MINI-REVIEW: Donna Alward’s THE CROWN PRINCE’S BRIDE

Crown_Prince's_BrideDonna Alward’s The Crown Prince’s Bride seemed a romance palate-cleanser after Willig’s intense English Wife. Certainly that’s what it felt like – initially. But Alward is a writer who transcends what I call the trappings of trite, with emotional wisdom and psychological acumen. While I settled comfortably into a mild romance read – not too much drama, not too intense a plot, decent protagonists – Alward managed to surprise and delight me.

First, the trappings. In the fictional kingdom of Marazur, heroine Stephanie Savalas is the supremely competent right-hand woman of Crown Prince Raoul Navarro, grieving widower, single dad, and his homeland’s hope (now that King Alexander, his father, has handed kingly responsibilities over to him). The novel opens as Stephani plans Raoul’s brother’s wedding to Raoul’s children’s former nanny, all the while juggling the country’s well-being and the big-ole torch she carries for her boss. Raoul is deep in mourning for his beloved wife, Stephani’s cousin Cecilia, who died in a car accident. And yet, dear reader, stirrings! Raoul always cared for Stephani and their platonic relationship is warm, friendly, affectionate, and caring until one night, these vague “stirrings” lead to a passionate kiss.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s THE RANCHER’S BABY

Rancher's_BabyMaisey 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.
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MINI-REVIEW: Liz Fielding’s HER PREGNANCY BOMBSHELL

Her_Pregnancy_BombshellLiz 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

REVIEW: Anne Calhoun’s TURN ME LOOSE

Turn_Me_LooseI 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

MINI-REVIEW: Jill Shalvis’s ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE

Accidentally_On_PurposeMiss 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

Review: Karen Kirst’s THE SHERIFF’S CHRISTMAS TWINS

sheriffs_xmas_twinsKaren Kirst’s The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins is the ninth romance in her “Smoky Mountain Matches” series and even though after nine volumes Miss Bates would’ve thought the series would feel tired, it’s fresh and lovely. While The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins doesn’t reach Reclaiming His Past‘s greatness, there is much to recommend it. Firstly, a character we’ve followed in many of the previous novels, Sheriff Shane Timmons, protector of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and its environs, finally gets his story and a heroine worthy of his dour, but committed and decent soul. Shane’s heroine is visiting childhood friend, Allison Ashworth, the now-woman whose father once took in the friendless, homeless, orphaned Shane. Allie and Shane are now in their thirties, but thanks to Shane’s continued correspondence with Allie’s brother George, Shane’s bond to his foster family remains strong. When Allie and George’s father, David, brought the 14-year-old angry Shane to their household, 12-year-old Allie immediately latched onto him, regaling him with love, affection, and gentle good-hearted teasing. She wanted to be his friend, to make him a part of every family holiday and tradition, but Shane held back – especially from her. At George’s insistence, he and his family and Allie travel to Gatlinburg, from their home in Norfolk, Virginia, to spend the holidays with Shane.  Continue reading

Mini-Review: Katharine Ashe’s THE ROGUE

RogueMiss Bates read the complex, thematically-rich work of Katharine Ashe for the first time in Ashe’s Regency-set The Rogue. If a comparison is useful, she was reminded of elements in Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances: a double-narrative, one of which remains mysterious and elliptical, an earthy-rawness to the love scenes, a cross-class theme, an independent-minded heroine, and a protective, but not overbearing hero. Miss Bates loves Hoyt and responded to Ashe’s Rogue likewise. Though The Rogue is first in the “Devil’s Duke” series, it is connected to Ashe’s four-book “Falcon Club” one. Ashe discussses connections in character and plot in The Rogue‘s afterword. Miss Bates admits to some difficulty following the complicated narrative threads and connections “during reading,” but no trouble loving the MCs, Lady Constance Read and the eponymous Frederick Evan Chevalier de Saint-André Sterling. Constance and “Saint” (he is pretty sublime) met six years before the novel’s action proper, at a house-party. Saint thought the lurking-in-shadows beauty was a maid. They met secretly for two weeks, falling in love, before they were discovered and Constance’s aristocratic-wealthy-heiress future was evident to Saint. Their classless Eden sundered and they were thrown into classist exile. Saint was left heart-broken and betrayed, yet ignorant of Constance’s heart-break over losing him.   Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Joan Kilby’s WIN ME

