I didn’t think a romance writer could pull off a romance narrative without a betrayal. I’ve thought, until now, the romance narrative needed a tearing-asunder moment to work (executed with varied degrees of success depending on the author’s control of craft). Cara Bastone proved me wrong and her début romance, Just A Heartbeat Away, tossed my assumptions about the romance narrative out the window and bade me reevaluate its elements. Oh, there’s plenty of conflict (without a betrayal, or tearing-apart moment). Bastone replaces betrayal with doubt and misunderstanding with insecurity. She has her hero and heroine indulge much inner-lusting, my preferred form of lusting, and smooshes several love scenes, usually peppered throughout the narrative, into one extended scene as close to the end without making it The End. As a result, a fresh, engaging romance narrative, as original as true to the genre and a new auto-buy author for yours truly. It’s a romance novel like Just a Heartbeat Away that renews my faith in the genre and reminds me why I fell in love with it to begin with.
I anticipated Lucy Gilmore’s second Forever Home romance, Puppy Christmas, from the moment I turned the last page on the first, Puppy Love. I’m sorry it took me this long to read the former. Equally laugh-out-loud funny, heart-wrenching, and rawr-sexy, it would have made a hellacious work month so much better. Lesson learned: I’ve settled into my romance reading (thirteen years since I picked up a copy of Garwood’s Shadow Music at the local Costco and reignited my love for the genre) with the knowledge that romance is the best respite from daily stress, an oasis of happy in a desert of demands. Gilmore’s series, including this latest (as I anticipate the third, Puppy Kisses!), deserves a spot in the happy-reader Hall of Fame. Continuing with her initial premise, three sisters running a service-dog non-profit, “Puppy Promise,” Puppy Christmas focusses on the eldest, 31-year-old Lila Vasquez, as she works to build the confidence of six-year-old, hearing-impaired Emily Ford with the help of cockapoo Jeeves, while falling in love with Emily’s father, ridiculously-named Ford Ford. Gilmore’s second Forever Home romance is plot-light, but character-deep and chock full of lovely anecdotes, including a funny meet-cute, first date set in a snow maze, Elsa-allusions, cocked-puppy-head adorableness, and hot phone sex.
I’d never read a Maxwell romance and embarked on A Match Made In Bed with curiosity and enthusiasm. Because I’m a naïve, gullible reader who’s too easily pleased, I lauded Maxwell to a Twitter friend and smiled smugly to myself on having “discovered” a great, new-to-me historical romance author. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up where I began. A Match Made In Bed showed initial promise. The hero and heroine intrigued me and the narrative promised compelling themes about money, women’s place in society, class, and family dynamics.
Soren York, Lord Dewsberry, and Miss Cassandra Holwell meet at a house party held outside of London. It’s not their first encounter. They share an interesting history: their Cornish-origined families have long feuded over past deception. Soren, aware of Cassandra’s dislike, yet woos her … because he needs an heiress’s money to bolster his soon-to-be-lost estate, Pentreath Castle. The novel opens with great banter and a wonderful antagonistic attraction between Cassandra and Soren. Even though Soren is mercenary, Maxwell manages to show us how he’s also kind and honourable. Cassandra is bookish and intelligent and has a lot of our sympathy, nursing a childhood hurt inflicted, unknowingly mind you, by Soren.
With much sadness, I read Janice Kay Johnson’s note on her Superromance, In A Heartbeat. It is her last, alas, and the category is no more. I’ve loved so many of JKJ’s Superromances, especially the early ones. I read In A Heartbeat with enjoyment, for it is JKJ signature good. I didn’t always love the category’s authors and found some tedious, but I loved the idea of what it represented: a fantasy-based genre coming as close to realism as it could.
I read Betty Neels’s Tabitha In Moonlight at the same time as I read Johnson’s In A Heartbeat and, given Neels’s comfort-read status, I expected some dissonance. In the end, I wasn’t surprised to find none from two authors whose moral impetus is writing about decent people doing good and falling in love. The only difference, given Johnson’s preference for realism, is that her characters do the best they can, in often difficult circumstances. Betty Neels’s characters are about being the best they can. Continue reading
Donna Alward’s The Crown Prince’s Bride seemed a romance palate-cleanser after Willig’s intense English Wife. Certainly that’s what it felt like – initially. But Alward is a writer who transcends what I call the trappings of trite, with emotional wisdom and psychological acumen. While I settled comfortably into a mild romance read – not too much drama, not too intense a plot, decent protagonists – Alward managed to surprise and delight me.
First, the trappings. In the fictional kingdom of Marazur, heroine Stephanie Savalas is the supremely competent right-hand woman of Crown Prince Raoul Navarro, grieving widower, single dad, and his homeland’s hope (now that King Alexander, his father, has handed kingly responsibilities over to him). The novel opens as Stephani plans Raoul’s brother’s wedding to Raoul’s children’s former nanny, all the while juggling the country’s well-being and the big-ole torch she carries for her boss. Raoul is deep in mourning for his beloved wife, Stephani’s cousin Cecilia, who died in a car accident. And yet, dear reader, stirrings! Raoul always cared for Stephani and their platonic relationship is warm, friendly, affectionate, and caring until one night, these vague “stirrings” lead to a passionate kiss. Continue reading
When Miss Bates started reading romance again in 2007, she scoured various “best of” lists looking for titles to read. Karen Templeton’s Swept Away was one of those discoveries. It languished in the TBR for ten years before Miss Bates read it and she hasn’t a clue why, except so many books, so much day-job.
