Lauren Willig’s “summer country” is early nineteenth and Victorian-Era-set Barbados. A young women arrives in Bridgetown in February 1854, Miss Emily Dawson, to claim her inheritance, the ruined sugar-producing estate of Peverills, only to discover a family history that alters everything she has known about who she is.
Since the *sniff* end to the Pink Carnation series and we can see vestiges of this theme there too, Willig’s novels centre around a heroine’s journey of unearthing familial and historical identity. Willig’s specializes in, to nay-say the Bard’s Hamlet, a “discovered country” that alters and then cements a new future for our heroine. The Summer Country‘s Emily Dawson is such a heroine, as she delves into the Barbadian history of slavery, white privilege and exploitation of others, and the personal tragedies and triumphs of parallel stories, one set in 1812-1816, and the heroine’s present, 1854, the 1812-16 narrative bearing on Emily’s present and future.
Miss Bates was travelling for work on old chugga-chugga trains this week and, to their rocking motion, read a rom novel and novella, Sabrina Jeffries’s The Danger of Desire and Meredith Duran’s “Sweetest Regret”, two of her favourite romance writers. Jeffries’s rom was the follow-up to one of last year’s top MissB. roms, The Study of Seduction. As for Duran, it had been a while and MissB. was most happy to find herself in Duran’s erudite, moving romance ethos.
Jeffries’s late-Regency Danger of Desire sees yet another St. George’s Club heroes, Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, so-called rakehell (though he never behaves as such) pit himself against the shenanigans of miss-dressed-as-boy, Delia Trevor. Clarissa, Study of Seduction‘s heroine, asks Warren (possibly the worst rom-hero name ever) to look out for Delia. Delia, on her part, spends her nights, disguised as a young man, gambling her way to discovering the identity of the man who cheated her deceased brother of her, and his wife and son’s, living. Delia’s mystery and intrigue isn’t the only challenge facing her and Warren as they, at least initially, spar and circle each other. Warren, on the surface devil-may-care, contains a psychic wound, which explains his reluctance to marry. Continue reading
When Miss Bates was a tyke, the circus regularly came to town. One spring, a world’s fair did. On Easter Sunday, wearing a white straw bonnet, accompanied by family and friends, she entered its gates. It was 1967: skirts were short; music was loud … but Miss B’s mom and friends wore white gloves and hats with their new Easter outfits. Miss B. would say that anyone whose native city hosts an event of this magnitude holds the experience as a seminal moment in her life. MissB.’s unsure that such an event would have the same impact in our world of insta-experience on the Internet. But the Internet, at least for now, is strictly visual and aural, and therefore more limited. It is in the other senses that our deepest, most visceral memories reside. Miss B. remembers the warmth of the April sun, her slightly pinch-y, round-toed, white patent-leather Mary Janes, the press of bigger bodies in the queues, the inverted triangle pavilion of her native country, the dazzle of Bohemian crystal in the Czech, the tangy mustard on the hot dog, the fuzzy-pink sweetness of cotton candy.
Miss Bates loves this cover!
It was with bittersweet nostalgia that Miss B. picked up Deanne Gist’s Fair Play, a romance novel set during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and featuring an older, doctor-spinster heroine, Dr. Billy Jack Tate, and younger-man, Texas Ranger hero, Hunter Joseph Scott. Miss Bates has been to Chicago and loved it, walked along Michigan Avenue, gazed into the waters of Lake Michigan, and spent every afternoon of her few days there at the Art Institute of Chicago sobbing before some of her favourite paintings. The bronze lions, indeed the building which houses the collection, have their origins in the 1893 fair. Miss Bates was excited to read Gist’s novel. Her experience of it, however, was akin to a descending musical scale: a bombastically wonderful start, flagging middle, bathetic conclusion. Continue reading
MacLean’s Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A Rake sat on Miss Bates’s TBR for a long, long while. She was averse to reading a romance novel possessed of such a lengthy and insipid title. Spurred by Wendy’s TBR Challenge, the promise of interesting sharing on Twitter with like-minded readers, and MacLean’s sundry good reviews, she thought this month’s TBR theme, New-To-You-Author, perfect fodder for Nine Rules. And, truth be told, she really really liked the Empire dress on the cover. It took Miss Bates a while to warm to the characters, narrative, and MacLean’s style, but for a first-time read and début romance, it was a good reading experience: it got better the further Miss Bates read. What started out as a middling read, mildly interesting and clipping-along, inched its way to pretty good to darn-good-ending. Miss Bates admits that her impression of MacLean leans to “much ado;” nevertheless, Nine Rules is an amusing and heartfelt romance novel. It doesn’t break any ground, falters on several fronts, is nominally historical, and doesn’t enter innovative, or interestingly controversial territory. Would Miss Bates read another MacLean? Probably, possibly, likely. Continue reading
Groundskeeper/land-steward/gardener/gamekeeper/estate manager, an eminently attractive and endearing hero-figure to Miss Bates. This, ever since she read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a better novel than many give it credit for and more romantic than titillating. (It concludes with an HEA and baby-filled epilogue, folks.) There’s also the marvelous film The Go-Between, based on L. P. Hartley’s novel, the story of an innocent and humbly-originned boy carrying clandestine messages between the lord’s daughter and a local farmer.
The hero with deep roots in the land, in nature, manifests a special quality, a depth and salt-of-the-earth-ness. But, is that Miss Bates’ only attraction to these heroes? We must also know them by their relation to the heroine. Miss Bates draws one conclusion: simply put, she loves a cross-class romance, especially one centered on an aristocratic lady and a man of the land. (She’ll throw another narrative into the mix that compelled her: Ian McEwan’s Atonement, though the hero was not a man of the land; nevertheless, his origins are humble and he, and his mother, work for the lord of the manor. They don’t inhabit the manor. Nevertheless, it did contain an anti-romance conclusion that had Miss Bates sending the volume flying across the room.)
As for her latest read, Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Leopard Prince, it has it all: labourer hero, a man of the earth, and an aristocratic lady. As a sampling of cross-class romance, of the stoic farmer and his seemingly flighty lady (plumb the depths, reader discovers she’s no intellectual lightweight): well, it doesn’t get better than this. Miss Bates will temper her enthusiasm with reasons why this romance has its flaws, but her love and devotion will break through … as they do in every romance where the “marriage of true minds” overcomes “impediments.” For that is the essence, the core, of a cross-class romance done well. Continue reading