Culling the TBR One Letter At a Time: “E” Is for Early, Margot Early’s MR. FAMILY

Mr_Family

Welcome, Willaful, to the Alphabet Challenge! Whittling the TBR one letter at a time! For her “E” read, Willaful read a meh m/m romance, but her voice is droll and astute.

Miss Bates returns to her personal, too-long-abandoned TBR challenge: reading through the Doddering TBR one alphabetical letter at a time. She last posted in this vein in September of 2013! In tackling “e,” Miss Bates opted for a book about which she knew bupkis, but whose cover drew her: a foxy-looking pooch, pretty little girl, and smiling man in high-waisted jeans and bare feet, also leis … it looked awful and turned out great. In Margot Early’s 1996 Harlequin Superromance, Mr. Family, Miss Bates had the rare experience of reading an unexpected, unusual, a true original of a romance. Mr. Family blew her away: it was unlike anything she’s read in romance fiction in ages. Though it dragged in a few places, and its suffering-protagonists’ pitch had strident moments, it was terrific. She hopes that her post urges some of MBRR’s readers to try it: she’d love to hear what new readers make of it. It stands a cut above mundane contemporary romance in several ways: its believable portrayal of a modern marriage-of-convenience narrative (with epistolary element!) its treatment of grief and loss, self-loathing and sexual frigidity, its extensive creation of a cultural context for the protagonists and portrayal of religious ritual that isn’t Christian romance-inspirational.  Continue reading

He RULES Over All: Georgette Heyer’s CONVENIENT MARRIAGE and Omnipotent Hero

Convenient_Marriage_2Sometimes, Miss Bates’ reading is desultory. Sometimes, “the world is too much with us” and our ability to immerse ourselves in a book is distracted and restless, no matter how willing we are, no matter how much we desire to lose ourselves in story. Miss Bates read Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage in fits and starts, dribs and drabs: picking it up for only minutes at a time; then, dropping it to follow the latest debacle on Twitter. She read trusted points of view on the Kathleen Hale/Guardian disappointment and wrestled with her redefinition of Miss Bates Reads Romance and a return to her original purpose. The blogger black-out was a blessing in disguise: for the first time in over a year, Miss Bates had to put the blogging aside and think about the blogging. With so many voices raised in protest, she re-acquainted herself with other blogs, ones she’d visited daily before MBRR, always anticipating a post, places where she typed her first comments, places of welcome and delight. Throughout, she read without any great concentration, but with commitment to get through the darn thing, Heyer’s Convenient Marriage proving inconvenient.

Miss Bates was bored, bothered, and preoccupied … and then, Horry took a poker to Lethbridge and she was captivated. That’s what it takes, dear readers, one delightful, or profound moment and the book can take us away, out of the daily into the “other” place … the paradox of the fictional world which, in a moment, becomes more real than waking reality. Horry emerged: impetuous, immature, and heavy-browed; Lethbridge, vindictive, unhappy, and strangely sympathetic; and then, Rule, he who ruled over all, urbane, powerful, wise, utterly charming and loveable. BUT …  Miss Bates had to contend with the breaking point of the novel: Rule, wonderful as he may be, is 35 and his wife is 17. This never left Miss Bates’ mind and she never quite made her peace with it. But she loved the novel and will have to live with her conflicted feelings. Because, sometimes, that’s what fiction leaves us, a sublime discord that we can pull out and think about for distraction, delight, and discussion 😉   Continue reading

