Man, this series: each book is better than the one before. It’s rare that I’ll start a review with a ringing endorsement: I like to keep my reviewing cards up my sleeve. BUT I’m groggy from lack of sleep, thanks to an early work morning after I stayed up reading Loren’s The One You Fight For (Ones Who Got Away #3), weeping into my pillow (and I’m not a narrative cryer: I was indifferent to Bambi), and then staying up even later, thinking about how Loren pulled off the unlikely – again. And this premise is even more unlikely than the first two series books. How do you make a romance possible, believable, and engaging when it’s between the woman who lost her sister in a school shooting, where she might’ve been killed as well and the man whose brother did the killing? There are several sensitive, interesting things Loren did and they have to do with how she layered and built her characters, how she managed to infuse her novel with heartbreak, humour, and tenderness.
Carly Bloom is a new-to-me author and Big Bad Cowboy, her début romance. If she sustains this level of humour and pathos, then she has a good chance of becoming many romance readers’ autobuy. Big Bad Cowboy is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of many romance conceits and in its combining of them, uniquely itself. Be warned, however, Big Bad Cowboy is busy with conceits and stories within stories. To start, the hero, Travis Blake, newly-returned Afghan vet to his dilapidated, tax-debt-ridden Texas ranch and uncle to his incarcerated brother’s and dead sister-in-law’s five-year-old, Henry. Henry is precocious, hilariously sharp-tongued, and Travis knows it from the get-go: “Henry struck him as being smarter than the average five-year-old, which was probably the very worst kind of five-year-old.” Henry provides so much of the novel’s humour; he’s not twee, but acts very much like a Shakespearean sprite: mischievous, temperamental, smart … with moments of heart-breaking pathos. Travis cares for him, indulges him, and knows exactly the right touch to let him know he’s safe, cared-for, loved, cherished. So, for Bloom, there’s one relationship that makes the heart glow and lips grin, what of the rest?
I’ve waited a long time for a Molly O’Keefe romance and I’m awfully glad it arrived, finally, in The Tycoon. Which is not to say that Mo’K was idle. The direction her books had taken, however, was not to my taste or sensibility. I measure O’Keefe’s efforts and contemporary romance in general against the greatness that is her Crooked Creek Ranch series. Would this measure up? Delving into The Tycoon, I came smack-dab up against one of those O’Keefe directions I haven’t enjoyed: first-person narration, and a mannered one at that. After the first few pages, I thought The Tycoon was much like an HP with first-person narration. I had to readjust my expectations, give the book a fighting chance … because O’Keefe (I’d loved O’Keefe’s Super-romances so so much).
The Tycoon had one thing going for it that made me stay with it, a superb premise. As you may already know, I’ve been interested in the romance’s “dark moment” (when the HEA is most at stake for the romance couple) as one of betrayal, when one or the other of protagonists does something so wrong, the wrong-doing’s recipient, whether direct or caught in “friendly fire,” may not be able to forgive the other. The Tycoon opens with a doozy of a betrayal (infidelity is one betrayal that a romance cannot recover from, btw, unless in the hands of masters like Mary Balogh. I’m looking at you Counterfeit Betrayal). Continue reading
Maisey Yates remains the sole romance writer who makes me stay up till the wee hours to finish one of her books. The Rancher’s Baby is why I’m writing this review on a snowy March morning, bleary-eyed and groggy, to the sound of the coffee-machine spurting my third cup’o’java. Rancher’s Baby is set in Texas and not part of Yates’s Copper-Ridge-Gold-Valley series, the Yoknapatawpha of romance. It’s written for the “Desire” category, which brings out the best in her. So … “Desire”, “Yates,” “baby” set my readerly heart a-flutter … and draw me in this did. A few provisos, the hero, billionaire-rancher Knox McCoy lost his baby-daughter to cancer, a difficult read for some; and, billionaire-business-woman Selena Jacobs was physically and psychologically abused by her father (a less developped aspect to the romance), again, may not appeal. Lastly, the hero and heroine have unprotected sex, which may annoy, flummox, or result in disapproving tut-tutting. I followed a Yates Twitter convo where she defended this writerly decision (which I don’t think needs defending, btw) that people do have unprotected sex. I would say it’s about context. The circumstances under which this happens in The Rancher’s Baby may not work for all, but they did for me. Many many reasons some romance readers may not enjoy, none of which I had a problem with. With the proviso that Yates’s romances make me leave my chin-tapping critical sense at the door.
Uncertain and with trepidation, I picked up Roni Loren’s The Ones Who Got Away. After watching the news reports about Margery Stoneman Douglas HS and its mass-shooting aftermath, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a romance with this premise. But I ploughed ahead and read it because I thought: dammit, is that a niggling doubt that the genre can’t, shouldn’t, would botch, a premise so raw and horrific? Can romance do the subject justice? That little snooty inner judgement said “No, spinster-girl, you’re giving this genre a chance to tell this story.” What I discovered is that Loren got some things right and others, wrong. What Loren got right was situating the story twelve years after the school shooting. While her protagonists’ lives were marked by their experience, the initial horror/trauma has dulled. They have built lives as best they can, found some peace, but the shooting has dictated to them too. The time lapse gives Loren some romance narrative wiggle-room: her hero and heroine are adults focussed on adult things, working, paying their bills, being responsible citizens. They achieved this by leaving their Texas town and what happened at Long Acre High. Continue reading
If there’s one underused trope Miss Bates loves, it’s marriage-in-trouble, which is why she pounced on Barry and Turner’s novella-ish, category-length A Midnight Feast. It centres on the leader and doyenne of the space-race, 1960s-set American astronaut world that makes up Barry and Turner’s Fly Me To the Moon series, Colonel Mitch Dunsford and his wife of twenty-years-and-six-kids, Margie.
