When I first started to read romance again, after a thirty-year hiatus (ah, the “lost years”), one of the first romances I read was J. R. Ward’s Lover Eternal (2006), a romance novel I thought at once execrable and utterly compelling. Really, I couldn’t put it down, even though I was embarrassed for enjoying it and yet thinking how laughably bad it was. I can’t say I experienced the same reader self-hatred reading the first of Ward’s new non-vampiric “Firefighters” series, Consumed. Maybe it was the first flush of allowing myself to read romance again, but I’d gained some distance from Consumed in a way I hadn’t with Lover Eternal, though I read it with the same enthusiasm and rueful self-doubt. I can now recognize what makes Ward compelling: there’s a hyperbolic physicality to her characters, a gritty underbelly feel to her setting, and a rawness to it all that makes for a powerful formula. There’s NOTHING small-town cutsie or gentle about Ward’s world and she’s pretty fearless about writing her characters’ edginess. I liked that about her and I liked Consumed, though, at times, it bugged the heck out of me. Continue reading
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where romance fiction “fits” in the scheme of things literary. I’m tired of arguments either defending the genre or condemning it, discussing its relevance or irrelevance … blah blah blah. Not that these discussions aren’t relevant, they are to those who partake and more power to them. I do enjoy listening “in” to the Twitter debates, etc. But I have been asking why I persist in reading romance when the world around me makes the romance’s domestic world focus feel irrelevant. I think we read romance of any ilk, paranormal, historical, contemporary, conservative to radical in its perspective, because it’s utopian (minus the satire; there is nothing Thomas More would recognize in the genre). End of thought bubble.
The latest “utopian” romance I read was Kelly Bowen’s Last Night With the Earl, depicting the love and closeness of Napoleonic War veteran, Eli Dawes, the eponymous “Earl” of Rivers, and artist Rose Hayward. Like many romance couples, Eli and Rose are “broken” and their relationship, as it plays out, works towards achieving their healing and wholeness. As a narrative, it succeeded and failed in depicting their story. Continue reading
No matter the claims to originality, no matter how new and fresh the voice, 99.9% of romances follow the narrative pattern of encounter, attraction, obstacles, false Eden, betrayal/estrangement, and resolution/HEA, and all centring solely, exclusively on the central couple, their conflict, their feelings, and their between-the-sheets time. But Bliss always manages to surprise me, always twists that old familiar, comfortable pattern to make me stand up and notice. In historical romance, only Rose Lerner has managed to do the same (see especially my review of True Pretenses). I’ve loved each of Bliss’s Rock Star romances. She delighted, moved, and surprised me in each one, but her fourth, Resurrection, might be the best one yet. Surprisingly, its quota of romantic tension is near-zero. The hero and heroine’s feelings are so apparent and easy that all the while, Bliss sneaks in other interesting things, themes and ideas, and still, in the end, makes me sigh with the perfection of her HEA (I also ugly-cried, but the scrunched-up faced Miss Bates is a thing best left unimagined).
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.
Liz Fielding is one of those romance writers whose “closed-bedroom-door” conceit I forgive. Not to belabor the point, but you know my opinion of the closed-bedroom-door romance and its many shortcomings. Fielding, on the other hand, writes the kind of truth-telling, gently-humoured characters I adore. Her prose is fine, elegant and smooth, deceptively simple and subtly rich. Even flawed, it’s easy for me to enjoy her romances, as I did Her Pregnancy Bombshell.
The bombshell in question opens the novel as heroine Miranda “Andie” Marlowe makes her way to the Mediterranean island of L’Isola dei Fiori and her sister’s dilapidated, recently-inherited Villa Rosa. As she tells the customs officer, ” ‘I’m running away.” An intriguing opening and one that drew me in. Andie is escaping a confrontation with her one-night-lover and boss, Cleve Finch, CEO of Goldfinch Air Services, for which Andie flies charters. Andie, we learn, is pregnant, the result of Cleve and her one night of shared passion three weeks ago. For the past year, culminating in that night, Cleve grieved the loss of his wife, Rachel. His devastation is evident in every gaunt line of his face, every pound lost from his formerly-stalwart frame, the absence of his smiles, the sadness in his eyes. Andie, with whom Cleve has shared an affectionate friendship since pre-Rachel, has loved with him since the day she walked into his life as an eighteen-year-old pilot. Continue reading
I hadn’t read a romantic suspense novel in a long time and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to. Calhoun’s Turn Me Loose has a naked-chest-and-dog-tags cover that always turns me off. But, Calhoun: I’d heard a lot of good about her in the Twitterverse and wanted to give a new-to-me author a fighting chance. Turn Me Loose‘s introduction didn’t cover itself with glory and I came a hair’s-breath away from DNF-ing. But the writing was good, darn good, though I disliked the flash-back routine to the hero and heroine’s past. I recognized its necessity because it made it easier for Calhoun to segue into the present, but those, albeit not significant, parts of the novel never won me over. So, what did?
