Mini-Review: Jodi Thomas’s LONE HEART PASS

lone_heart_pass(Lately, Miss Bates has been thinking about how reading interweaves with our everyday lives. Maybe it’s because she’s having onerous days at work, maybe because she’s nursing a wicked head cold, but she was very much aware of what it meant to come home quite late, after a long and difficult day, and find a book waiting for her. A romance novel, even as this one, Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass, without much romancy romance, without sexy times, and with a meandering cast of characters, often NOT the hero and heroine. And yet, it was viscerally satisfying to know that good will triumph, brokenness healed, loneliness assuaged, and families melded.)

Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass is romance #3 in the Ransom Canyon series. No one book stands out as memorable, but the series itself stays with Miss Bates as a place of refuge. After reading the third book, Miss Bates realized that each novel’s romantic central couple fades and the characters who remain are the ones who appear to us book in, book out: the lonely, stalwart Sheriff Brigman, his ethereal daughter Lauren, her love for the elusive Lucas Reyes, and the retired teachers of the Evening Shadows Retirement Home. Most of all, Miss Bates carries with her Thomas’s fictional town as a “crossroads,” also the town’s literal name (place names in Thomas’s series are allegorical) where hero and heroine leave the broken past behind (often covered in family enmity and strife) and build a new world of love and family; black sheep are taken in; and community is healed.  Continue reading

Opening-Line Mini-Review: Kathleen Korbel’s A SOLDIER’S HEART, Or Face To the Wall

“The choppers appeared just after the sun.”

Soldier's_HeartHuman beings make sense of experience’s ephemerality by embodying it in art. Maya Lin’s controversial Vietnam Veterans War Memorial was/is integral to healing war’s wounds. It offers solace and remembrance as vets and families, foreigners and natives, bring offerings of flowers, pictures, etc., touch, wonder, and heal as they meditate on the war’s wastes and ravages (war is a universal experience, is it not?). Yusef Komunyakaa’s Vietnam-War-Memorial-set poem, “Facing It” also embodies the war, recounting a vet’s turbulent, ambivalent emotions as he touches and is reflected in the wall, naming loss, anger, and the ever-present American tragedy of race. (Don’t read this humble post, but read and listen to the poem as linked. It’s powerful.) The humble romance genre offers its embodiment in Kathleen Korbel’s A Soldier’s Heart (1994). The novel’s opening line is the prologue’s introduction to nurse Claire Henderson, who held dying Marine Tony Riordan and willed him to live. Twenty-three years later, Tony’s final act of putting his war wounds to rest, psychic where physical are long-healed, is to seek, find, and thank Claire. What he finds in her haunted eyes is the confusion, guilt, and self-destructive impulses of his own struggle with PTSD. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sherri Shackelford’s THE RANCHER’S CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL, Or Love Is Building a Fort Together

Rancher's_Xmas_ProposalSherri Shackelford’s The Rancher’s Christmas Proposal isn’t proposed by Shane McCoy, said rancher; rather, Tessa Spencer, our heroine, proposes. (A more original and interesting premise, but the word “rancher” in a title sells books. And Shackelford’s book deserves a readership.) Miss Bates is guilty of inspie romance assumptions (sadly proving true too often), which she extended to Shackelford’s unlikely pairing of con artiste and rancher. Inspirational romance characterization is one-dimensional: hero and heroine make Christian conversion avowals and Pollyanna-world reigns, making internal and external conflict caricaturish. Shackelford’s previous Prairie Courtships series novel, The Engagement Bargain, though not as fine as Rancher’s Christmas Proposal, contained this complexity of characterization in a sub-genre that sees so little of it. Continue reading

REVIEW: Katherine Reay’s LIZZY AND JANE, Of Sustenance and Austen

Lizzy_JaneWith a book about food, love, and family, Miss Bates launches her review by eating humble pie. “Never say never” should be Miss B’s mantra regarding romance reading. Katherine Reay’s Lizzy and Jane is mild romance; it’s … GASP … women’s fiction, a fictive genre Miss Bates purports to abhor. Indeed, there’s been scorn-heaping. It’s the type of fiction she’s most likely to DNF. She finds it precious and precious becomes boring and boring becomes the worst kind of sentimental. Reay’s novel skirts close to DNF territory: estranged sisters (sibling relationships have never interested Miss B.), acrimony remaining from their mother’s illness, CANCER, one of the two sisters ill with CANCER herself, confronting the past, each other, and salvaging, or sundering, relationships. It focuses on younger sister, Elizabeth, “Lizzy,” Hughes, 33, moving back to the Pacific Northwest (from New York City where her chef’s career was floundering) to come to terms with people she left behind: retired firefighter dad and especially older sister, Jane. Her journey tries to answer: what is home? What do we owe the people closest to us, particularly those with whom we share strained relations? What is family? From where do we derive meaning and purpose? How do we find God amidst acrimony and failure?

It is the start of the Lenten season for Miss Bates, a season of re-evaluation and reflection, and Reay’s novel was a perfect fit. While suffering from the failure of inspirational fiction to make a tangible, ritualistic participation in church life as essential to defining ourselves as Christians, Reay’s novel nevertheless took a eucharistic perspective through Lizzy’s creative food acts. And her spirit guide, and that of others as well, like her sister, Jane, was Jane Austen. Like food, which serves as healer and binder, literature stands in as such as well. Continue reading

REVIEW: Molly O’Keefe’s BETWEEN THE SHEETS, “A Broken Hallelujah”

Between_the_Sheets

Loved the cover; for once, the models look like heroine and hero!

Miss Bates finally made her way to the third novel in Molly O’Keefe’s “Boys of Bishop” series, Between the Sheets. She reviewed the first one, Wild Child, and second, Never Been Kissed. The latter emerges as her favourite, but the beauty and pain of Between the Sheets remain with her. There was so much going on in the hero’s and heroine’s lives that while the relationship made sense … romance showed up too-little-too-late in a schmaltzy epilogue. The sheer daily nightmare of the heroine’s life detracted from the warm-and-fuzzies that romance readers expect, nay demand, ’cause damnit isn’t life hard enough that I have to confront it in my comfort corner? There were moments when Miss B. resented this novel: with its harsh realities and stubborn personalities. BUT, O’Keefe is writing some of the best in contemporary romance. Between the Sheets, like the two previous novels, is set up in the aftermath of a media debacle, Shelby Monroe’s media debacle, one we cringed over in Wild Child. Between the Sheets fills in the cracks of Shelby’s humiliation, hauls in her mother and memories of her father and closed-in, cool-as-a-cucumber spinster’s existence. Between the Sheets isn’t a picking-up-the-pieces story, it’s a darkest before the dawn tale … and the hero is an unlikely and dealing-with-his-own-crap knight, with his own vulnerabilities and burdens. O’Keefe’s novel grabs you like Fay Wray in Kong’s fist and tosses you around emotionally … you should read it. It is a spinster’s tale told by a master of the genre. 😉 Continue reading