Win_MeJoan Kilby’s novella, Win Me, is one-third of an interesting rom-concept. Its events occur concurrently with those in Karina Bliss’s Woo Me and Sarah Mayberry’s Wait For Me. Together, the three novellas respectively recount the story of three friends attending a traditional Bachelor and Spinster Ball in the Australian outback. Ellie, Jen, and Beth forged their friendship in boarding school. They saw each other through farce and tragedy. Now, at 28, they’re in various stages of heartbreak. They congregate at Ellie’s father’s cattle farm and resolve to heal their broken, neglected hearts by romping through the bacchanalian shenanigans at the local Bachelor and Spinster Ball. These traditional “balls” are debauched and rowdy; ratafia is nowhere in sight and participants trip the light fantastic only between the flaps of a sleeping bag.
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MINI-REVIEW: Jodi Thomas’s RANSOM CANYON

Ransom_CanyonMiss Bates loves pie, apple, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, but nothing beats humble pie. She happily munches on it after sneering, snarling, and dramatically slapping her forehead with “What was I thinking?” reading Jodi Thomas’s Ransom Canyon – it’s women’s fiction. More fool Miss Bates because Thomas’s novel has as much going for it as it does going on. 

Ransom Canyon is braided with three narrative strands: the romance between dour, tragic Staten Kirkland, rancher, and Quinn O’Grady, lavender farmer, reclusive pianist, and his dead wife’s best friend; the burgeoning feelings between Lucas Reyes, ambitious teen-ager and hand at Staten’s ranch, and Lauren Brigman, dreamy girl and sheriff’s daughter; and, Yancy Grey, ex-con and handyman to the adorable old coots, all former teachers, at the local retirement home. Add the blue-cape-swirling, curvaceous, sharp-tongued Miss Ellie, nurse-in-training, and frequent visitor to the retirement home and Yancy Grey, at 25, newly released from the big house, has himself a serious case of desire. Ransom Canyon is set in Texas ranching country, in the allegorically-named town of Crossroads, not far from Lubbock. Thomas weaves the three story-lines beautifully, offering redemption, renewal, and love to the broken and troubled – and leaving pending romance threads in the stories of the young ones, Yancy and Ellie, Lucas and Lauren. Continue reading

REVIEW: Liz Talley’s SWEET SOUTHERN NIGHTS, Or When the Heart Plays “Patty-Cake”

Sweet_Southern_NightsFinding a new auto-read author is great comfort because Miss Bates knows that even if this romance isn’t her best romance, it’ll still be pretty darn good. The reader’s stakes are low; the central couple’s, high. Which is how Miss Bates likes’em. The first romance she read in Talley’s Magnolia Bend, Louisiana, series, Sweet Talking Man, made its way into her heart, head, and running list of 2015 Best Of (to come soon; how time has flown, dear readers). A favourite author’s romance isn’t read because the romance will be good, that’s a given, but to, once again, re-experience the author’s sensibility and world view. In Liz Talley we have an earthier, funnier Janice Kay Johnson. JKJ is one of MissB’s faves, a little more gravitas, a little grimmer, but equally perceptive about the psychology of families, small towns, nuanced child characters (no adorable plot moppets to be found) and love’s challenging transformations. Moreover, Talley does something that Miss Bates looks and hopes for in contemporary romance (maybe there’s a touch in JKJ too, on occasion): a nod to the role religion plays in ordinary people’s daily lives, without the inspirational proselytizing and priggish attitudes to sex and the occasional beer. Bring it on and bring more of it, please! Liz Talley’s third Magnolia Bend romance novel and without the blandness that comes with sweet, or “heartwarming” romance.  Sweet Southern Nights, is the friends-to-lovers tale of two firefighting best friends: Eva Monroe, the former new girl in town who’s found a place to belong, and hometown bad boy, Jake Beauchamp, “hardworking firefighter, hard-playing Romeo.” Continue reading