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
Contemporary romance is a big and diverse animal. Its “infinite variety” inhabits a breadth of verisimilitude, from HP fantasy to the realistic, at times gritty, MC urban wasteland, which, MissB argues, meet and mate in the fantasy realm when the straight-line continuum is arced to a circle. All this to say that along realism’s continuum, where tropes work at one point, may fail on another. Sarah Morgan’s third “From Manhattan With Love” romance, Miracle On 5th Avenue, is an example in comparson to her HP, Playing By the Greek’s Rules (possibly MissB’s favourite HP were it not for that pesky Lynne Graham writing annoyingly good HPs, like The Greek’s Chosen Wife.) The Greek’s Rules contains a naïvely endearing, full-force of positivity heroine and brooding, cynical alpha hero, as does Miracle. What works in one doesn’t in t’other, or maybe imitation isn’t the highest form of flattery when an author imitates herself?
Last year, Miss Bates named Liz Talley’s Sweet-Talking Man one of her best 2015 roms. And even though Talley has left behind Miss Bates’s beloved category, the Superromance, Miss B. followed her to a new publisher hoping for the same blend of humour, realistic characterization, and love coming at the hero and heroine from unexpected places. Talley has a real talent for creating heroes who’ve been hurt by a past love, without turning alpha or cold. They’re vulnerable and a little lost in affairs of the heart, susceptible to too easily falling for a girl again. Her heroines are no wilting southern belles, though they retain a kind of genteel naïveté. Then, they surprise you, with earthiness and a plunge into free-spiritedness and their discovery of possessing an independent self, free from familial and social constraints. Charmingly Yours contains these elements and new ones. Unlike the realistic superromance, Charmingly Yours has a definite women’s fic woo-woo vibe. Rosemary Reynolds of Morning Glory, Mississippi, and her coterie of besties, mourn the loss of their dear friend, Lacy Guthrie. In true women’s fic woo-woo fashion, Lacy has left a potentially woo-woo object and mission to her friends – a charm bracelet, for which they must each provide a new charm in the pursuit of a mission Lacy set for them. In Rosemary’s case, Lacy exhorted her to have an adventure, to leave behind her staid life and overprotective mother, and do things well-brought-up young southern ladies wouldn’t. Continue reading
If you asked Miss Bates her favourite romance trope, she’d tell you “marriage-of-convenience.” Truth be told though, she gets more pleasure out of opposites-attract than she’s realized. This means that a “marriage of convenience” between “opposites attract” would be her favourite rom reading cocktail. 😉 Alas, Maisey Yates first novel in the Copper Ridge Oregon series, Part Time Cowboy, is not a marriage of convenience narrative, but it sure as heck contains two spitting-fighting protagonists in Deputy Sheriff Eli Garrett and crisis-counselor-turned-B-&-B-owner Sadie Miller – and you all know Miss Bates is a fan of fighting in romance. Also close to her heart is a narrative that sees a character, in this case, Sadie, return home years later with unfinished business (wild teen years of drinking, smoking, and trouble-making) to work through. (The theme also features in the returning hero of Yates’ introductory novella, “Shoulda Been A Cowboy.”) The opposites attract trope is obvious in a wonderful opening scene between Sadie, her car out of gas, and a certain Deputy Sheriff who rescues her, but had once arrested her for shenanigans ten years ago. Sadie’s barely entered town limits before she has a re-meet cute with her nemesis, “Officer Hottie,” Eli Garrett – if he’s filling her tank now, ten years ago, he cuffed her. It doesn’t take him long to become “Officer Stick-Up-His-Ass.” Continue reading
Miss Bates reveled in reading Maisey Yates’ Shoulda Been A Cowboy like a piglet in her sty. She loved reading and reviewing Laurie R. King’s Dreaming Spies, but it felt good to put on her romance-reading slippers and settle into her favourite genre. She had a moue of disappointment when she noticed that Yates’ story was a novella – not enough, dammit. But she was also glad to see Yates charm her all over again, after a one-too-many sheikh-set duds. Though only a soupçon of romance reading, Shoulda Been A Cowboy delivered a bad-boy-good-girl-unresolved-HS-attraction-prodigal-son-return romance, all beloved romance tropes. Hero Jake Caldwell returns to his home town, Copper Ridge, Oregon, after a fifteen-year absence, to sell his inheritance, a run-down ranch and a few dilapidated buildings. One of those buildings has been given new life by leasee heroine, Cassie Ventimiglia, who runs a coffee shop on the premises, The Grind, and lives in one of the apartments. Jake and Cassie share a history beyond being from the same town. Cassie tutored Jake when they were in high school together, when he was resident heart-throb and bad boy, his Johnny “Wild One” to her “Kathie.” Continue reading
