I kept Felicia Grossman’s Appetites and Vices close to my reader heart for weeks, patiently awaiting release day. I was excited about a new romance writer with an unusual premise. Sadly, work kept me at a panting pace and my reading was sporadic at best, a chapter here, a nodding over a page in bed there. My interest, maybe because of the pace at which I read, was equally uneven, enthralled at times, sluggish at others. More of that later.
For now, to the plot and premise! Which proved convoluted. In 1841 Delaware, 21-year-old Ursula Nunes, adored daughter of Judah, smart, eccentric, and Jewish, is insider and outsider to society. Outsider thanks to her religion, insider thanks to her family’s wealth. Whatever makes her an outsider to society by virtue of her birth is compounded by her eccentricities: beautiful, blonde, curvaceous, and blunt, blurting painful truths and creating awkward silences, gaps in sociable chitchat, and painful stretches without dancing partners, female friends stand at nil. Continue reading
Miss Bates is always happy to salute Wendy the Superlibrarian; Wendy’s led Miss Bates into many a romance love and is responsible for her obsessive love of category romance. Miss B. made a mental note to read Lacy Williams after reading Wendy’s review of her first inspirational historical category romance, Marrying Miss Marshal, which languishes in Miss B’s TBR still. 😦 It wasn’t a wholehearted Wendy endorsement, but it stayed with her because, like Wendy, Miss B. was intrigued by a “marshal,” that is, law-enforcing Western heroine. Reading A Cowboy For Christmas, Miss B. doffs her Stetson to Wendy for recognizing Williams’ potential in that early review. Lacy Williams’ A Cowboy For Christmas captivated Miss Bates from start to finish. Set in Wyoming in December of 1900, Wiliams’ novel tells the redemptive, healing story of two people who’ve suffered plenty and are ready and deserving of human and divine succoring.
Heroine Daisy Richards, with her “empty pinned up sleeve,” after a terrible runaway-horses-and-wagon accident, though fragile, frightened, and angry-sad, finds a way, with the help and support of the eponymous cowboy-hero, Ricky White, to embrace a full life. She learns to be strong and laugh again. Ricky (again with that unfortunate choice of name for a hero; what’s wrong with Rick?), former gambler, drinker, brawler, and promiscuous, with a new-found faith in God’s redemptive power, excavates the goodness that has been in him all along by helping and loving Daisy. As Daisy gains in confidence and begins to return Ricky’s feelings, what she doesn’t know is that he’s implicated in her accident. Continue reading
If Miss Bates as romance reader has a romance writing twin, it’s Jessica Hart. Hart pushes all of Miss B’s romance-loving buttons: her books are a perfect balance of realism and fairy tale, emotional intelligence and ideas. (Miss Bates is indebted to Emily J.H., a Twitter friend, for inspiring this post, and hopes inspiration is with her.) All of this wondrous goodness is in Miss Bates’ latest Hart read, Christmas-inspired of course, the 2009 Harlequin Romance, Under the Boss’s Mistletoe. Miss Bates suspects that Hart’s writing is both intuitive and conscious (as the best writing is), aware of craft and led by muses and the unconscious. In Under the Boss’s Mistletoe, Hart offers a classic romance narrative arc, as defined, always for Miss B., by Pamela Regis’s A Natural History of the Romance Novel (social context defined – meeting – barrier – attraction – declaration/realization – point of “ritual death,” what Miss B calls “darkest before dawn” or “dark night of couple-soul” – recognition/overcoming of barrier(s) – betrothal/marriage/baby-filled epilogue, preferably all three!). In this case, Hart frames the narrative most beautifully with a prologue and epilogue set where hero and heroine first meet, reconciling past to present. Under the Boss’s Mistletoe isn’t quite re-united lovers, or second-chance at love, but it does bring together one wild youthful kiss shared by antagonists into their present, now ten-years-later, meeting. Let’s get the review part of this post out of the way first by quoting Audrey Hepburn to Cary Grant in one of Miss B’s favourite films, Charade. “You know what’s wrong with you?” says Audrey to Cary. He shakes his head. “Absolutely nothing.” (All right, it lags a tad in the middle; and the dialogue sounds contrived there too as Jake and Cassie debate what makes a good marriage. But Miss B. quibbles.)
Other than the virtuoso handling of the romance narrative, what fascinated Miss Bates about this novel and, in general, novels deemed “sweet,” or “fade to black,” is how, when they’re as good as Hart’s, they portray as passionate and interesting a “take” on physical attraction and desire as more explicit ones. Miss Bates examines how the masterful Hart does so in this delightful novel. Be warned, dear reader, Miss Bates quotes the novel at length. Mixed up in these quotations are maybe-spoilers, though the joy of the novel lies in language and characterization, not plot. Continue reading
” … this book … is not an inspirational romance. It is a regular contemporary romance that features characters who happen to be religious … Spirituality is an important aspect of human experience and the lives of a lot of people, but it’s often surprisingly absent from contemporary romances … the point of this story is not to present any sort of religious message, but faith is important to these characters, and so the plot and character development turns on their spiritual condition.” Says Adams in the forward to A Baby For Easter. Miss Bates was fascinated by her distinction and remains fascinated by any treatment of religion in romance, especially if it’s not contained in the obvious, i.e., the inspirational sub-genre. She was also keen to read Adams when she read Ros’s interview with her here. Miss Bates’s opinion of the novel is two-fold, how the religious theme was treated and how it held up as a romance: the former was refreshing, appealing, and interesting, and the latter, uneven. Miss Bates agrees with Adams when she says that religious content should come naturally to the romance novel because religion, or the questioning of religion, or the rejection of it, are ideas that many people consider at some, or many times in their lives. It doesn’t have to be in every romance, but it also doesn’t have to be so strangely absent from it either. It is an aspect that offers one more opportunity to enrich character and deepen narrative; or not, depending on the treatment and writing. It does so in A Baby For Easter, so much so that the romance pales in comparison. Miss Bates enjoyed Adams’s novel and would recommend it with caveats; as Adams herself says in her forward, “there’s likely to be too much religion for some readers and too little for others.” In Miss B.’s estimation, the religious component was “just right” for her taste and sensibility. What the novel gained in that richness, it lost in the romance. The narrative giveth with one hand and the narrative taken away with another. Continue reading
Jill Shalvis gives readers what they want and expect. Her style, content, and way of perceiving and presenting the world are signature, which translates to predictable after reading a few of her books. They’re also good in the same way every time, pithily written, with wit and energy; they are humourous. Her hero is big and tough and sexy. Her heroine is independent, giddily messed up, and gives as good as she gets. People change for the better and HEAs are worked out and made possible because her hero and heroine alter their ways of thinking and relating. Families, especially how parents’ mistakes bear on the adult lives of the hero and heroine, figure prominently. Always On My Mind, Lucky Harbor #8, runs to type and delivers what the reader seeks in a small-town Shalvis romance. Miss Bates has enjoyed, if not loved or been enthralled by, every Shalvis romance she’s read and Always On My Mind did not fail her overall; however, it foundered where no Shalvis romance ever has, at least in Miss Bates’s experience. There is also something in the sameness of it all that disappoints. There is a blandness to the recent Lucky Harbor books that left Miss Bates restless through the first half of book eight … BUT, in typical Shalvis fashion, like her impossible-not-to-love animal characters, it picked up in the second half. Miss Bates has damned Always On My Mind with faint praise, yes, but she’d still like to wax loquacious about it. Continue reading for Miss Bates’s further discussion of Shalvis’s novel