MINI-REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s CLOSE RANGE CHRISTMAS (Badlands Cops #6)

Close_Range_ChristmasI continue in my nostalgic pursuit of finding category romance. In this case, I read Nicole Helm, an author whose longer-form contemporary romance I enjoyed. And … nope. It wasn’t terrible, except for one puerile bit, but it also isn’t going to send me running to read more of this category. It didn’t help that I came in at #6: there were A LOT of previous book couples, with convoluted family histories, fostered, biological, and adopted, AND, it appears, six? seven? brothers from one ranch marrying the various sisters from the neighbouring one. Yeah, it was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers without the humour, music, or, well, the fun. Without overburdening my poor readers with the endless backstory, let’s give it over to the blurb for some plot and character filler:

Dev Wyatt’s worst fear has come true. Someone from the Wyatts’ dangerous past is stalking his family—and his best friend, Sarah Knight. When she asked Dev to help her have a child, Sarah did not expect her pregnancy would place her in danger, but now Sarah must take shelter on the Wyatt ranch. As she and Dev battle escalating threats, will they survive long enough to become a family?

Um, blurb-foiler: this sounds like it has forced-proximity potential. Au contraire, the Wyatt ranch is peopled with a gazillion brothers, their wives, children, and pets. The sexy times, given Sarah is nine months pregnant (not what we see on the cover), days from her due date, are strictly closed-bedroom-door and sparse, which is a-okay by me. As for the mini-village living together, with a grandmother to boot, I did not even try to figure out who’s who and who’s with who, or who begat who.  Continue reading

Mini-Review: Megan Crane’s DELTA FORCE DEFENDER

Delta_Force_DefenderThere is much to abhor in the former-military, “band of special ops” brothers romance, but I also cannot take away how compellingly satisfying Crane’s fourth Alaska Force romantic suspense novel, Delta Force Defender, was, the long-awaited story of the Force’s leader, Isaac Gentry, and the curmudgeonly owner of Grizzly Harbor’s restaurant, the shadows-in-her-eyes-and-scowl-on-her-face Caradine Scott. My reading experience alternated between eye-rolling annoyance and page-tapping eagerness, I’m embarrassed to say, but there you have it. There is absolutely nothing terribly original about the premise and, if it were not for Crane’s writing chops, this nears the Kristen-Ashley-badness territory.

Caradine Scott’s past catches up with her one night in her Alaskan-anonymity town, peopled by your run-of-the-mill small town “characters” and the ice-men that make up Alaska Force, a security service solving the world’s ills from their isolated state-of-the-art compound. Her restaurant is bombed and ne-er may be found of her except footprints leading to the water. What can I say, there are monitors. (Given the zip-tie horror of the America Capitol attack, no zip-tie carrying hero can ever be that heroic again. The former-military hero romance, with a protective, San-Andreas-fault-sized man-handling protective streak of said hero incites shivers of anxiety rather than frissons of excitement.) Leader of the he-man pack, Isaac Gentry, who does carry zip-ties, former marine, occasional-Caradine lover, is, atypically, emotionally affected by Caradine’s disappearance, terrified, though he’d never show it to his ribbing mates. Has she been kidnapped, or left for dead, or will soon be? Isaac follows her trail as Caradine takes a round-about driving route from Seattle to Maine, throwing off her pursuers but never losing Isaac, though she doesn’t know it … because he’s that good, better than anybody in the world. 
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Angelina M. Lopez’s HATE CRUSH

Hate_CrushI have a bone to pick with Ms Lopez: Hate Crush kept me up two work nights in a row. Harrumph. And I need my sleep, so kudos and curse you, Lopez, for writing this unputdownable thing. I loved Lopez’s Filthy Rich début, Lush Money, but I loved Hate Crush even more. The two carry my favourite romance tropes: marriage-of-convenience in the former and second-chance, in the latter. In Ms Lopez’s hands, the tropes dance and sing and come alive. Her characters are MESSY, visceral, intense, their conflict and emotions over-the-top; she carries the reader on a wave of energetic prose, unselfconscious, moving steadily in service to the HEA and her characters’ needs, transformations, and realizations.

Lopez’s premise is outlandish and improbable, but this is what makes romance, romance. I’m never taken aback by the genre’s propensity for “outlandish and improbable,” heck, literature is built on it. (Have you read A Midsummer Night’s Dream?) When an author has the genre’s integrity in sight and writes the outlandish and improbable in service to an arc of love’s redemptive power, I’m cool with an eye-rolling premise. 

