Review: Michelle Smart’s CLAIMING HIS CHRISTMAS CONSEQUENCE

claiming_his_xmas_consequenceIn a romance-reader’s life, nothing is more gripping than a good HP. The HP is the essence of romance, the genre in its barest, most elemental manifestation. If done well, the HP offers the romance reader the genre’s immersive emotional engagement in two hours of reading time.

Miss Bates loved her first Michelle Smart HP, Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed, and says no less for her Christmas HP, Claiming His Christmas Consequence. His, that is, hero Nathaniel Giroud’s “consequence” is the baby he makes with heroine Princess Catalina Fernandez, during one unforgettable night of love-making. Smart cleverly (pun totally intended) ensures we are never privy to the baby-making night, thus ratcheting up Nathaniel and Catalina’s relationship-mystique and making the post-night-of-love agon of working out their relationship the novel’s crux. When the novel opens, Catalina is patiently attending the wedding of the man her father had chosen for her to marry, Prince Helios of neighbouring kingdom Agon. Nathaniel Giroud, her brother’s school-days enemy and Helios’s good friend, is also in attendance. Catalina, in a rare instance of self-indulgence and defiance of her family and royal role, takes something for herself in one night of love with Nathaniel, the self-made French playboy billionaire. She closes the bedroom door behind him the next morning, knowing she can keep this wonderful memory through all her duty-bound nights and days. Nathaniel is moved by his night with Catalina, but eschews commitment.
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REVIEW: Elizabeth Hoyt’s SWEETEST SCOUNDREL

Sweetest_SccoundrelElizabeth Hoyt: Miss Bates just can’t quit you. Thus Miss B. found herself reading Hoyt’s, yes, ninth Georgian-set, Maiden-Lane novel, Sweetest Scoundrel. And what a scoundrel Asa Makepeace was, paired with a plain-Jane heroine, his “harpy,” as he called her, Eve Dinwoody, sister to Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery (the previous novel‘s villain). As the old duke’s illegitimate daughter, Eve lives an introvert’s ideal life: Val provides her with a lovely home and servants, ample income to indulge her miniature painting hobby, keep her caged dove in fancy seeds, and a bodyguard, a great character in and of himself, Jean-Marie Pépin. Eve is the only person who genuinely loves her nefarious brother. Responsible for Val’s interests in his absence (his shenanigans sent him into “exile” on the continent), she ensures his investment in Asa Makepeace’s grand rebuilding project, the pleasure garden known as Harte’s Folly, is solid. Officious, book-keeping, and dignified Eve meets volatile, foul-mouthed, and crude “Mr. Harte”, Asa, when she confronts him about his cavalier spending of her brother’s money and then goes about controlling Asa’s purse-strings.
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MINI-REVIEW: Lucy King’s THE PARTY STARTS AT MIDNIGHT

Party_Starts_At_MidnightFor a while now, Miss Bates ARC-reviewing was akin to a baby in a high chair with Cheerios strewn on the tray: all slap-happy grabby, a few falling to the floor, others tossed away, or crushed, some consumed, chewed over, enjoyed. It was so many choices, so many books, nothing focussed, or settled, or embraced out of sheer curiosity and freedom. It was “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” Flexing her reading muscles and dipping into the Tottering TBR has been great. BUT Miss B. possesses a backlog of guilt-inducing e-ARCs: her good-girl syndrome says, “Do something!” Therefore, dear readers, on occasion, she’ll dip into the battered “ARC” hat to pull out a bunny and offer a mini-review until it’s no longer a bottomless top hat, but a modest beanie. Miss B. WILL learn to be circumspect. One bunny is Lucy King’s The Party Starts At Midnight, a contemporary Harlequin Presents with a purty cover, zippy dialogue, and atypical HP characterization. Here’s what the blurb tells us about it:

This was not the itinerary that events planner Abby had intended:

8:00 p. m.: Leave the spectacular party you’ve organized in search of Leo Cartwright – international playboy, notorious tycoon and your most prestigious client.

8:10 p. m.: Find Leo asleep, half-naked, in a penthouse suite that just screams decadence – and battle a wildly-out-of-character impulse to kiss him awake.

8:30 – 11:30 p. m.: Return to the party. Spend all evening avoiding Mr. Cartwright – and trying to forget his tempting demands …

11:59 p. m.: Assure Leo that you will not be mixing business with pleasure.

