For a while, it looked like contemporary small-town/rural romance eclipsed historical. Historical is slowly in the ascendant and contemporary looks stale. Or at least those have been Miss Bates’s feelings lately. Then, Tawna Fenske’s Let It Breathe: a perfect combination of humour and pathos, second chances, and sundry laugh-out-loud moments thanks to a hilariously motley crew of secondary characters.
Reese Clark, thirty-four-year-old divorcée, manages her family’s Oregon wine business, Larchwood Vineyards. She has big plans to expand the business by building a new tasting-hall, hosting tours, and getting LEED-certified. In her meagre spare time, she fosters injured wild animals and plays straight-woman to her outrageous grandpa, Albert, aka, “Axl,” her cooingly-in-love parents, her wild-living cousin Larissa, and Eric, vintner ex-husband, and Sheila, his wife. Clay Henderson re-enters their lives. He’s the Dorrington Construction manager and the man Reese has loved since college, Eric’s best friend, and the alcoholic everyone rescued and succoured until one night fifteen years ago when Reese didn’t bail him out. Clay Henderson is four-years sober-and-serious and back to build Reese’s vineyard-dream and make amends.
Miss Bates read the complex, thematically-rich work of Katharine Ashe for the first time in Ashe’s Regency-set The Rogue. If a comparison is useful, she was reminded of elements in Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances: a double-narrative, one of which remains mysterious and elliptical, an earthy-rawness to the love scenes, a cross-class theme, an independent-minded heroine, and a protective, but not overbearing hero. Miss Bates loves Hoyt and responded to Ashe’s Rogue likewise. Though The Rogue is first in the “Devil’s Duke” series, it is connected to Ashe’s four-book “Falcon Club” one. Ashe discussses connections in character and plot in The Rogue‘s afterword. Miss Bates admits to some difficulty following the complicated narrative threads and connections “during reading,” but no trouble loving the MCs, Lady Constance Read and the eponymous Frederick Evan Chevalier de Saint-André Sterling. Constance and “Saint” (he is pretty sublime) met six years before the novel’s action proper, at a house-party. Saint thought the lurking-in-shadows beauty was a maid. They met secretly for two weeks, falling in love, before they were discovered and Constance’s aristocratic-wealthy-heiress future was evident to Saint. Their classless Eden sundered and they were thrown into classist exile. Saint was left heart-broken and betrayed, yet ignorant of Constance’s heart-break over losing him. Continue reading
Miss Bates starts her fourth reviewing year (woo hoo!) with a new-to-her author, Sonali Dev, and the second novel in her “Bollywood” series, The Bollywood Bride. Ria Parkar is the eponymous bride, a Bollywood star with a past to hide and secrets to protect. When the novel opens, Ria struggles with painful memories of a childhood gone awry because of her mother’s mental illness and father’s grief. She struggles with the memory of betraying and abandoning Vikram Jathar, the great love of her life. She struggles with the sexual exploitation she endured to “make it” in Bollywood. Ria is a tormented figure; she’s on edge, unraveling, losing control. When a paparazzo takes a picture of her attempting suicide (she didn’t, she was reaching for a dropped cell phone), she flees to Nikhil’s, her cousin’s, Chicago wedding to avoid the publicity. As we soon learn, Ria doesn’t care what India’s papers say about her; her fears are deeper and more personal. In Chicago, amidst elaborate Indian-wedding traditions (the Bride‘s fun part), she encounters the young love she cast aside. Vikram is bigger, meaner, and angrier (at her) than his loving, optimistic twenty-one year old self ever suggested he’d be and it’s Ria’s fault. Keeping a cool distance, though as vulnerable to him as she was ten years ago at eighteen, Ria wants to ensure she won’t hurt “Viky” as she did then. Continue reading
Reading 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 Groom, Stand-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
Whose Baby? (2000), Maternal Instinct (2002), With Child (2005), Snowbound (2007) and The Man Behind the Cop (2008): romantic suspense, family-centred, child-parent-focussed, believable problems and dilemmas, and all Janice Kay Johnson category novels Miss Bates read and enjoyed. Johnson goes about the business of producing solid, unassuming romance novels without “strum und drang.” Miss Bates can’t say that the Johnson novels she’s read are huggable-loveable and she’d carry them to a desert isle, except for the contemporary marriage-of-convenience and unusual Whose Baby? Nevertheless, they never fail to leave her thoughtful about the complications life can throw at good, ordinary, fallible people, how to contend with troubles in “battalias,” how to make families out of pretty crappy circumstances, and how to love another person in his/her imperfections. Not a bad feat, even if Miss Bates’ reader heart doesn’t miss a beat reading. Johnson does no less in her latest Harlequin Super-Romance, One Frosty Night. Miss Bates has quibbles, but this is a solid romantic suspense, with more suspense than romance. Continue reading
