Eons ago, I read Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed An Earl and liked it well enough, but not with the passion of anticipating the next book in the series or eye-balling the newly-arriveds for her author’s name. I was surprised to see her turn to contemporary romance as she seemed quite ensconced in the former. But, hey, what do I know about author inspirations or the changing face of romance publishing? Bupkis. I was curious, however, and since contemporary is my sub-genre of choice, happy to give her a try with book four of the Hellcat Canyon series, The First Time At Firelight Falls, and even happier to eat reader humble-pie when I was *forced* to reassess my initial ho-hum judgement of it. It is seemingly run-of-the-mill contemporary small-town romance: Hellcat’s denizens are eccentric and supportive, there’s a good dose of wholesome humour and a modicum of conventionally-positioned, hot sex between the leads, and, at least initially, a whole lot of not-much-ness.
Miss Bates went back and forth on several category romances for Wendy’s TBR Challenge January “short read” before settling on Christine Rimmer’s The Lawman’s Convenient Bride. No rhyme or reason why, except Rimmer is fast becoming a comfort read. The writing is solid and Rimmer always achieves a balance of humor and sentiment. She also really comes down strong on marriage and fidelity without being smarmy or righteous and The Lawman’s Convenient Bride certainly conveys this.
When the novel opens, sheriff-hero Seth Yancy is trying to stave off the president of the Justice Creek library association’s convincing argument in favour of his participation in a charity bachelor auction. From Seth’s opening thoughts, we learn that he has been celibate since a sad thing happened to him seven years ago. But community-minded, honourable, cannot-tell-a-lie Seth cannot resist the call of the library association cause and agrees, even though he’d do anything “to get out of being raffled like a prize bull.” In the meanwhile, he also learns, from this conversation, that the woman who was his deceased baby stepbrother’s lover is one month away from giving birth to his niece. This revelation brings Seth to heroine Jody Bravo’s flower-shop doorstep. They carry on a wary, if friendly conversation and responsibility-personified Seth convinces Jody to allow him to help her out and be a part of his step-niece’s life.
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
Donna Alward’s migration to the lengthier contemporary (from MissB’s beloved categories) has resulted in hit-or-miss romances. With the third in her Darling, Vermont series, Somebody’s Baby, Alward hits her stride. Like one of Miss B’s favourite categories, Alward’s Her Rancher Rescuer, the protagonists of Somebody’s Baby are young – really young – not the usual put-together super-people that contemporary romances tend to give us, but callow. Because Alward makes them somewhat unlikeable, at least initially, in their callowness, their growth is more believable.
Oaklee Collier is 24 and works in Darling’s publicity department. She is all things FB, Twitter, promoting tourism and local businesses. It’s no wonder Twitter plays a clever, interesting role in the narrative. As a Twitter aficionado, MissB enjoyed this, among many others of the novel’s aspects. Oaklee is texting, tweeting, and being phone-distracted when she hits a mangy dog with her car. Overwhelmed by guilt, hoping to save the dog, she carries him to the local vet’s, where her brother’s best friend and high school “white-steeded knight” works, Dr. Rory Gallagher. When Rory overhears her, as she enters the clinic muddied, bloodied, carrying whimpering doggie, he has the typical rom response to the best friend’s little sister, “Unless he was mistaken, that voice belonged to Oaklee Collier. A complete and utter pain in the ass.”
Don’t let Kate Hewitt’s light-hearted Falling Hard cover fool you into thinking this is a rom-com. Falling Hard has hard and difficult truths for its hero and heroine: they’re either living them, heroine Meghan O’Reilly, or living with them, hero Quinn Freeman. Falling Hard opens innocuously when Quinn’s mother, Margo, asks him to return to their home town, Creighton Falls, New York, to renovate a hotel the family lived in and owned until they abandoned the town and took their wealth and success to New York. Ah, thought MissB, typical charmingly roguish, wealthy but drifting bad boy hero receives his comeuppance by small-town cute and a more-than-capable Amazonian heroine. Miss Bates should’ve known that Hewitt always delivers more than that: more complexity, more nuance, more vulnerability. And vulnerable they are; Miss Bates would even say two of the most heart-breakingly sad protagonists she’s read. Which only makes their HEA, of course, the more deserving.
Amanda Ashby’s opening meet-cute to her new series, Sisters of Wishing Bridge Farm, won MissB over. Heroine Emmy Watson works hard to retain ownership of her deceased Aunt Ivy’s farm by turning the Connecticut venue into a wedding site and herself a wedding planner. Not everything has gone as planned, however, and she’s at the airport, waiting to pick up the best man whose local-inn accommodations were flooded by the groom’s gormless brother. There’s nought to be done, the best man’ll have to stay with her. Unfortunately, the airport terminal also coughs up a ghost from Emmy’s past, her one-week-end-stand, Christopher Henderson. Ashby’s talent for witty writing is evident in the re-meet-cute, as Emmy echoes Casablanca‘s Rick: “Of all the arrival gates in all the world, he walked into this one.” It turns out he not only walked into her arrival gate, he’s walking into her first wedding planner’s job as – the best man. Christopher too is non-plussed by seeing Emmy again, especially when she whisks him into her truck and drives away. As a travel writer, he’s seen some weird stuff, but this is a first: “He’d been in a lot of strange situations on his travels, but as far as he was aware, this was the first he’d ever been kidnapped by a wedding planner.” Ashby’s witty writing and pop-culture references engaged MissB and she looked forward to the novel.