Midnight: Break your own vow … All. Night. Long …

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Stretching Reading Muscles and Learning to Listen

Barefoot_BrideIn 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

REVIEW: Inez Kelley’s SHOULD’VE BEEN HOME YESTERDAY To Be With You

Miss Bates loves trees and lives in a country with plenty! She writes and reads and ponders in company with the maple tree in her front yard and records time’s passage by its changing leaves. This is one reason she enjoyed Inez Kelley’s “Country Roads” series. Kelley has set her three romances in West Virginia’s forest and the intricacies of a traditional logging industry (something else Kelley’s setting shares with Miss B’s country) making its way in the modern world, walking a fine line between profit and conservation. Moreover, Miss Bates enjoyed the romances: they’re sexy, heroines don’t take gaff from the heroes, and the heroes are manly-men who concede. Of the three, Take Me Home, The Place I Belong, and Should’ve Been Home Yesterday, Take Me Home edges out as her favourite. The first and third in the series were un-put-downable: the prose is smooth; the setting, beautiful; the heroine and hero, lovingly conflicted. Should’ve Been Home Yesterday had the added advantage of being a convincing contemporary marriage-of-convenience narrative, one of Miss Bates’ favourite romance tropes. Furthermore, it was a second-chance-at-love story, a wonderful combination of flashback, forward action, and two people meant to be together if they would only be honest with each other. At least there are reasons in their past that make the close-mouthed agony understandable. Despite the wonderfulness, Should’ve Been Home Yesterday suffered from the same problems, to a lesser degree, that Miss Bates found in The Place I Belong. Continue reading

Romance Panacea Part I: “Taking the Waters,” Searching for Paradise …

DontBeAfraidAbout a month ago, Miss Bates, stuck in afternoon traffic, listened to a favourite CBC Radio podcast, Tapestry, a show that self-describes as offering “the more subtle news of life – a thoughtful consideration of what it means to be human.” Their motto is Kant’s “The human heart refuses to believe in a universe without purpose” (which is also a darn good motto for the romance genre). One segment of that particular podcast was “The Novel Cure,” an interview with Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin who run Bibliotherapy at The School of Life in London, England, and have published a book called The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies. What a great idea, thought Miss Bates, a book recommendation for what ails you: feeling blue, out of sorts, plain pissed off, or having the “mean reds” as Holly Golightly said. Have you been dumped, are about to embark on a voyage, be married, divorced, change jobs, or cities? Berthoud and Elderkin’s prescribed book eases the transition, comforts, and diverts. Books as “prescription” medicine for the under-the-weather soul, mind, and heart.

She listened, rapt, as Berthoud and Elderkin suggested titles for a variety of moods and circumstances: H. E. Bates’s The Darling Buds Of May for cynicism; Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity for a recent break-up; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight for fear of flying; and, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for a new father. Miss Bates considered their choices lugubrious. Blatty’s The Exorcist for a loss of faith!? She’s read de Saint-Exupéry’s Vol de nuit and there’s nothing in it to comfort someone who’s afraid to fly (especially in light of de Saint-Exupéry’s night flight disappearance during WWII). What cheer is there for a new dad in the post-apocalyptic world of The Road? Great books all, but do they comfort and divert? They are intelligent, well-written, and challenging; they offer answers and considerations. They are great choices, BUT! Miss Bates protested WHERE ARE THE ROMANCE NOVELS? Do they not offer comfort, diversion, and thought to feeling blue, turning green, and seeing red? To despair, uncertainty, ennui, malaise? On the occasion of birth, death, and everything in between? Don’t they have a place in the prescriptive canon?

Anecdotal or not, Miss Bates has encountered many women who find respite in reading a romance novel (which is not to say men don’t, she simply hasn’t met any). For many, including Miss Bates, who can’t “take the waters” at Baden-Baden, cracking open a romance novel and being lost in it, laughing, crying, mourning, and celebrating with heroine and hero, thinking about its thematic implications, enjoying its wit and wisdom, serves as panacea to a day gone terribly wrong. Continue reading

“Summer In the City” and the Blogging is Blah

At Ros Clarke‘s instigation and inspiration, Miss Bates joined her and others in reading a BIG FAT BOOK in July. Lately, Miss Bates reads romance restlessly, ARC after ARC, writing reviews … it feels flat, too much of the same for too long. She had difficulty articulating her malaise until she read this latest post by Jessica of Read React Review. Jessica is forthcoming about her own blogging and reviewing blehs-mehs. When Jessica didn’t feel the blogging love anymore, when blogging was a chore and burden, she put her blog on hiatus. Miss B. missed her terribly, but she understood. Then, Jessica returned, to all our joy! It was enlightening and comforting for Miss Bates to read Jessica’s blogging take because it’s positive, helpful, and hopeful. In a nutshell, blogging blahs happen: don’t feel guilty, take a break, make some changes; you will blog again and enjoy it. Your blog is bigger than you: let it brood while you brood. Miss Bates knows that she would miss MBRR terribly, so it’s not a hiatus she needs.

