MINI-REVIEW: Jenny Holiday’s THREE LITTLE WORDS

Three_Little_WordsHonestly, folks, I’m scared to take a reading-breath, I’ve had SUCH a run of great books since New Year’s and Holiday’s Three Little Words gets on that list too. Not that I’m complaining, but as an introvert and pessimist, I do wonder: when will the reading ball drop?

So, Holiday’s #3 of Bridesmaids Behaving Badly: I wasn’t super-keen going in because, while I enjoyed #2, it didn’t rock my world. I liked it well enough and I especially liked Holiday’s smooth, easy-as-pie prose. There were also intriguing little moments with Gia Gallo, one of the quarto of girlfriends that make up Holiday’s series and this is Gia’s story and the intriguing Cajun chef in whose restaurant heroine Wendy and hero Noah dine in It Takes Two. Gia is gorgeous, a model, and a mess when it comes to food. She’s got a problem with it. In Three Little Words, we learn that, at days-away from 30, her body isn’t doing the skinny-model thing it used to and Gia’s having trouble coming to terms. Groomed from girlhood to compete in the pageant circuit, Gia doesn’t know what else she can be, what else she can do. She puts her existential crisis on hiatus at the novel’s start, however, because she‘s on her way to deliver her friend’s, Wendy’s, wedding dress to her Pink Palace Florida wedding. With a fitting scheduled, Gia has to get there ASAP. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sherri Shackelford’s NO SAFE PLACE

no_safe_placeI first discovered Sherri Shackelford’s romances in my much-missed, much-loved Love Inspired Historical line, where I discovered many favourites, Lacey Williams, Karen Kirst, Allie Pleiter, among others. I loved Shackelford’s inspirational-light historical romances and A Family For the Holidays most of all (read it! it’s wonderful!). I was surprised to see Shackelford move to a category different from the historical, but trusted her to surprise and delight me, with the same talent for weaving interesting variations out of tired old tropes. Some of that was immediately obvious in the details of No Safe Place‘s premise. To start, the heroine, Beth Greenwood, is a forensic accountant. Yup, she’s the lady who susses out the money-bad and suss it she does, except it lands her in terrible danger. Beth is working at Quetech Industries, uncovering money laundering. The Friday before a holiday week-end sees Beth directing an email to the FBI about the fraud. It’s set to land in the FBI inbox come Tuesday. It doesn’t take long for Beth’s subsequent get-away plan to fall under the violent tendencies of goons sent to wipe her out. In comes – *Clark Kent* – aka Homeland Security agent, Corbin Ross – as Beth notes, “Her heart did a little zigzag in her chest. She liked the handsome, Clark Kent appeal.” Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Susan Cliff’s WITNESS ON THE RUN

Witness_On_the_RunI’d been looking forward to the next Susan Cliff romantic suspense thanks to enjoying her previous one, Navy SEAL Rescue. The locales were fascinating; characters, complex; and the politics, respectful of time and place. I expected and found no less in Witness On the Run. (And who can resist that marvelous cover? Which, BTW, reflects the characters exactly as they should be, a rarity in romance, sadly.) Witness opened with the same acute danger and desperate circumstances as Rescue, with Alaskan cold and ice in place of Afghani heat and dust; a grief-stricken widower and First Nations spousal abuse survivor heroine in place of a disillusioned SEAL and determined Assyrian-Christian heroine. In both cases, the heroines have reasons to run and the heroes are entangled in their brave flights from danger and evil. Cliff renders the settings with sensitivity to their politics and captures the climate and conditions with realistic, compelling detail. 
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Mini-Review: Susan Cliff’s NAVY SEAL RESCUE

Navy_SEAL_RescueA couple of nights ago, I had an unfortunate encounter with an espresso. The espresso was delicious; its consumption, way too close to bed-time. Oh, happy sleepless night, however, I had a great encounter with a romance novel. A heck of a book hangover the next day, but delicious in being able to read Susan Cliff’s Navy SEAL Rescue in its entirety. I cut my romance-reading teeth on romantic suspense and this year I’ve had the privilege of reading two great practitioners: Anne Calhoun and now, Cliff. Like Calhoun, the suspense was tense and interesting; the background didn’t pander to chest-thumping American patriotism; the main characters shared a hot, tender relationship; as individuals, they were neither idealized, nor caricatured. Hero and heroine managed to be flawed and yet sympathetic. Cliff’s novel opens when the heroine, Layah Anwar Al-Farah, rescues Da-esh (Islamic Front) captured SEAL, Petty Officer William Hudson. While saving the American SEAL from beatings, starvation, and eventual death is an act of mercy, Layah, in fact, has other plans for him. She will ensure that he heal and regain strength in order to help her and a group of refugees cross the Zagros Mountains into American-allied Turkey, and eventually, at least for Layah and her orphaned nephew, Ashur, into Armenia and her parents’ safe arms. Well, the best laid plans of mice, men, and beautiful Assyrian doctors often go astray … Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Theresa Romain’s PASSION FAVORS THE BOLD