In the after-math of blogger black-out, midst a stressful, busy work month and nasty flu, Miss Bates turned to her old stand-by and greatest romance love, the category, to help her find pleasure in a few snatched hours of R&R. She coupled reading with listening to an audiobook on dark morning and, thanks to the end of DST, equally dark evening commutes. She didn’t have energy to read more than a few chapters in the evening and wanted the e-reader to tell her that the end was nigh, a you-have-38-minutes-to-finish-this-book message. As for the audiobook commute, let’s say that taking her mind off the sundry tasks she has to fulfill and personalities to juggle are blessings. She hoped that her paltry minutes of comfort and pleasure would offer the thrilling jolt of reading, or listening to things truly great. And the book gods visited boons upon her. Miss Bates read a lovely category romance, Jessica Hart’s Barefoot Bride. It is as thoughtful, well-written, and heart-stoppingly romantic as its title and cover are trite. (Why oh why does Hart have terrible luck with titles and covers? Miss Bates’ favourite Hart, Promoted: To Wife and Mother, is probably the best worst example. Don’t let the title fool you, though, this is one of the best categories Miss Bates has read.) She listened to and is still listening to (it’s a long one, folks) Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley, not The Charlotte’s best known book, but sheer pleasure to Miss Bates. She sends out her heartfelt thanks to Sunita for finding the audiobook and Sunita and Liz for listening along with her. Continue reading
When “the world is too much” with Miss Bates, when she’s “in disgrace with fortune” and has had the work month from hell, when Friday rolls around and fatigue comes cheap … she reads an HP. HPs are Miss Bates’s preferred escapist reading: the caricatured masculinity of the uber-hero, the moral goodness and myriad virtues of the often-misunderstood heroine (even heiress-party-girls are good and secretly self-sacrificing). Setting is set at minimum and the over-wrought physicality of the hero and heroine’s attraction is strung so tight Miss Bates hears zinging as she reads.
Thus was Sarah Morgan’s The Sultan’s Virgin Bride. Smooth, coconut-flavored chocolate, an espresso as dark as our hero’s eyes and Morgan’s PC-not tale and Miss Bates rejuvenated on a weary Friday night.
When Saturday’s grey-fogged incipient dawn crept into her room, however, she woke with thoughts whirling. She’d enjoyed every moment of her HP; however, niggling and annoying considerations sidled into her consciousness. She’s going to impose them on you, dear reader. Bear with her. This be reader response.
To the HP reader, there are no spoilers. One of the HP’s virtues is its predictability. But if you don’t read them and you’re reading this, there might be mild ones. HPs require the suspension of your suffragette and post-suffragette sensibilities. Continue reading
Thanks to Wendy the Superlibrarian, Miss Bates is a category romance fan, big-time! The two Sarahs, Mayberry and Morgan, are some of her all-time favourite contemporary romance writers. Nevertheless, she’d never read one from the Intrigue line and leapt at the chance … only to fall, dejected, from her elation. There was nothing inherently wrong with Debra Webb’s Bridal Armor. It delivered, as most category romances do, in most cases. “Ah, there’s the rub,” said Miss Bates, the problem lies in the concept of category.
Miss Bates learned her lesson: “Intrigue,” in the MissBatesian sensibility of reading preferences, just ain’t her cuppa. Pretty much the same reason the detritus of her popcorn bag were more interesting than the Jason Bourne movie on the screen. If you’re a fan, however, dear reader, there isn’t any reason why you wouldn’t enjoy Bridal Armor … as long as you’re not averse to reading a novel whose elements you’ve encountered countless times before. If the familiar is where you want to be, you’ll find your place here. Continue reading
In Making It Last, Ruthie Knox re-invents one of Miss Bates’s favourite historical romance tropes: the re-united husband and wife. She cleverly separates her lovers/husband-wife not with physical distance, as so often happens in historical romance, but by the emotional distance that comes of a long-standing but floundering marriage. This novella was painful to read in places, but, in the end, it was hopeful and positive. It is all about “making things last” in a marriage: love, attraction, friendship, and desire. It’s about endurance and resilience, even though the hero and heroine are two of the most vulnerable, fragile figures Miss Bates has read in a long time. This is not a romantic narrative to cozy up to; there are uncomfortable feelings here that flow from the characters’ weaknesses to the reader’s, but it is worthy of the reader’s admiration and consideration. Continue reading