The blogging blahs after only a year? 106 posts later? Regular readers and commentators and you’re restless? For shame, Miss Bates. Miss Bates has always had a short attention span, a tendency to master a skill, or task and move on. As a result, she’s left behind things that have given her pleasure and fulfillment: cue in knitting projects and attempts at bread-making. Writing Miss Bates Reads Romance has given her great pleasure and she’s so grateful to everyone who’s read and commented on her posts. And truly blessed by the people she’s met and chatted with (also in her latest most addictive cross-over meeting-ground, Twitter). In the end, she’d miss it: she’s not where Jessica was when she called a blogging hiatus. Miss Bates still reads and loves romance. She still loves to write her posts. She is, however, tired of the sameness of read review, read review, ARC after ARC. She’s lost her blogging edge. What she’s proposing is to shake things up a tad: she’ll still review new and old romance titles. She’ll mostly be writing about romance, romance with romantic elements, classic romance especially, and romance-related anything-that-strikes-her-fancy. She’s not laying down her keyboard, just tapping away a little differently. Posting about her Big Fat Summer Book and what it feels like to be reading something outside the romance genre, after exclusively reading romance for five years, will be one such experiment, even if an utter failure. After reading Mantel’s Wolf Hall for a 25-minute increment, a “Pomodoro” (again, a method of work discipline she learned from Jessica and Sunita), failure may be where she’s headed. Continue reading

REVIEW: Donna Alward’s THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL, Or “Loved I Not Honour More”

House_on_Blackberry_HillWhen Miss Bates saw the bucolic, small-town romance look of Donna Alward’s latest, The House On Blackberry Hill, she was afraid that one of her favourite category romance writers had gone the way of treacly-sweet-eat-pie-at-the-local-diner-to-be-cured-of-your-bright-lights-big-city ennui. Step right into a Thomas Kinkade world. In category romance, Alward’s canvas contains small towns, but they’re Albertan small towns (how MissB loved the Argentinian-set one) with grasslands, modern cowboys, and space demanding independence and solitude. In her latest effort, the town is small and picturesque, Jewell Cove on Penobscot Bay in Maine, but the canvas is broader, the narrative development expansive and involved. Alward is a romance writer of subtlety and complexity and House On Blackberry Hill, though its trappings have the feel of small-town contemporary romance and some of its elements are derivative, its characterization and narrative unfolding are signature Alward: thoughtful in its portrayal of love’s messiness, family, guilt, coming to terms with the past, growth, acceptance, redemption, and the road to happiness. Alward’s palette shows growth in this novel and growth, as we know, comes with growing pains. Alward’s Her Rancher Rescuer is one of Miss Bates favourite 2014 reads: it’s tight and zippy and interesting, with heroine and hero who have to grow up and extend their understanding to be together. We find no less in House On Blackberry Hill, but Alward also weaves family history, creates places and houses who are as much characters as heroine and hero (Abby Foster, school teacher and heiress of the “house on Blackberry Hill, and Tom Arsenault, contractor) an interweaving of three love stories, two of which are tragic, one of which is set in WWII, and a ghost story. It took Miss Bates much longer to “get into” this novel than the instantaneous love she feels when she opens one of Alward’s categories romances, but it won her over, surprised and moved her. It reminded her of Karen White’s Tradd Street series in mood and circumstance, but containing a more complete, more satisfying romance. Continue reading

REVIEW: Noelle Adams’s A BABY FOR EASTER, Or The “Resurrection Victory”

A_Baby_For_Easter” … 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

REVIEW: Jessica Gilmore’s THE RETURN OF MRS. JONES To the Uxorious Mr. Jones

The_Return_Of_Mrs_jonesThe second-chance-at-love trope in romance is one of Miss Bates’s favourites. It offers deliciously antagonistic back-story to a reunited couple; it adds depth beyond insta-lust. It may also, however, suffer from deus ex machina-ism, depending on how the romance writer engineers the reunion. One of Miss Bates’s comfort reads is a second-chance-at-love romance classic, Judith McNaught’s Paradise. She also points to another classic, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Ain’t She Sweet? Miss Bates characterizes Rachel Gibson as a mini-SEP. She’s written several enjoyable second-chance-at-love romances: in particular, her first and last in the Chinooks series, Simply Irresistible and Any Man Of Mine, respectively; the latter possessing gravitas and poignancy the former lacked. In the scheme of second-chance-at-love romances, how does Jessica Gilmore’s début effort stack up? Miss Bates says that there is no greater joy in the romance reader’s love for the genre than to discover a new voice in category romance. Gilmore’s first novel is lovely: the writing is strong; the characters are wonderful; and the handling of the second-chance-at-love for Lawrie Bennett and Jonas Jones, heroine and hero, one of the best she’s read. It’s not perfect, but it echoes one of the finest writing category romance today, Jessica Hart. Indeed, Gilmore gives a nod to Hart in her acknowledgements: a fine, fine professional mentoring if The Return Of Mrs. Jones is the result. A winner is born, folks! Continue reading