Let’s begin with basic premise and characterization. Seven years before the present scene, undercover cop Ian Hawthorn arrested eighteen-year-old college student and petty drug-dealer, Riva Henneman. In exchange for her freedom, Riva agreed to act as Ian’s “confidential informant”. Ian and Riva spent a lot of time together in stake-out and/or drug busts, with Riva entering dangerous situations as her CI-drug-dealer-self to help Ian and the Lancaster Police Department make arrests. A resentful attraction seethes between them, but ethical lines and power differentials are not crossed. Seven years pass and Ian walks into Riva’s business, a farm-to-table restaurant operation, Oasis, that takes teens and young adults from food-impoverished neighbourhoods and gives them a chance at fair and engaging labour. The food is delicious, Riva is beautiful, and the attraction between them still sizzles and seethes. Continue reading
Miss Bates has enjoyed many a Shalvis romance. In particular, she liked the Animal Magnetism and Lucky Harbor series, but there was something about them that made her abandon them. Miss Bates would say this is because Shalvis tends to start strong and end weak and can’t let a series go after the first successful volumes. Nevertheless, Shalvis’s talent for quick, funny dialogue and smooth prose convinced MissB. to delve into the San Francisco-set Heartbreaker Bay series, of which Accidentally On Purpose is third.
Shalvis’s romances are signature: strong, mouthy heroine meets strong, silent, dominating, domineering alpha hero. Accidentally On Purpose is true to type. Elle Wheaton is independent, successful, and determined to become more so. She is the Pacific Pier Building’s general manager and working toward an accounting degree. She’s blonde, curvy, beautiful and fills out a wrap-around dress and stilettos to make men sigh. Only one man is impervious to her charms: the building security firm head, Archer Hunt. Turns out, however, that Archer and Elle share a past, a past Archer can’t seem to get beyond to the desirable, desiring woman Elle has become. Years ago, desperate sixteen-year-old Elle was caught in a heist, trying to return stolen property to save her sister’s life, and rookie cop Archer rescued her, saving her from the clinker and a life on the streets. Now, Elle’s confidence and success aren’t sufficient to help Archer ever see her as anyone other than the frightened, hungry teen he first encountered. Archer and Elle are friends of a sort, though their exchanges run more to antagonistic than camaraderie. Continue reading
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 was ignorant of Lauren Layne’s Wedding Belles series and ended up reading book three, To Love and To Cherish, without reading one and two. S’allright though, because Wedding Belles #3 fills in the romances of the first two heroines as they weave in and out of the heroine’s story. Alexis Morgan is the Wedding Belles’s head honcho, the guru of wedding planners, with Brooke and Heather close behind. The company was her baby, her vision and sole focus. But there’s someone behind the scenes too. While Alexis is the Wedding Belles’s face, heart, and soul, she is not its only purse. Her silent partner is hero Logan Harris, friend, accountant, and bankroll from the moment they met in a Harlem bar eight years ago. For Logan, it was love at first sight; for Alexis, it was a niggling feeling of “something,” but her focus was so strongly on her business that her awareness of Logan has been akin to a cold cup of coffee you leave on the counter. As the years roll by, she takes their bi-weekly financial meetings for granted. She takes him for granted. Her emotional and physical skittishness and Logan’s British gentleman manners have long put the kibosh on seduction. Now, with Logan and Alexis in their early thirties, things coalesce. Logan’s Alexis-torch is more-than-smouldering, especially when his father is ready to retire and hand the London-based family company to him. Logan must let Alexis know how he feels, find out if she cares for him as he does her – or, he returns to London.
Liz Talley’s Perfectly Charming is her second Montlake-published Morning Glory novel. Talley used to write great Super-romance for Harlequin. While Miss Bates loved Talley’s Harlequin work, the first Morning Glory, Mississippi, novel was shrug-worthy. But Talley is a strong enough writer to convince MissB. to give the series another try. The series premise is an interesting, though conventional one. Three childhood friends lose #4 in their tight, supportive circle to cancer. Lucy leaves a charm bracelet and wish for each with enough money attached that each heroine can have an adventure, take a chance, and make a change in her life. When her life has taken its turn, she passes the bracelet on. Jessica Culpepper, Perfectly Charming‘s heroine, has already had her life turned upside down when the novel opens. Her “American Dream” existence, the cheerleader who married the wealthy high school football star and had a white-picket fence life, ended in divorce when Benton slept with the florist and told Jess their marriage no longer fulfilled him. Jess’s world crashed, but Lucy’s legacy allows her to leave her loving Morning Glory family and friends, to take a nursing job in Pensacola. Now a year after the divorce, Jess has healed and Florida is the final step in making her psychic cure complete. Continue reading