REVIEW: Linda Goodnight’s THE MEMORY HOUSE, Healing With Peach Tea and Cookies …

Memory_HouseLinda Goodnight is probably best known for writing inspirational category romance fiction. The Memory House, first in the Honey Ridge, Tennessee series, isn’t inspirational, though it contains similar elements and themes, such as how the past bears on the present, memory and its hold on the psyche, prodigality and redemption, grief, loss, joy, and love. It’s also a deviation from Goodnight’s category norm in carrying two narrative threads, one contemporary and the other, historical. Goodnight orchestrates these various components with relative success, making the “memory house,” a restored antebellum mansion now a present-day B&B and its peach orchard the focus of the dual narratives/romances.

Eli Donovan, 36, ex-con, prodigal son and black sheep, hies to Honey Ridge, at the behest of his parole officer, to take custody of a six-year-old son he didn’t known about. With a dead mother and ailing, failing great-aunt as Alex’s guardian, the down-on-his-luck and broken Eli must find a job and learn to be a father overnight. He makes his plea to Peach Orchard Inn owner, Julia Presley, who needs her orchard cared for and carriage-house renovated to ensure the solvency of her business with more paying customers than what she sustains presently. The gentle, sad divorcĂ©e Julia carries as great grief and regret as Eli: her son, Mikey, would’ve been fourteen on the day Eli shows up at the inn, were it not that he’d disappeared/been abducted six years ago. Eli and Julia are kindred spirits: broken and saddened by life’s circumstances. But they find, in each other and the magical Peach Orchard Inn, serenity and comfort, friendship and a sense of belonging. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’ PART TIME COWBOY, Full-Time Sheriff, Brother, Friend, and Shining Knight …

Part_Time_CowboyIf 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

Grace Burrowes’ KISS ME HELLO, Don’t Wish Me Farewell

Kiss_Me_HelloKiss Me Hello is third in Grace Burrowes’ Sweetest Kisses contemporary romance series. Miss Bates isn’t sure how, or why she missed the second, The First Kiss, but she enjoyed the first, A Single Kiss, and you may read about why here. Miss Bates is certain the second was pretty much like the first, and the third is much like the first two. Because Burrowes has her signature and Kiss Me Hello runs true to form: characters are painted in black and white, men are gentle, if brusque, care-givers, and women are nurturing, tough cookies, but a bit of a mess. If her formula works for you, then her books will deliver consistently. Like most romance readers, however, while the genre remains the reading material of choice, the formulas can delight, or grate. Miss Bates has written about how Burrowes can grate here. She would still maintain, after reading Kiss Me Hello, she prefers contemporary to historical Burrowes. The Sweetest Kisses series is built around three brothers who run a successful law firm in small-town Virginia. Kiss Me Hello is the story of the eldest Knightley (and the name is telling, yes) brother, Mackenzie, and newly-arrived-in-Damson-County foster mom, Sidonie Linstrom. What Sidonie doesn’t know is that she inherited the Knightley brothers ancestral home … as well as their two massive childhood horses, Daisy and Buttercup, bringing defence lawyer Mackenzie, in his farrier incarnation, to her door. Continue reading

TINY-REVIEW: HelenKay Dimon’s CHAIN OF COMMAND

Chain_Of_CommandHelenKay Dimon’s first in the Greenway Range series, Chain Of Command, was easy to pick up in the spirit of nostalgia. When Miss Bates started reading romance eight or so years ago, contemporary romance was rife with military heroes. Dimon was writing some delightful Hawaiian-set romance with protective cops and ex-military-type heroes: they were sexy and fun. Reading Chain Of Command about ex-Marine hero, Sawyer Cain, and heroine, Hailey Thorne, was all about getting those feelings back. But Miss Bates is not the reader she used to be when any romance, as long as it was romance, would do. Tastes change and trends that were attractive eight years ago are no longer. Reading Chain Of Command felt, well, tired. Sawyer Cain and his coterie of ex-military buddies, Jason, Marcus, and Marcus’s SEAL lover, Will (that WAS a nice touch) and sister, Molly, converge on an area north of San Diego to start a business. It is especially important to Sawyer, who carries guilt from their time in Afghanistan and is haunted by the soldiers lost there, to keep everyone together, provide them with viable work and create a safe haven. He wants to acquire the land his deceased buddy, Rob Turner, intended him to have and use it to establish a firing range business. The land, however, was left to Rob’s adopted daughter, heroine Hailey, and her coterie of friends are involved in it too: one of them is Rob’s fiancĂ©e, Kat, and their friend, Jessie, who lives with Hailey because of her abusive ex-husband, Pete. Continue reading