Passion_Favors_the_BoldIn 1817 London, 20-year-old heroine Georgette Frost, “accustomed to flights of imagination” leaves the family business, Frost’s Bookshop, to seek her fortune, in pursuit of reward money for locating 50 000 Royal Mint stolen gold sovereigns. Hero Sir Hugo Starling, 32, Georgette-described “hawkish of feature, and stuffy of temperament … [r]epresentative of everything chill and sterile about the life of the mind: study, solitude, and sternness,” discovers boy-clad Georgette on her way to adventure and fortune. As a self-styled stodgy rescuer of females and taker-carers of everyone, doctor and younger son of a duke, Hugo cannot allow Georgette to proceed on her foolish errand without protection. He resolves to return her to his friend and her brother, Benedict, and she resolves to foil him. Theresa Romain’s witty pen is immediately evident in Passion Favors the Bold. Among histrom writers, Romain is gently humorous and deeply compassionate towards her characters and never more so than in her second Royal Rewards romance.
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REVIEW: Juliana Gray’s A MOST EXTRAORDINARY PURSUIT

A_Most-Extraordinary_PursuitThere’s a certain kind of novel Miss Bates adores and it appears Juliana Gray has written one in A Most Extraordinary Pursuit. Maybe it’s the summer Miss Bates spent in Greece reading Elizabeth Peters. Maybe it’s the heroines: feral spinsters, independent, prickly, and devoted to their work. A hero who may or may not be “heroic,” a combination 007, Indiana Jones, and Lord Peter Wimsey; he’s ambiguous, as are the heroine’s feelings for him. Nevertheless, hero and heroine must work together to solve a mystery, a mystery set in a locale east of their western European English setting, a place hot and difficult to navigate linguistically and culturally, where the narrative isn’t easy to read, Egypt, India, or Greece. Not since Deanna Raybourn’s first Veronica Speedwell mystery has Miss Bates found and enjoyed a novel of this ilk, not until Gray’s Pursuit.

Our heroine and narrator, Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove, has faithfully served the Duke of Olympia and his Duchess, Penelope, for six years. Emmeline and her employers’ relationship is a close and protective one. Sadly, Emmeline’s beloved Duke died while trout-fishing and his now-Dowager Duchess entrusts her with finding the missing heir, grand-nephew Mr. Maximilian Haywood, off studying Knossian ruins in Crete. Miss Truelove seems to have, at least initially, two companions on her voyage aboard the Duke’s yacht “Isolde” and throughout her journey-pursuit of Mr. Haywood: the charming “reprobate,” Freddie, Marquess of Silverton and Queen Victoria’s finger-wagging, admonishing ghost! Continue reading

TBR Challenge Review: Blythe Gifford’s SECRETS AT COURT

Secrets_At_CourtSometimes a romance writer’s vision lies in wait. Miss Bates started reading Blythe Gifford’s Secrets At Court two years ago and, to her shame, dropped it. The heroine is clubfooted: Miss Bates was uncertain how well the author would handle her disability. The opening left her doubtful. Wendy’s TBR Challenge, however, led her back to neglected titles, buried TBR shames and uncertainties. Miss Bates doesn’t know why a novel whose opening left her cold captured her on second reading (but there’s a lesson there for us all), but it grabbed her like the hero’s firm and gentle touch on the heroine and didn’t let go until she tapped the final glorious page. As poor Guildenstern and Rosencrantz say to the mad Prince, they are neither atop Fortune, nor underfoot, but abide amidst her “private parts.” Thus with our heroine Anne of Stamford, lady-in-waiting, companion, and confidante to Joan, Countess of Kent and Prince Edward’s secret wife, and hero Sir Nicholas Lovayne, emissary and right-hand-man to both Edwards, king and prince. Our protagonists aren’t nameless servants. They attend to the highest in the land and navigate the dangerous waters of royal whims and strategems; as our hero says, ” … the privilege of royalty. To be rewarded for behaviour that would damn any other mortal.”
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REVIEW: Marguerite Kaye’s THE SOLDIER’S REBEL LOVER, “I could not love thee, dear, so much … “

