discovering Rowan and pursuing them: “If Spence ever found out that he had a child … It would be nothing short of a nightmare.” Kind, chivalrous Tanner offers Laura a marriage-of-convenience to protect Rowan and allow Laura to establish her online website design business using Tanner’s name.
Sherri Shackelford’s The Rancher’s Christmas Proposal isn’t proposed by Shane McCoy, said rancher; rather, Tessa Spencer, our heroine, proposes. (A more original and interesting premise, but the word “rancher” in a title sells books. And Shackelford’s book deserves a readership.) Miss Bates is guilty of inspie romance assumptions (sadly proving true too often), which she extended to Shackelford’s unlikely pairing of con artiste and rancher. Inspirational romance characterization is one-dimensional: hero and heroine make Christian conversion avowals and Pollyanna-world reigns, making internal and external conflict caricaturish. Shackelford’s previous Prairie Courtships series novel, The Engagement Bargain, though not as fine as Rancher’s Christmas Proposal, contained this complexity of characterization in a sub-genre that sees so little of it. Continue reading
Miss Bates loves pie, apple, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, but nothing beats humble pie. She happily munches on it after sneering, snarling, and dramatically slapping her forehead with “What was I thinking?” reading Jodi Thomas’s Ransom Canyon – it’s women’s fiction. More fool Miss Bates because Thomas’s novel has as much going for it as it does going on.
Ransom Canyon is braided with three narrative strands: the romance between dour, tragic Staten Kirkland, rancher, and Quinn O’Grady, lavender farmer, reclusive pianist, and his dead wife’s best friend; the burgeoning feelings between Lucas Reyes, ambitious teen-ager and hand at Staten’s ranch, and Lauren Brigman, dreamy girl and sheriff’s daughter; and, Yancy Grey, ex-con and handyman to the adorable old coots, all former teachers, at the local retirement home. Add the blue-cape-swirling, curvaceous, sharp-tongued Miss Ellie, nurse-in-training, and frequent visitor to the retirement home and Yancy Grey, at 25, newly released from the big house, has himself a serious case of desire. Ransom Canyon is set in Texas ranching country, in the allegorically-named town of Crossroads, not far from Lubbock. Thomas weaves the three story-lines beautifully, offering redemption, renewal, and love to the broken and troubled – and leaving pending romance threads in the stories of the young ones, Yancy and Ellie, Lucas and Lauren. Continue reading
There’s no doubt Miss Bates loves category romance. She believes that in its modest and succinct form lie the genre’s treasures. Many a great (Nora Roberts, Sarah Morgan, to name only two) longer-length rom-writer has her start here – and many a rom-reader, like MissB., often yearns for her return. Category romance is the sonnet-form of the genre, circumscribed and specific, its potential for going from formulaic to treasured a mere trope away.
Christine Rimmer is a category name Miss Bates has watched knocking around the rom awards lists for years and, as a result, someone Miss B. wanted to sample. Christine Rimmer’s The Maverick’s Accidental Bride is as implausible and ludicrous in its premise as non-rom readers accuse the genre of being. At a Fourth of July friends’ wedding, childhood family friends, Jordan Leigh Cates and Will Clifton, unknowingly marry, waking to a morning-after near-naked in bed, without any memory of the ceremony, or consummation. Thanks to spiked punch and subsequent wild wedding reception that took many attendees’ memories, Jordyn and Will find rings on their left-hand ring fingers and the congratulations of friends and family. Before their heads became “hazy,” Will noticed Jordyn by the punch bowl all grown up and looking mighty sexy. Jordyn and Will grew up in Thunder Creek, Wyoming, Jordyn as little sister territory to Will’s older-brother-like protectiveness. Now, with their re-acquaintance at the Rust Creek Falls, Montana, wedding, they see each other a whole lot differently. They flirt, dance, sip punch, and kiss … and the next morning have to agree, for the sake of friends, family, and a possible baby resulting from a blacked-out night of passion, they’ll keep up the charade of their newly-in-love marriage until they can be sure they’re not going to be parents. Continue reading
Small-town contemporary romance abounds: cutesy towns, quaint “main streets,” bake-shop-owning heroines, and heroes or heroines who ride into town to meet the hometown girl/boy. But writing small-town contemporary romance requires a particular risk. Contemporary small-town romance is light on plot. It doesn’t have the social whirl/hierarchy of the histrom, nor romantic suspense’s thriller-danger zone. It relies on two conventions dosed light-to-heavy: the small town endowed with utopian character, a harbor, a sanctuary for all, or colouring the hero and heroine’s emotional journey potent and compelling. Maisey Yates’ Copper Ridge, Oregon series has accomplished this with some success, as Miss Bates’ reviews of the novella, “Shoulda Been A Cowboy” and first novel, Part Time Cowboy attest. In her second Copper Ridge novel, Brokedown Cowboy, however, Yates is at the top of her game in portraying a hero and heroine’s emotional journey, imbued with banter, honesty, hard truths. When the contemporary romance’s emotional journey convinces, as it does in Brokedown Cowboy, it’s riveting. Such was Miss Bates’ experience in reading Yates’ friends-to-lovers romance of surly Connor Garrett, hard-drinking, still-grieving widower, and Felicity “Liss” Foster, his secret-torch-carrying best friend of eighteen years. Continue reading