For her final 2016 review, Miss Bates writes about a romance novel that held her in thrall though the night and into the morning, Kerrigan Byrne’s The Hunter, second in Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series. New to Miss Bates, Byrne’s Hunter reminded her of the Monica McCarty Highlander romances that were some of the first she ever read and loved. Byrne’s romance is violent; her protagonists, larger-than-life; and her writing, unabashedly melodramatic and yet elegant. At times, Miss Bates thought this feels “Old-Skoolish” but the heroine’s intelligence and sang-froid and hero’s humility and respect for her make it anti-old-skool. What Miss Bates can affirm is that she loved it. To establish sympathy for a hero who is an assassin hired to kill the heroine in the novel’s first scene, Byrne portrays Christopher Argent’s Newgate-Prison childhood. She paints a scene so horrific for his 11-year-old self that our sympathy is maintained even when, without that introduction, we’d have found his actions unacceptable. Christopher is not as nuanced and interesting as Hoyt’s Duke Of Sin, but Byrne’s romance builds our sympathy for him as Hoyt did for Val Napier: by using the pathos of a difficult, abused childhood … and then sustaining it by showing our out-of-type hero with animals, or children.
After savoring the glorious Betty Neels, Miss Bates read a long-established but new-to-her author, RaeAnne Thayne. Snowfall On Haven Point is the fifth romance in Thayne’s “Haven Point” series, set in the eponymous mythical, idealized Idaho town. Heroine Andrea “Andie” Montgomery is a Portland transplant. She arrived in Haven Point after losing her cop-husband and enduring a sexual assault. Miss Bates appreciated that Andie wasn’t a victim. She’s in a good place: working at her graphic design business, establishing a home with her two adorable kids, Chloe and Will, and building new Christmas traditions in her adopted town. She has made wonderful friends and is considering dating again: she doesn’t allow still-lingering grief and trauma to prohibit her from living life fully and well. The encounter with the curmudgeonly neighbour-hero, Sheriff Marshall Bailey, comes when Marshall’s sister and Andie’s dear friend, Wyn, asks her to check on her injured brother. Though Andie finds Marsh taciturn and even gruff at times, she agrees to deliver meals and make sure he’s all right getting around with a broken leg. A romantic suspense element is introduced when we learn that Sheriff Bailey was deliberately run down in a snowy parking lot while answering a tip from a mysterious caller. (Never mind the TSTL hero: what law enforcement officer would answer a call without back-up?) Continue reading
Karen Templeton wrote one of Miss Bates’s favourite Christmas romances, Dear Santa. Like that fave, Templeton’s A Soldier’s Promise contains the elements that she does so well: a protagonist emerges from a time of crisis, difficulty, or grief; the other manifests as a helping figure; believable, likable children and animals; and, a plot centering on the creation of a new, or blended family. Oh, and humour. And poignancy. And an everyday casualness to the dialogue that makes her characters feel like they’re our neighbours, or we’d like them to be.
After ten years, Levi Talbot returns permanently to Whispering Pines, New Mexico, from serving in Afghanistan. He is a changed but better man than the wild, adventure-seeking bad boy he was. How to convince Valerie Lopez, née Oswald, the woman who best remembers his recklessness and cause of her deceased husband’s enlistment, Tommy following his best friend into the military? Valerie is a widow with two daughters, young Josie and baby Risa. She blames Levi for Tommy’s decision, even if not his death, and Levi is torn: afraid to open old wounds and resentments, but how not to keep his promise to Tommy to help his family? “Because he’d made a promise. One he fully intended to keep. Whether his best friend’s widow was good with that idea or not.”
“The choppers appeared just after the sun.”
Human 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
Donna Alward is one of Miss Bates’s favourite category romance writers, How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart one of her favourite romances. Miss Bates has reviewed wonderful Alward roms, including 2014 fave, Her Rancher Rescuer. In The Cowboy’s Convenient Bride, Alward tackles a contemporary marriage-of-convenience romance. It’s spring in Gibson, Montana, and ladies’ man Tanner Hudson is “sick of the bar scene”. Tanner’s wife left him, claiming he was “built for fun, but not for a lifetime.” Since then, he hides his yearning for love and commitment behind a loose-and-free persona. Laura Jessup is town pariah because she slept with Gavin, golden-girl Maddy Wallace’s husband. Gavin died and Laura is mama to four-month-old Rowan, apparently Gavin’s daughter. Appearances are deceiving, however, because Gavin was a friend, offering his lawyer-services to help Laura extricate herself from drug-dealing boyfriend Spencer. Spencer was in jail when EMT Tanner helped Laura give birth: ” … she vaguely remembered pleading with him to stay with her. She’d felt so alone, so afraid, so … adrift”. Laura breaks down and tells Tanner the truth, also confessing she fears Spencer discovering Rowan and pursuing them: “If Spence ever found out that he had a child … It would be nothing short of a nightmare.” Kind, chivalrous Tanner offers Laura a marriage-of-convenience to protect Rowan and allow Laura to establish her online website design business using Tanner’s name.