Soldier's_Rebel_LoverThe Soldier’s Rebel Lover is second in Marguerite Kaye’s post-Peninsular War “Comrades In Arms” series and, like the first, The Soldier’s Dark Secret, is as much about honour, loyalty, patriotism, and disillusionment as romantic love. Kaye’s historical veracity (Miss Bates holds it above the pragmatic notion of accuracy, library research and cue cards provide that) thematic richness, and exceptional prose make for histrom reading as fine as any a rom reader is likely to encounter. Kaye makes the characters’ feelings of disillusionment and questioning that come with the historical owl’s dusky flight come alive. Miss Bates elevates Kaye to her histrom favourites: Cecilia Grant, Rose Lerner, and Meredith Duran. She loved the first in Kaye’s series, but thinks the second even finer. At Wellington’s behest, Jack Trestain, Dark Secret‘s hero, appeals to his friend Major Finlay Urquhart to re-enter Spain, in disguise, and rescue/extract El Fantasma, the still-active Spanish partisan leader who helped defeat Napoleon’s army. Why? Because should El Fantasma be captured by the present repressive Spanish régime, he may reveal actions damaging to Wellington and England. Finlay, like Jack, is restless and purposeless now war is over. Finlay’s loyalty to his friend, and Jack’s to his country, as well as Finlay’s “unsettledness”, convince him to take the mission. Soon thereafter, Finlay enters Spain disguised as a wine merchant.   Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Regina Scott’s FRONTIER ENGAGEMENT

Frontier_EngagementRegina Scott is a new-to-Miss-B author. Miss B’s relentless pursuit of good inspie fiction is running down like an wound-up toy. Scott’s Frontier Engagement is inspie-light (some heartfelt praying and one lovely forest-set singing of “Amazing Grace”), but not inspired to offer anything new or original in the subgenre. If you’re looking no further than the pleasantness that the subgenre has on offer with none of the offense that it occasionally exhibits, Scott’s 1866-Washington-frontier romance will be for you. Logger James Wallin travels to Seattle to bring a school teacher to Wallin Landing, his family’s fledgling town, and finds Alexandrina Eugenia Fosgrave, newly arrived with the Mercer expedition. Like all good inspie heroines, she’s suspicious and mistrustful, but James’ charm and persistence pay off: “So, like it or not, that schoolmarm had an engagement with the frontier.” James convinces Alexandrina, re-christening her with the diminutive “Rina,” as they set off for Wallin Landing, where Rina hopes to “make something good out of the tatters of her life, where she could make a difference.” Readers soon realize that James’ charm and humour, as well as Rina’s regal bearing, conceal psychic wounds. But Rina is barely established in Wallin Landing when the challenges of teaching leave her tear-eyed and on her way to an easier teaching post. To ensure her safety and, frankly, because he’s sweet on her, James accompanies her in the guise of her fiancé and the narrative makes an about-face, becoming an inspie road romance. The “road” provides much fodder for both humorous and dangerous incidents, as well as James and Rina opportunity to know each other better and grow closer in love and friendship. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Elizabeth Kingston’s THE KING’S MAN, Or “I am her man. Hers and no other.”

King's_ManDear readers, Miss Bates has been scarce lately: 😦 , the world is too much with her. For the next few weeks, likely months, she offers mini-reviews, much as she’d prefer to wax loquacious. Better a mini-review than none at all, though! Her first such is a historical romance novel, set in late 13th century England and Wales, Elizabeth Kingston’s The King’s Man. It opens as Gwenllian of Ruardean cares for the injured Ranulf Ombrier, Of Morency. He lies feverish, envisioning Gwenllian as ministering angel. Beyond his injuries, Ranulf, frighteningly handsome to the plain, tall, gawky Gwenllian, suffers spiritual torment, pleading with Gwenllian, a hold on her wrist and tormented eyes, to push her dagger into him. What torments him? What has brought this notorious Norman lord, king’s man to Edward I, the king’s assassin, to her family’s castle? Gwenllian, a woman trained in combat, in command of men, is as much her mother’s “woman” as Ranulf is the king’s: stripped of her womanliness by a mother who wants her to be a weapon in preserving Welsh independence against Edward’s hegemony. Lady Eluned, Gwenllian’s mother, bids Gwenllian return Ranulf to King Edward; thus begins a journey bringing Gwenllian and Ranulf, and the push-pull of their antagonism and peculiar attraction, her beast to his beauty, to Edward’s court, landing in the machinating, self-seeking king’s hands. Gwenllian, once promised to Aymer of Morency who was killed by Ranulf, was to be lady of Morency. To this day, her family contests Morency lands. Edward seizes an opportunity of Ranulf and Gwenllian’s presence: he announces their impending marriage, rids himself of a thorny conflict between two powerful families, and seals Ranulf and Gwenllian’s strange symbiosis and rancour and attraction. Continue reading