When I first started this blog, I was reading romance exclusively. Now, I balance romance with crime and nonfiction, and the occasional classic, or litfic. I like the variety and I tend to have three books going at the same time. I’ve been thinking about what I get from each genre, but mainly been focussing on romance and what it offers a reader, especially because I think it is still maligned in many quarters. There is no one better to show the romance genre’s virtues than Jenny Holiday, one of the masters of contemporary romance. The blend of humour, character growth, and the delightful journey to commitment for her two protagonists are perfectly executed. Though they’re unique, I find similar joy in reading Lucy Parker. The present Holiday volume I consumed, Mermaid Inn, first in the Matchmaker Bay series, adds a magical Canadian small-town setting to the Holiday trail-mix of goodness. In a pandemic panic, I’ll often wake up in the wee hours and reach for a romance to keep the ghosties away. Mermaid Inn kept me company the past three nights and I brought it to a final-page flip this AM with a satisfied sigh.
When I first started to read romance again, after a thirty-year hiatus (ah, the “lost years”), one of the first romances I read was J. R. Ward’s Lover Eternal (2006), a romance novel I thought at once execrable and utterly compelling. Really, I couldn’t put it down, even though I was embarrassed for enjoying it and yet thinking how laughably bad it was. I can’t say I experienced the same reader self-hatred reading the first of Ward’s new non-vampiric “Firefighters” series, Consumed. Maybe it was the first flush of allowing myself to read romance again, but I’d gained some distance from Consumed in a way I hadn’t with Lover Eternal, though I read it with the same enthusiasm and rueful self-doubt. I can now recognize what makes Ward compelling: there’s a hyperbolic physicality to her characters, a gritty underbelly feel to her setting, and a rawness to it all that makes for a powerful formula. There’s NOTHING small-town cutsie or gentle about Ward’s world and she’s pretty fearless about writing her characters’ edginess. I liked that about her and I liked Consumed, though, at times, it bugged the heck out of me. Continue reading
After finishing Jo Beverley’s sublime Emily and the Dark Angel, Miss Bates was in a reading funk. Much like a fussy baby, “grizzling” (as Hart describes adorable Freya in Juggling Briefcase and Baby) from book to book, unable to settle. Miss Bates read the opening pages to at least 15 e-ARCs; none of them took: the writing was stilted, info-dumps galore, and even romance writers she usually loves were giving her the meh-blues. She tried out a few non-roms; that experiment fell flat as well, too many writers too conscious of the prose and ignorant of the pacing, plot, and characterization. She stood in her spinster’s lair, foot a-tapping, index finger beating a dissatisfied refrain on her chin: nothing stood out from the groaning paper TBR shelves. “What to read? What to read?” … always turn to a title from a favourite author! Hence, Jessica Hart’s Juggling Briefcase and Baby, a one-click buy from years ago when Miss Bates read Wendy’s review. Dear readers, Wendy was right: this is a great great rom. There be reasons. There be one reason above all that makes for great rom. The genre runs with a pretty straight forward narrative: encounter, new or reunited; development with obstacles; HEA. That’s all there is to it; characterization, pretty standard, flawed but basically likeable, on occasion, admirable. What distinguishes the romance genre from others is the emotional wisdom, the deep deep astuteness about the bond of falling in love and making the scary leap to commitment. Hart, alas no longer practicing the romance art, is/was one of its most sensitive practitioners.
Cindy Gerard’s Taking Fire is fourth in the One-Eyed Jacks series, which sprung from her seven-volume Black Ops. Miss Bates admits to reading most of them (with the exception of the peculiar, unreadable Long Way Home). Though the elements of Gerard’s books should feel overdone, and while they’re not “fresh,” their familiarity and the genuineness she brings to them satisfy every time. Thinking about what Gerard did in Taking Fire, Miss Bates ventures to say it’s because Gerard mitigates her heroes’ alpha-ness with portraits of men who know what they’re feeling and feel it deeply. She endows her ultra-feminine heroines with steel and smarts. She skirts demonizing the Middle and Near East with a deep sympathy and positive portrayal of, in this case, Afghanistan’s people. She manages to turn Miss Bates’s reader’s distaste to page-turning sympathy. Taking Fire is of this ilk.