Now Miss Bates has read several Rimmer romances, she can speculate why she enjoys them so much. How are they sufficiently atypical to offer jolts of reader-surprise and predictable enough to be comfort reads? Miss B. has ideas. First, what her latest reading installment is about. Her click-happy finger on Netgalley amassed one too many Christmas roms, but the pleasure of reading one in June is no less. And it’s her favourite kind: the type that opens on Thanksgiving and builds to Christmas Eve and Day. When our romance opens, heroine Ava Malloy, fallen hero’s widow and single mum, “had the medals and the folded flag to prove it,” is contemplating taking a lover: “Ava wanted the shivery thrill of a hot kiss, the glory of a tender touch. To put it bluntly, she would love to get laid.” She’s in a good place: successful, with a great six-year-old daughter, Sylvie, and happy in her friends and family. Enter almost-high-school-flame Darius “Dare” Bravo and his irresistible charm. Moreover, he’s volunteering with a local girls’ Blueberry troop, helping them build dollhouses for underprivileged children. What with Sylvie a part of the troop and Ava having to pick her up and Dare’s persistently compelling flirting, the staid, serious single mum cracks and makes Dare a proposition he cannot resist, especially given he’s carried a torch for Ava since high school: secret lovers from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, no strings, no obligations, not even friendship, all the benefits, commitment – bupkis.
Miss Bates read Kathy Altman’s Tempting the Sheriff with great joy amidst reader-mourning. Harlequin Books recently announced it would end the Superromance line in June 2018. The line has been a MissB favourite for ages. In its titles, she discovered many favourite romance writers, Sarah Mayberry, Janice Kay Johnson, and more recently, Liz Talley. Altman, on the other hand, wasn’t as prolific, but MissB remembers Altman’s first, The Other Soldier, and how she loved it. With Altman’s fourth, Miss Bates can see that, like JKJohnson, Altman had the potential to be another Superromance favourite. (Sadly, not to be.) Tempting the Sheriff is a great romance in the JKJohnsonian vein. As small-town romances go, it doesn’t paint a halcyon picture of small-town life and its denizens. Castle Creek’s citizens are nosy, eccentric, chaotic (sometimes as lovably as Jodi Thomas’s), and occasionally shiftless, sometimes rowdy; they behave lovingly, but also criminally. Small-town life is close and neighbours do know and help each other, but they also feud and sometimes, small-town life is, well, boring. Into this Pennsylvania town, Altman introduces her hero and heroine: visiting Erie cop, Vaughn Fulton in Castle Creek to sell the house he inherited from an uncle and Sheriff Lily Tate, workaholic town protector haunted by personal tragedy. Vaughn and Lily must work together when the mayor temporarily hires Vaughn to fill in as Lily’s deputy. Continue reading
Miss Bates has been reading rom long enough, ten years to date, that it’s harder and harder to find a new-to-her category author (category being her primary romance consumption). BUT Amy Andrews is new to Miss Bates and she’s sorry she took as long as she did to read her. There was much to like about Andrews’s Swept Away By The Seductive Stranger and the title wasn’t it. The characters, their conflicts, inner and outer, the setting, and their surprisingly honest and realistic romance were.
Nurse Felicity Mitchell is fulfilling the dream of a life-time riding the Indian-Pacific rail to Adelaide when she meets and is attracted to Callum Hollingsworth. Though neither are one-night-stand aficionados, their overwhelming attraction, during dinner with the retirees they share the train with, it appears will lead them to share their deliciously cramped overnight berths. A medical emergency puts a stop to their soon-to-be-tryst and reveals their respective professions as nurse and doctor, respectively. Nevertheless, the post-adrenaline restlessness following the medical emergency’s resolution has them share a night of never-to-be-repeated passion between “strangers on a train”. With the inevitable hokey coincidence of the romance novel plot, it turns out the strangers on the train will soon be co-workers in the clinic, as Callum appears at Nurse Felicity’s Vickers Hill clinic to take over for two months while one of their doctors goes on maternity leave. Continue reading
About three years ago, Miss Bates loved Maisey Yates’s HP, Pretender To the Throne. Her recent Yates read, Last Chance Rebel, has much in common, though the mythical-kingdom setting is nothing like the small-town-feel of Copper Ridge, Oregon. Nevertheless, both novels are about contending and making peace with the past, recognizing internal patterns hindering connection and love, and how forgiveness of self and others heals us, the other, and the community.
Last Chance Rebel is Yates’s eleventh Copper Ridge, Oregon series romance and more are out, or planned. Yates has created one of the great contemporary rom series around this community. Her view of it is neither rose-coloured nor condemnatory. Instead, she focusses on interweaving various members’ lives as they come face to face with the incontrovertible fact of love, a feeling so strong, so vibrant, and so frightening that Copper Ridge’s men and woman alternately run to and from it. Like Pretender To the Throne, Last Chance Rebel has a physically scarred heroine, scars caused by the hero’s carelessness. Like Pretender To the Throne, family circumstances bring the hero home to confront his past and role in the heroine’s life. Like Pretender To the Throne, the heroine’s rage against the hero is explosive and the hero’s guilt and atonement, spectacular. Continue reading