Hate Crush sees bad-boy, disgraced (rumours of song plagiarism; band-mate’s/best friend’s suicide) rocker-hero, Aish Salinger, answer the call to a fake relationship, in his first and only great love’s fictional Spanish kingdom, Monte del Vino Real, with her, Princess Sofia. Sofia hates his guts, what’s in it for her? A rock of notoriety and publicity lobbed at the nay-sayers of her years-long struggle to bring new wine-making methods to her kingdom. Affair with an old flame? Check. But she lays down the law: keep your tattoos covered and your butt far far away from me. Kissy and moon-eyed for the cameras only. On the other hand, for Aish, this is a chance to clean off his in-the-gutter reputation; truer to his heart, to make amends, ask forgiveness of Sofia. And so, with his hollow-eyed, hungover arrival, we’re off …   Continue reading

Kristen Ashley’s DREAM MAKER

Dream_MakerI honestly don’t know where to begin with Ashley’s Dream Maker. About a quarter of the way through, I was looking forward to a snarky review, but having slogged through it (not an easy feat), I’m too tired for snark. This romance has much good to say about tossing off the bad and embracing the good (I can get behind the themes), but it says it so badly. If romance had manga, Ashley’s would be it: caricatured characters, thoroughly one-dimensional. Her characters remind me of those Hallowe’en suits, like a Superman one, you “blow up” and get puffy muscles. There’s a kind of breezy, down-to-earth, working-class tone to the novel and characters I found entertaining maybe for ten pages and then, the repetition, the language (woman are “bitches”, “shit” is always going down) and everyone speaks like wound-up comic-book characters. Maybe this novel turns some readers’ crank, but it is NOT a romance aesthetic I enjoyed. To start, plot-non-existent: hundreds of characters, all interchangeable, all men with their chicks, or bitches … and one of them, Lottie, I think, sets up our heroine, Evan “Evie” Gardiner with one of her “boys”, Danny Magnusson. These “boys” seem to run some kind of security firm, not sure what it was, but the room they worked in had a lot of monitors, so what else could it be? It’s insta-lust and like and love for Danny and Evan, so poof, that’s taken care of. Sadly, Evan has a TERRIBLE family and she sacrifices and sacrifices and sacrifices for them: her deadbeat brother in jail, her shrew of a mother, and it goes on. Thanks to the family’s nefarious activities, Evie is embroiled in a drug heist and some gun-running, all for the sake of saving her brother’s sorry behind. Bingo, this means Danny can go totally he-man protective on Evie and have her move in with him. Continue reading

Miss Bates’s 2020 Year-End “Review”

Sky_Dec_31_2020Dear readers and friends, if there’s one quotation that ran through my mind this annus horribilis, it’s Fitzgerald’s, “It occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence, or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well” (The Great Gatsby). And we have lived it every single day since March, when the subtle rumbling of the covid avalanche came to our attention. Then, lockdown … and a strange, united elation of singing from balconies and applauding health care workers and a kind of strange peace for those of us staying home that took the form of bread-baking and staring out windows. And, what I thought would be “reading time”, despite WFH. It wasn’t. Not the reading time part: instead a length of days, lost, in dream and lethargy. Of the books I did read, few stood out. Here they are. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Lacy Williams’s HIS SMALL-TOWN GIRL

His_Small-Town_GirlLacy Williams’s His Small-Town Girl isn’t a perfect romance, but it is true to the genre. And that was something I wanted to read after two lugubrious duds. Williams came from one of my favourite category lines, with favourite authors too, Harlequin’s “Love-Inspired” historicals (aka inspiehistrom). Since that line shut down, she has navigated to self-publishing and this series is, I would say, “kisses-only” contemporary, ne’er a soupçon of inspie content. But it still carries her ability to draw characters, write a fine line, and create a heart-tugging romance. There is something alive about Williams’s characters: they reach out to the reader and the reader cares about them. Even though overall His Small-Town Girl is an angsty read, the quick-fire, at times banterish exchanges between hero Cord Coulter and heroine Molly English lend a light, engaging touch. Angsty as heck is what these two are: Cord has returned to Sutter’s Hollow after years away in Houston to repair and sell his legacy, his grandmother’s run-down ranch. Orphaned with his baby brother, Cord suffered at the hands of his grandmother (and she’s never redeemed, which is a good thing in a contemporary that avoids the all-sunshine label in small-town Texas). As he tries to bring order into chaos, deal with an impending mortgage, and not lose his general contracting work back in the city, Molly English comes walking onto his ranch, sunshine to his grump, willing to do any labour to stay. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Sherri Shackelford’s STOLEN SECRETS