When you read a lot of romance, like Miss Bates does, it’s inevitable the narrative becomes stale. You lose patience and are more likely to curl your lip and DNF. There are romance writers, however, who renew your faith in the narrative’s ability to be fresh, yet familiar. The romance reader is this creature: she wants the familiar because it has meaning and the familiar to be sufficiently deviant to keep her interest and delight her. Liz Talley’s Sweet Talking Man was such a narrative for Miss B.: familiar and fresh, well-known conventions unfolding like beloved Christmas ornaments and their subversion unfolding like unexpected gifts. Thus transpires the story of B&B owner, PTA president, organizer-of-all-things, super-single-mom, forty-year-old divorcée heroine, Abigail Beauchamp Orgeron, and artist, teacher, vegan, ukulele-playing, thirty-four-year-old hero, Lief Lively, or as strait-laced Abigail calls him, “resident cuckoo bird.” The familiar is evident in the “opposites-attract” trope and romance narrative deviations in a 40-year-old heroine and the un-alpha-like interests of her December-to-his-May hero. Continue reading
In her most recent Donna Alward review, Miss Bates declared Alward the “queen of domestic romance” in reference to her category novels. The first novel in her Jewell Cove series, The House On Blackberry Hill, written under a different publisher, introduced new elements to Alward’s winning category themes: a certain mysticism, a woo-woo-ness and preciousness that didn’t sit thoroughly well. Miss Bates is an Alward fan (from the moment she closed the final, sopping-Kleenex page of The Cowboy Who Loved Her, one of Miss Bates’ favourite category romances and one she’s often suggested to successfully turn readers onto the genre); she was ready to like Blackberry Hill. Treasure On Lilac Lane, however, turned out even better. Alward tempered the woo-woo with a gentle inspirational element, whisper-thin but moving nonetheless, cranked up the fleshiness, and re-introduced her signature working-class, or lower-middle-class hero and heroine, battered by life, struggling to find their way and waylaid by attraction, desire, and love. Continue reading
Whose Baby? (2000), Maternal Instinct (2002), With Child (2005), Snowbound (2007) and The Man Behind the Cop (2008): romantic suspense, family-centred, child-parent-focussed, believable problems and dilemmas, and all Janice Kay Johnson category novels Miss Bates read and enjoyed. Johnson goes about the business of producing solid, unassuming romance novels without “strum und drang.” Miss Bates can’t say that the Johnson novels she’s read are huggable-loveable and she’d carry them to a desert isle, except for the contemporary marriage-of-convenience and unusual Whose Baby? Nevertheless, they never fail to leave her thoughtful about the complications life can throw at good, ordinary, fallible people, how to contend with troubles in “battalias,” how to make families out of pretty crappy circumstances, and how to love another person in his/her imperfections. Not a bad feat, even if Miss Bates’ reader heart doesn’t miss a beat reading. Johnson does no less in her latest Harlequin Super-Romance, One Frosty Night. Miss Bates has quibbles, but this is a solid romantic suspense, with more suspense than romance. Continue reading
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
Miss Bates is always interested in a romance novel portraying an ill hero, or heroine (though it’s interesting that she has yet to read an ill hero). As Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway, said in The Great Gatsby, ” … there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.” This has made for some great romance novels; in both cases, the heroine is ill, or recovering from a life-threatening illness: Donna Alward’s How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart and Karina Bliss’ Here Comes the Groom. Indeed, how a romance writer treats the topic (sorry for the pun) makes for compelling reading, especially the hero and heroine’s navigation of their relationship in mortality’s crosshairs. It’s the only reason Miss Bates made it through the sole J. R. Ward Blackdagger Brotherhood novel she ever read, Lover Eternal. (She quite liked it, but one was enough, thank you.) Trish Milburn’s The Texan’s Cowgirl Bride, a mouthful of a title, held that promise for Miss Bates. She really, really wanted to like the story of Savannah Baron, peach-pie-baker par excellence and store-owner, faced with a life-threatening illness, and soldier-turned-private-investigator, widowed hero, Travis Shepard. Milburn’s romance novel is set up with interesting premises: its problems lie in their execution. Continue reading