REVIEW: Inez Kelley’s SHOULD’VE BEEN HOME YESTERDAY To Be With You

Miss Bates loves trees and lives in a country with plenty! She writes and reads and ponders in company with the maple tree in her front yard and records time’s passage by its changing leaves. This is one reason she enjoyed Inez Kelley’s “Country Roads” series. Kelley has set her three romances in West Virginia’s forest and the intricacies of a traditional logging industry (something else Kelley’s setting shares with Miss B’s country) making its way in the modern world, walking a fine line between profit and conservation. Moreover, Miss Bates enjoyed the romances: they’re sexy, heroines don’t take gaff from the heroes, and the heroes are manly-men who concede. Of the three, Take Me Home, The Place I Belong, and Should’ve Been Home Yesterday, Take Me Home edges out as her favourite. The first and third in the series were un-put-downable: the prose is smooth; the setting, beautiful; the heroine and hero, lovingly conflicted. Should’ve Been Home Yesterday had the added advantage of being a convincing contemporary marriage-of-convenience narrative, one of Miss Bates’ favourite romance tropes. Furthermore, it was a second-chance-at-love story, a wonderful combination of flashback, forward action, and two people meant to be together if they would only be honest with each other. At least there are reasons in their past that make the close-mouthed agony understandable. Despite the wonderfulness, Should’ve Been Home Yesterday suffered from the same problems, to a lesser degree, that Miss Bates found in The Place I Belong. Continue reading

Betty Neels’ FATE IS REMARKABLE: The Permanence of Beautiful Things and Places

Fate_Is_Remarkable_2007Miss Bates is going to make wild and wooly assumptions about Betty Neels. Her 1971 Fate Is Remarkable will be the ground in which Miss Bates will sow outlandish seeds by saying that Neels’ romances can be read as historical romances in disguise, or at least that Neels was NOT interested in telling a romance of her day. This is not unique to Miss B. Liz from Something More said that Neels’ romances are set in a post-WWII England, rather than the 1970s, 80s, and 90s in which Neels wrote. As long as one is willing to suspend one’s disbelief and replace a fast car with a fast curricle, then they may as well be set in the Regency Era as well. This comes through in Neels’ to-some-tedious, detailed descriptions of interiors and architecture. Miss Bates eats them up … along with any references to clothes, food, or gifts, as she’s written about before. Neels often fails in incorporating details from the time and place in which she actually wrote. In Fate Is Remarkable, for example, there are references to awkward cigarette moments, which Sarah, the heroine, dismisses with a titter. Hugo, the hero, smokes a pipe, like a good Victorian gentleman. There are a few telephone conversations, but one knows that Hugo and Sarah would rather correspond. As a matter of fact, more often than not, their day begins with the post. Neels is good on sleek cars, but even those are the kind that last forever, that go from showroom to vintage in a lifetime. Neels’ interiors and her descriptions of furniture and objets d’art are about finding permanence in a changing world. Miss Bates would say that this is her appeal to readers as well. Continue reading

REVIEW: Jessica Gilmore’s THE RETURN OF MRS. JONES To the Uxorious Mr. Jones

The_Return_Of_Mrs_jonesThe second-chance-at-love trope in romance is one of Miss Bates’s favourites. It offers deliciously antagonistic back-story to a reunited couple; it adds depth beyond insta-lust. It may also, however, suffer from deus ex machina-ism, depending on how the romance writer engineers the reunion. One of Miss Bates’s comfort reads is a second-chance-at-love romance classic, Judith McNaught’s Paradise. She also points to another classic, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Ain’t She Sweet? Miss Bates characterizes Rachel Gibson as a mini-SEP. She’s written several enjoyable second-chance-at-love romances: in particular, her first and last in the Chinooks series, Simply Irresistible and Any Man Of Mine, respectively; the latter possessing gravitas and poignancy the former lacked. In the scheme of second-chance-at-love romances, how does Jessica Gilmore’s début effort stack up? Miss Bates says that there is no greater joy in the romance reader’s love for the genre than to discover a new voice in category romance. Gilmore’s first novel is lovely: the writing is strong; the characters are wonderful; and the handling of the second-chance-at-love for Lawrie Bennett and Jonas Jones, heroine and hero, one of the best she’s read. It’s not perfect, but it echoes one of the finest writing category romance today, Jessica Hart. Indeed, Gilmore gives a nod to Hart in her acknowledgements: a fine, fine professional mentoring if The Return Of Mrs. Jones is the result. A winner is born, folks! Continue reading