TINY-REVIEW: Michelle Celmer’s MORE THAN A CONVENIENT BRIDE

More_Than_Convenient_BrideA few years ago, Miss Bates read Michelle Celmer’s Caroselli’s Christmas Baby, a marriage-of-convenience, friends-to-lovers narrative she greatly enjoyed. Celmer’s latest and the subject of this post, More Than A Convenient Bride, is based on similar premises. South African heroine, Julie Kingston, best friend to, and research assistant of Dr. Luke Wakefield, has to leave the US when her work visa is not renewed by immigration. Friends for years since they met working for MSF, Julie and Luke are devoted to the health and well-being of the residents of small-town Royal, Texas. They are also more committed to their friendship and mutual medical mission than any significant others. Workaholics and free spirits, they agree to a marriage of convenience to ensure Julie stays where she can continue to help Luke rake in the millions by inventing life-saving surgical aides, while acting as chief of surgery at the local hospital and continuing his philanthropic work. These are highly intelligent, committed, professional protagonists and Miss Bates looked forward to their come-to-love story. It didn’t hurt that marriage-of-convenience and friends-to-lovers are two of her favourite tropes. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’ SHOULDA BEEN A COWBOY, Coulda Been A Contender For the Girl

Shoulda_Been_CowboyMiss 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

REVIEW: Sherri Shackelford’s THE ENGAGEMENT BARGAIN, or How to Ruin A Perfectly Good Romance

Engagement_BargainMiss Bates’ determination to read inspirational romance is quixotic. (It hasn’t been in vain: there’re last Christmas’s Lacy Williams and Karen Kirst discoveries). Most of her inspirational reads have been duds at worse; “okay” at best. And yet, there goes Miss B., tilting at reader windmills. That the combination of faith in love and God may be conjoined in a romance narrative persists in Miss B’s “this can work” universe. Her latest inspie read, Sherri Shackelford’s The Engagement Bargain, proved to Miss B., once again, the marriage of faith and romantic love, as defined by the inspirational subgenre, is elusive. There was much to like in Shackelford’s effort and much not to. To start, Miss Bates liked the premise, the build-up. Small-town veterinarian Caleb McCoy escorts his sister, JoBeth, to a suffragist rally in late 19th-century Kansas City. Caleb is mesmerized by the speaker, determined, committed, and beautiful Anna Bishop. Anna’s impassioned speech is barely underway when she is shot. Caleb carries her to the nearby Savoy Hotel to succor and heal her. Caleb and Jo continue to care for weakened Anna; Caleb has fierce and uncomfortable urges to protect her. Anna, used to her independence, is discomfited by her reliance on Caleb, but can’t deny how safe and cared for he helps her feel. An unsavory Pinkerton detective shows up; another attempt is made on Anna’s life. The usually reticent Caleb, drawn more and more to Anna’s intelligence, blue eyes, and bearing up under fear and danger, offers to take her to his home town, Cimarron Springs, under the guise of being his fiancĂ©e. She will be cared for by his family and her safety assured. Continue reading

REVIEW: Liz Talley’s SWEET TALKING MAN, Or Jane and the Viking

Sweet_Talking_ManWhen 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 divorcĂ©e 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

Review: Janice Kay Johnson’s ONE FROSTY NIGHT, Or High School Sweethearts Reunite

One_Frosty_NightWhose 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

MINI-REVIEW: Sarah Morgan’s MAYBE THIS CHRISTMAS, Maybe Every Christmas

Maybe_This_ChristmasMaybe This Christmas is Sarah Morgan’s third contemporary romance in the O’Neill series, preceded by Sleigh Bells In the Snow and Suddenly Last Summer, both of which are in Miss Bates’ Teetering TBR. Starting with the third in the series did not deter from Miss B’s enjoyment. The start was a tad wonky with characters from the previous books showing up in various states of blissful couple-hood, as well as sundry O’Neill family members who’d obviously been established as secondary characters in previous books. Maybe This Christmas, gloriously-set in small-town-Vermont winter wonderland, in fictional “Snow Crystal,” is a friends-to-lovers romance narrative high on humour, but no less on gravitas in two hurting friends admitting to love. The heroine, Brenna Daniels, has carried a smouldering love-torch for Tyler O’Neill since they were best buddies in high school. Single-dad, former Olympic skiing champion, and notorious womanizer, Tyler, has in Brenna the one relationship with a woman he’s yet to abandon. Continue reading