Swept Away opens with three-years widowed Sam Frazier, single dad and one of Haven (pop. 1000), Oklahoma’s family farmers. We’re introduced to his brood: teen daughter, Libby, and five younger brothers, baby Travis, Mike, Matt, Wade, and Frankie, all school-aged, as well as farm animals and sundry house-pets. Having put all the kids but Travis on the school bus, Sam is making his way to the hardware store when he rescues a maiden of stick-like proportions and her father from their ditch-succumbing vehicle. Lane Stewart introduces himself and Carly, his daughter, quipping, ” ‘My daughter, Carly. To whom a certain squirrel owes its life.’ ” The Stewarts, it turns out, are on a road trip, hoping to recover from lives that have been too sad for too long. Lane and Carly lost a beloved wife and mother, and Carly is nursing an injured knee that won’t see her resume her balletic career. With this “meet-cute,” Templeton tells the romance of how nice-guy farmer and prickly, wounded dancer fall in love and reach an HEA that promises family, love, laughter, and community. Continue reading
Miss Bates will always love Donna Alward’s categories, but her move to longer contemporaries offers readers uneven results: some books, reviewed here, have been great; others, so-so. But Alward’s depth and sensitivity will also see Miss Bates’s return to her books time and again. She did so with Alward’s second Darling, Vermont, contemporary romance, Someone To Love.
Willow Dunaway, owner of The Purple Pig Café, is Darling-born and raised. An unhappy childhood and adolescent trauma saw her leave Darling for years. Now she’s back with a new-found contentment in her business, yoga practice, and embracing of serenity. Willow has fought a long, hard battle to come back from some devastating experiences and the semi-colon tattoo on her forearm proves it to herself daily. She has found many things in her re-found hometown that she sought: friendship, community, and purpose. She does not, however, date … until she meets widowed single-dad and firefighter, Ethan Gallagher. In some delightful initial exchanges, Willow’s flower-child, vegetarian ways clash with Ethan’s carnivorous alpha-tendencies. Continue reading
Nicole Helm’s True-Blue Cowboy Christmas is the third and final volume of her Montana-set Big Sky Cowboys series. Miss Bates enjoyed the series’s combination of humour, angst, strained family dynamics, and theme of love’s healing, reconciling power. And when it comes wrapped in a Christmas-set romance narrative, all the better! One of the thematic aspects Miss B. enjoyed the most about Helm’s series is her creation of characters at a crossroads. Helm’s MCs come from difficult places, with pasts that hurt and thwart. When we meet them, they’re caught between a crippling past and the glimmer of breaking free of it, with the help of the transformative experience of love. Breaking out of old psychological habits and personal-history constraints is painful, like giving birth, but the potential rewards are great: the promise of living a better, different way is too potent and our protagonists too honest, desirous of it, and good, to forego the opportunity. Continue reading
It isn’t revolutionary to say that a writer has a quirk, or propensity that threads throughout her work: a recurring image, character, theme, trope, etc. It identifies her and can be both bane and strength. In Grace Burrowes’ work, it’s the officiously kind hero. When Burrowes’ first two histroms were published, The Heir and The Soldier, Miss Bates, early in her romance reading journey, read them with relish. By the time she read Burrowes‘ seventh Lonely Lord, Andrew, the officiously kind hero was at saturation point, as Miss B. scathingly wrote about in her review. That quirk/trope/image/style that identifies can also stultify, or stall a writer, or turn to caricature – unless she brings new life to it. Grace Burrowes’ foray into contemporary romance takes a steady writerly predisposition and puts it in a new world, the contemporary world of the courtroom drama of family law and practice. Continue reading
Miss Bates can’t offer readers chocolates, or flowers such as our lovely cowboy carries on the cover of Donna Alward’s latest, but a review of a Valentine romance, she can deliver!
Donna Alward is the queen of domestic romance. How she manages to keep Miss Bates riveted with ordinary lives of ordinary people, doing no more than making dinner, watching TV, and drinking a beer at the local pub is a wonder. But that is exactly what Alward does: expose the soft core of her characters, their fears, vulnerabilities, dashed hopes and dreams, all the ways in which life has worn them down amidst everyday ordinariness. Alward is good at depicting characters vacillating between giving in to the fears received from life’s knocks and reaching towards hope, counting on love to renew them. This rich inner life is enacted amidst simple possibilities and domestic chores: a place to belong, meaningful work, a partner to love, a child to rear, and puppy to walk. Miss Bates says that Alward is the only romance writer she knows who has her rushing home from work to read her novels when the only exciting moment that makes up a scene is the flip of a pancake! Well, there’s all that and pancakes, chocolate-chip ones, in Alward’s latest romance novel, The Cowboy’s Valentine. Continue reading