Ms Royce’s Once Beloved opens at London’s 1851 Great Exhibition. Heroine Helena Martin, née Thornton, is overwhelmed by the crowd. Two-years widowed and a recluse, she ventured out for her young sons’ sake. Helena suffers from agoraphobia and panic attacks, her anxieties stemming from the incident that killed her beloved husband. Her unexpected rescuer is Daniel Lanfield, brother to the fiancé she abandoned in Marksby, her native village, to elope with Isaiah Martin. When Daniel recognizes who she is, he expresses disgust and antipathy. But Daniel is too decent to leave Helena in this state. He helps her and, when she receives a summons from her only living Marksby relative, her ailing, possibly dying grandmother, he offers to take her in his cart. Accompanied by Helena’s niece, Vanessa, Daniel and Helena make their way to Marksby where Helena will confront her youthful actions’ fruits – an economically devastated village and cold, hurtful, insulting reception. Though he still resents her, Daniel becomes Helena’s unlikely ally in this journey of reckoning into the past.
Miss Bates isn’t keen on films, or novels set in the early 1960s. She doesn’t like the bouffant dos, or sprawling skirts. For some – ahem, white males – Americans, however, it was an exciting, vibrant time and remains an unexplored setting for romance. It’s fitting that Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s collaboration, Star Dust (first in the “Fly Me To the Moon” series) is set during America’s “space race” with the Soviet Union. Uncharted territory then, and uncharted setting in romance. Barry and Turner’s Texas-set romance features Lieutenant Commander Christoper “Kit” Campbell, a blond, blue-eyed giant of an astronaut and Anne-Marie Smith, a diminutive divorcée and mother of two adorable children. They meet as bickering neighbours when Anne-Marie, Lisa, and Freddie move next door to Kit. Anne-Marie and Kit become friends over back-porch star-gazing, add benefits to friendship, fall in love, and achieve an HEA.
Miss Bates almost DNF-ed Janice Kay Johnson’s To Love A Cop (cheesy cover and title should be ignored; this is thoughtful romance). It opens at a gun show, as cop hero, Ethan Winter, admires a gun; to give Johnson credit, he’s there to look out for potentially dangerous gun buyers. He spots a boy, one who seems fascinated by what’s on show. Ethan chats with him, realizes he’s younger than he appears and has skipped school. Ethan takes the boy, Jake, home to his single-mom, Laura Vennetti, to realize yet again that, five years ago, Jake was the boy who shot and killed his cousin when his father, Officer Matt Vennetti, left his service weapon carelessly lying on the kitchen counter. Not long after, with an extended family in shambles and ravaged by guilt, Matt committed suicide.
Heavy subject matter in romance doesn’t drive Miss Bates to DNF; but guns … man, she, like our heroine, doesn’t like them, doesn’t think they belong anywhere, should be strictly controlled and, if it was up to Miss B., banned. Living in Canada, gun control doesn’t have the divisiveness it does for her southern neighbours. But living in a city where a man with a gun killed fourteen women because they were being educated, she doesn’t buy the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” as a viable argument against their strict control. Miss B. doesn’t like wearing a seat belt either, but it does make for accident prevention. She’s digressed to this point to reinforce she didn’t really want to read Johnson’s romance, didn’t see much romance to be had in it … but she’s awfully glad she squelched her distaste, her visceral judgement against all things “gun” to take the story in. Because Johnson is a long-standing, serious, balanced, considered writer and this is one of the best stories she’s written. 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
The marriage-of-convenience trope is one of Miss Bates’ most beloved. It is difficult and rare, however, to see it done well in contemporary romance. It is unlikely that the reasons for the marriage will be convincing. What compelling reasons can there be for contemporary characters to agree to such a union? Eons ago, Miss Bates saw a Peter Weir film, Green Card, which posited one possible scenario; or the more recent, less adept, The Proposal, which isn’t really marriage-of-convenience, but engagement-of-convenience, so much less … well … engaging. It’s the idea of a binding marriage that is absorbing for Miss Bates: the-stuck-with-you-getting-to-know-you-daily-grind-and-growing-love ethos of it that she adores. Certainly, the trope triumphs in historical romance. The truth is that any contemporary marriage-of-convenience narrative isn’t plausible in light of the ease and convenience of divorce laws. Lily Everett’s Shoreline Drive, second in her Sanctuary Island series, stands or falls on the believability, the plausibility of her use of this trope. Miss Bates read and enjoyed the first in the series, Sanctuary Island, but what was good in the latter is not echoed in the former. While the premise for Sanctuary Island was convincing, there be misgivings about Shoreline Drive. Continue reading