Lacy Williams’s His Small-Town Girl isn’t a perfect romance, but it is true to the genre. And that was something I wanted to read after two lugubrious duds. Williams came from one of my favourite category lines, with favourite authors too, Harlequin’s “Love-Inspired” historicals (aka inspiehistrom). Since that line shut down, she has navigated to self-publishing and this series is, I would say, “kisses-only” contemporary, ne’er a soupçon of inspie content. But it still carries her ability to draw characters, write a fine line, and create a heart-tugging romance. There is something alive about Williams’s characters: they reach out to the reader and the reader cares about them. Even though overall His Small-Town Girl is an angsty read, the quick-fire, at times banterish exchanges between hero Cord Coulter and heroine Molly English lend a light, engaging touch. Angsty as heck is what these two are: Cord has returned to Sutter’s Hollow after years away in Houston to repair and sell his legacy, his grandmother’s run-down ranch. Orphaned with his baby brother, Cord suffered at the hands of his grandmother (and she’s never redeemed, which is a good thing in a contemporary that avoids the all-sunshine label in small-town Texas). As he tries to bring order into chaos, deal with an impending mortgage, and not lose his general contracting work back in the city, Molly English comes walking onto his ranch, sunshine to his grump, willing to do any labour to stay. Continue reading
Now that I’ve arrived at the end of Roni Loren’s conclusion to her four-book series based on the adult survivors of a Texas high school shooting, I can confidently say that, with Molly O’Keefe’s Crooked Creek Ranch series, Loren has written one of the best contemporary romance series of the past ten years. Though #4 wasn’t my favourite (my heart remains with The One You Fight For) it was a most satisfying conclusion. The One For You tells the romance of two of Long Acre High’s shooting’s survivors, prom queen beauty Kincaid Breslin and her best friend, Ashton Isaacs. Cue sixteen years. Ash returns to Long Acre from NYC (after having left soon after the tragedy, abandoning Kincaid) to stay with his deceased friend’s parents, Grace and Charlie Lowell (his ex-fiancée left him homeless). Ash is a globe-trotting successful writer and the opportunity for some down time to let the Muse have her way with him is welcome, even in the town he’d hoped to never see again … and the friend he can’t forget. Meanwhile, wrong-side-of-the-tracks Kincaid is now a successful realtor and in the midst of clinching a sweet deal on a charmingly dilapidated farm house … except, like most things, Kincaid can’t resist the call of the broken, so she buys it instead, hoping to juggle job and renos and start her own B’n’B. Like estranged friend Ash, Kincaid is still close to the Lowells; their son, one of the shooting’s victims, was her high school sweetheart. The Lowells own Long Acre’s sole bookstore, but decide it’s time to sell and retire. They ask Ash, who’s staying in the bookstore’s upstairs apartment, and Kincaid, to spruce it up and put it on the market for them. Continue reading
I was a great fan of Liz Talley’s Superromances, indeed one of my favourites ever is her Sweet Talking Man. There was no doubt then, though I’m not a WF fan, I’d follow her on her new-ish path into WF. So I read Room to Breathe, with uneven results: I still love Talley’s ethos and writing and I still don’t like WF. Room to Breathe is funny, witty, and offers loveable characters. It is organized around two main characters, not a hero and heroine as in a romance, but a mother and daughter: nearing-40 Daphne Witt, aka Dee Dee O’Hara, children’s author, and her 23-year-old daughter, failed fashion designer, Ellery. When the novel opens, Daphne, now a long-established divorcée, is feeling the effects of a dormant sexuality. Her ex-husband left her, claiming her then-new-found career interfered with their marriage. Like many women who married young and became mothers, Daphne is hurt and disappointed at the loss of her marriage, but loves her new-found freedom and independence.
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