REVIEW: Culling the TBR One Letter At A Time, “B” Is For Barry

roses2In the spirit of Disclosure! that has been the subject of an interesting discussion at Something More, Miss Bates confesses to being disposed to like Barry’s Brave In Heart for reasons other than her love of: American-set historical romance, spinster-schoolmarm heroines, military heroes, and Ken Burns’s The Civil War.  Ms Barry is a sympathetic and likeable blog presence to Miss Bates, though they’ve never met in person, nor communicated in any other fashion.  Frankly, Miss Bates was whew-relieved when Brave In Heart, Barry’s Connecticut-Civil-War-set romance captivated her from the opening sentence … and proved to be without any connection to one of Miss Bates’s most abhorred novels, Gone With the Wind.  With only minor bumps along the road to reader-joy, Miss Bates loved Brave In Heart … and, like Oliver Twist, begs for, “Some more, please.” Continue reading for Miss Bates’s thoughts on this wonderful novella

REVIEW and CONNECTIONS: Ruthie Knox’s MAKING IT LAST, Or An HEA For Don and Betty

cover32533-smallIn Making It Last, Ruthie Knox re-invents one of Miss Bates’s favourite historical romance tropes: the re-united husband and wife. She cleverly separates her lovers/husband-wife not with physical distance, as so often happens in historical romance, but by the emotional distance that comes of a long-standing but floundering marriage. This novella was painful to read in places, but, in the end, it was hopeful and positive. It is all about “making things last” in a marriage: love, attraction, friendship, and desire. It’s about endurance and resilience, even though the hero and heroine are two of the most vulnerable, fragile figures Miss Bates has read in a long time. This is not a romantic narrative to cozy up to; there are uncomfortable feelings here that flow from the characters’ weaknesses to the reader’s, but it is worthy of the reader’s admiration and consideration. Continue reading

A Smidgeon of a Review for a Mite of a Book: Jill Sorenson’s STRANDED WITH HER EX

Stranded With Her ExCategory romance is an appetizer. Miss Bates reads it as a bridge over to something more substantial, a breather in the race to a longer historical, or contemporary. There are category writers that she would never treat this way: Karina Bliss, the divine Sarah Mayberry, Molly O’Keefe, Janice Kay Johnson, Karen Templeton, Carla Kelly, and Cheryl St. John. She quite likes Sarah Morgan and India Grey, sometimes Jessica Hart, Liz Fielding, and Donna Alward. So, not all category romances are treated cavalierly by Miss Bates; in Sorenson’s case, however, she carelessly brandishes a sword of disapproval. You can read on, if you’re interested

REVIEW: Miranda Neville’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING WICKED, Or How A Stuffed Shirt Won A Bohemian Beauty

The Importance of Being WickedBetween the contrived angst of the HP and the brilliant, genuine angst of Gaffney’s To Love and To Cherish, Miss Bates comfortably settled into the wit and light touch of Neville’s The Importance of Being Wicked. Reading Neville’s romance novel was like skimming the bubbly goodness off a milkshake on a summer day! Delicious, sweet, but not substantial. The writing is good, the hero is lovely, and the pacing of the narrative smooth and appealing. The heroine’s fey and childish ways grated about three-quarters of the way through and Miss Bates thought the yummy hero was overly indulgent and a tad doltish for being as devoted as he was. The mystery of what makes seemingly incompatible people happy together is not for Miss Bates to solve; nor is that the purpose of our beloved genre. Nevertheless, making this incompatible couple endearing is to Neville’s credit. Reading about Lord Stuffy and his irrepressible Caro was fun; if you’re looking for a read that doesn’t stint on good writing, interesting characters, many funny, farcical scenes, and a healthy dose of lust on the part of the hero and, refreshingly, heroine, then you’d enjoy The Importance of Being Wicked. Read on for a more detailed look at this romance novel