Barry-Turner have produced an adept narrative: alternating, especially in the first half, between Mitch and Margie’s present estrangement, set in 1965 Houston, and their courtship, young marriage, and flat middle years of care and children on her part and demanding, exhilarating career-making on his. Barry-Turner adroitly portray a marriage void of friendship, connection, and mutual desire, interspersed with chapters that chronologically fill in the intervening years, starting with a heady, whirlwind courtship set in 1945. In that sense, Barry-Turner tell a whole lot of story with a circumspect page-count; yet, their carefully-crafted snapshots of love, lust, affection to benign neglect and cutting indifference still allow the reader to get to know and possibly like their hero and heroine. The narrative is also beautifully bound together with a holiday sequence: starting with a make-it-or-break-it Thanksgiving for Mitch and Margie’s troubled marriage to a lovely Valentine-Day’s-1966-set epilogue. Continue reading
MissB. returned to a beloved series with Jodi Thomas’s Wild Horse Springs. Crossroads, Texas’s denizens’ stories continue. Thomas’s series has steadily produced one excellent ensemble-romance after another and MissB. is always happy to return. Wild Horse Springs is a particularly strong addition, if only because the town’s long-lonely sheriff finally gets his HEA. The novel focuses on three couples and a compelling RS plot. Sheriff Dan Brigman falls for newly-arrived country singer, Brandi Malone; our PTSD-ed Texas Ranger hero, Cody Winslow falls (literally! you’ll see) for park ranger Tess Adams; and, we finally have a reunion between high-powered lawyer, former-Cross-Roads cowboy Lucas Reyes and Sheriff Brigman’s daughter, Lauren. The romances unfold in conjunction with some pretty nasty doings. Former waif now grown and happily ensconced in family love and support, Thatcher Jones, finds and loses a little girl – silent, obviously physically abused, and in much need of rescuing. Sheriff Brigman is on the case, as are various Cross-Road-ites and the novel concludes, other than with HEAs for our couples, with an exciting rescue operation. Continue reading
Jodi Thomas’s Sunrise Crossing is the fourth novel in her Texas-set Ransom Canyon series. Set in fictional Crossroads, Thomas’s novels are about characters at a turning point. They confront their past, demons, and regrets. The sole redeeming facet to their Rubicon-crossing is a different life from the one they led before. This facet takes shape in the form of a man or woman who affects them deeply. Thomas’s characters are changed in two ways: one, the conviction that their lives have gone off-kilter and must be redressed; and, two, that love makes everything worthwhile, meaningful, and joyous. Thomas intertwines several characters’ lives to make their lives fuller, happier, and love-filled. As with the previous three Ransom Canyon novels, Thomas brings together a company of likeable, kind, compassionate, and loving characters, and one or two nasty villains, who are foiled by community, co-operation, and care. In Thomas’s novels, there are people who care, and those who don’t. Continue reading
Miss Bates loved Emma Barry’s The Easy Part trilogy of political romances. Its trio of committed, intelligent, patriotic couples can serve as an antidote to the awfulness of the present election campaign. If you haven’t, you should read it. Though Barry was tried and true for Miss Bates, she had doubts about Barry’s dual writing effort with Gen Turner. Miss B’s wariness was dispelled with the first title in the Fly Me To the Moon series, Star Dust. Earth Bound‘s hero featured there as the shouting, unsmiling, mean engineer Eugene Parsons. Neither Parsons nor his heroine Dr. Charlie Eason are sunshine and light. Parsons hires Charlie as part of the team trying to beat the Soviets to the moon in 1960s America. As a woman in a man’s world, Barry-Turner make real the viscerally painful experience of being dismissed and overlooked even when you’re the smartest person in the room. Miss Bates felt Charlie’s anger and frustration as she would were she right there being smart and ignored. MissB burned up for Charlie on so many occasions while reading Earth Bound. Navigating the male world while playing the beautiful woman card and hiding your intellectual light is all too familiar to women. Except for demanding, insufferable Eugene, with whom Charlie embarks on an illicit and seemingly sordid, anonymous affair. Only to the hypocrites. Charlie and Eugene may at first only give and take bodily pleasure, but the heart and head of two compatible, beautiful loner-outsiders will have their way.
Truth be told, Miss Bates always starts a new-to-her inspy author with trepidation, afraid of the niggling criticisms directed at the sub-genre. Evangelical Christianity is a foreign land to Miss B’s smells-and-bells faith, heavy on the ritual, light on the scripture. And Becky Wade’s Her One and Only ran true to type: the characters are evangelical Christians, alcohol-consumption is demonized, and characters pray, are transformed, surrender to God, but don’t participate in ritual. And yet, Wade’s fourth Texas-set Porter Family series novel also runs atypically. Miss Bates was surprised by and pleased with it. For one, heroine Dru Porter is a bodyguard, set the task of protecting football player Grayson Fowler from a stalker. Dru packs heat, chops hulky men with karate expertise, drives a motorcycle, and brings grit and discipline from her days as a marine. She’s direct, funny, feminist, and faithful. Her large Porter family of older brothers, loving parents, nieces and nephews aren’t cutesy-sweet. They’re funny, fun, faithful yes, but possess a casual irreverence that puts them above your holier-than-thou inspy clan. And hallelujah to that … Continue reading