Stolen_SecretsIf there’s one thing I miss, it’s a good category romance. With many categories going the way of the bodice-ripper and trusted, true category writers absconding with their talents to other publishing pastures, it’s a rare and wonderful thing to have a few trusted category friends. One such is Sherri Shackelford, whose inspirational histrom I continue to miss. Though I’m not a fan of Intrigue, or this inspie-light parallel category, I ready by author and every other perimetre be damned (it’s how I *shudder* followed Sarah Morgan, beloved HP-author, to WF). In Shackelford’s latest, Stolen Secrets, I found the same delightful sense of humour and likable protagonists as I did in the histrom. The “suspense” part wasn’t to my particular interest, but I went along, and the narrative clipped along nicely, just to reach the HEA for heroine Lucy Sutton and hero Jordan Harris. When Shackelford’s scene opens: Lucy and Jordan are meeting in a coffee shop, a year after Lucy lost her fiancé and Jordan’s mission partner, Brandt Gallagher. Jordan has had a long road to recovery from the blast that killed Brandt and both Jordan and Lucy are still raw from grief. Their meeting is interrupted by a shooter in the café and Jordan and Lucy barely make it out alive.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Sabrina Jeffries’s THE BACHELOR

BachelorSabrina Jeffries was among the first romance writers I ever read, so a new book is always welcome. The Bachelor is second in the “Duke Dynasty” series, following Project Duchess. While it isn’t a cross-class romance because both hero Major Joshua Wolfe and heroine Lady Gwyn Drake are aristocratic, Joshua, as a third son, is poverty-stricken compared to Gwyn’s heiress-status. Blue blood, however, throws them together. Joshua, injured and at half-pay from the Royal Marines, acts as the Drakes’ Lincolnshire estate’s, Armitage Hall’s, gameskeeper. They are also connected by marriage: Joshua’s sister, Beatrice, is married to Gwyn’s half-brother, the Duke of Greycourt. When the romance opens, Gwyn is dealing with a blackmailing villain from her past, former-Captain Lionel Malet. Gwyn and Malet had an affair ten years ago, when Malet took advantage of her innocence and made promises he did not intend to keep. Now, he’d like a piece of her dowry in exchange for not ruining her reputation. Continue reading

REVIEW: Adriana Anders’s WHITEOUT

WhiteoutIt’s been a hot week, temp-wise, and I highly recommend reading Adriana Anders’s first Survival Instincts, romantic suspense novel, Whiteout, to help you think cool thoughts and see you groggy-eyed from staying up too late to finish reading it. 

Set in the Antarctic, focussed on Dr. Ford Cooper, glaciologist and emotional “Ice Man,” and warm, curvaceous, smiling research station cook, Angel Smith, Whiteout is everything romantic suspense should be. That means romance never gives way to suspense. Oh, there’s heart-in-your-throat scenes, but grumpy-monosyllabic-hero to sunshiny-motor-mouth heroine is everything you’d look for in a we’re-gonna-die-we’re-falling-in-love-let’s-make-love romance narrative. Anders sets her hero and heroine up nicely. Angel has cooked for the “Poley”, the research station team for months and is set to fly back to the States the next day. The night before, she joins the last-night celebrations and shimmies a dance before Mr. Stone-Face himself, Ford. Ford’s attraction has been clinging like a pesky burr-ish ice pellet, but he’s a no-emotions-no-connections-happy-with-my-ice-samples, thank you, ma’am, dude. Except for the part where he can’t get delicious-food, delicious-bod, warm person Angel out of this mind. When the station is attacked and he and Angel are the sole survivors, they set off, grump to her sunshine, on a 300-mile trek to another research station, only a few ski poles ahead of their bad-guy pursuers.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Megan Crane’s SERGEANT’S CHRISTMAS SIEGE

Sergeant's_Christmas_SiegeMegan Crane’s Sergeant’s Christmas Siege is the second Alaska Force romance I’ve read, nabbing this second one after loving the first, Sniper’s Pride. (Let me take a moment to say that I missed out on the actual first in the series, Seal’s Honor. My reading order is not the series order if you’re keen to check them out.) In comparing the two, I would say that Christmas Siege was heavier on suspense than rom and I definitely enjoyed Sniper’s romance more. But Crane sure can write and, therefore, it’s always pleasurable to follow her protagonists’ journey. In this case, with a hero and heroine consistently, relentless verbally sparring, a dearth of tender moments, made for a romance that could’ve used some ramping up. Alaskan state trooper and investigator, Kate Holiday, arrives at Grizzly Harbor, where Alaska Force runs its save-the-vulnerable operations. Kate  suspects they’re a paramilitary group with nefarious purposes, only one of which is to upstage conventional law enforcement, such as her own outfit.
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