Miss Bates has written elsewhere of the theme of betrayal in romance. Gerard’s Taking Fire works with the same, except in Gerard’s case, heroine betrays hero. Taking Fire is tripartite: hero Bobby Traggert and heroine Talia Levine’s initial affair in Kabul; their reunification in Oman six years later; and, Oman events’ aftermath in Washington D. C.
Miss Bates’ responses to Laura Florand have been mixed: a tepid reaction to The Chocolate Touch and warmer, more loving-it reading of All For You. Miss Bates likes Florand better with every book she reads; it’s taken a while to get used to Florand’s distinct voice, a style and thematic concerns she finds increasingly more sympatico. Miss Bates characterizes what Florand brings to the genre as “lyrical angst,” with heroes and heroines embodying an emotional intensity distinctly, gallically high-strung. When it works, it’s touching, moving, heart-stopping; when it doesn’t, it’s at best, sentimental and, as you know, Miss Bates believes there’s nothing wrong with sentiment. Florand’s latest, A Wish Upon Jasmine, second in her La Vie en Roses series, is signature “lyrical angst.” Jasmin “Jess” Bianchi and Damien Rosier met and briefly wooed on a NYC hotel terrace and shared a passionate night. Their connection was instaneous and fierce, a recognition of attachment to the other that the romance genre, and Florand in particular, does so well. The light of day, however, dissipated the magic. Continue reading
Kat Latham is a new author to Miss Bates. She read a glowing review of Latham’s novella in her London Legends series, “Unwrapping Her Perfect Match,” and was curious to try one of her books. (Some *day*, Miss B. will link to all these reviews she reads, but that day will not be today … some *day*, Miss B. will keep a record of reviews she reads … ) In any case, she dug into Latham’s fourth rugby-playing heroes novel, Taming The Legend. Miss Bates is strictly a hockey watcher, but thought the rough-and-tumble rugby-world would appeal and it did. Latham’s novel is much more than that: it’s about forgiveness and love, new-found hope and redressing of past wrongs. It’s about being friends and lovers and working together to achieve something worthy and good. It’s also really really funny!
Taming The Legend opens with London Legends star-player Ashley Trenton, 36, holding the World Cup. Ash’s victory is bittersweet: he and his team have reached the apex of rugby achievement, but this is his last game. Ash is retiring and like everyone who dedicates a life to a beloved career, he’s uncertain and scared he’ll not be able to find a purpose as all-consuming as his career. Ash puts it best when he says, “He’d married his career, and he’d never questioned that decision. So what did he do now his career was divorcing him?” The answer comes in the form of Camila Morales and a punch to Ash’s victorious jaw. One glance in the hotel lobby brought Ash back to the girl he loved and left in Barcelona eighteen years ago. Ash’s grin and sexual excitement at seeing her again last a blink … before Camila has him reeling back on his very fine bum. Continue reading
Most of the time, when Miss Bates reads a romance, her response to it is consistent. The love-hate-or-meh feelings set in with the first sentence … and first-sentence-mini-review-to-self rarely steers her wrong. In Caitlin Crews’ At the Count’s Bidding, Miss B. ran a gamut of responses. Crews’ romance doesn’t deviate from the HP reader’s expectations, but the narrative exhibits abrupt shifts. At the same time, players and plot are typical of the category. Count Giancarlo Alessi, budding actor, and Paige Fielding, young dancer, met and loved ten years ago on a film set. Paige destroyed their young love when she took money from a tabloid in exchange for their nude photos. Paige had shameful obligations she was too embarrassed to share with Giancarlo. Ten years later, Giancarlo, now running his deceased father’s Tuscan estate, still hurt and angry over Paige’s betrayal, confronts her at his mother’s Bel Air mansion. Paige works as his mother’s personal assistant, fetching, carrying, and indulging the famous actress’s, Violet Sutherlin’s, whims. Paige, without family, or friends, clings to Violet as the only person who knows and loves her. Giancarlo is shocked to see her ensconced as his mother’s right-hand and assumes she insinuated herself into the job. It’s an opportunity to finally exact his revenge. He strikes a deal: Paige will cater to his sexual whims while he’ll allow her to remain as Violet’s PA. Paige won’t leave the woman who means so much to her and allowing Giancarlo to hurt her will assuage her guilt over their break-up. Continue reading