Jennifer Hayward’s A DEAL FOR THE DI SIONE RING

A_Deal_For_the_Di_Sione_RingMuch as Miss Bates loves the HP line, she’s never been much for the connected HP-series. A few years ago, the line went with a crud-awful interconnected hotel-setting series and it was ugh. So MissB. was leery of trying another one in this “Di Sione” series, but, hey, Jennifer Hayward! woot!, one of the more original, more interesting HP writers (her The Italian’s Deal For I Do one of MissB’s favourite HPs EVAH). The past few books have never reached The Italian’s Deal‘s heights, but they’ve consistently been well-written and absent of the insane WTF-ery that distinguishes the line. Hayward seems to like the idea of the “deal” as a romantic premise, essentially the opening to a good ole marriage-of-convenience romance narrative, in this case, a marriage-deal for Nate Brunswick and Mina Mastrantino. The product of Benito Di Sione’s affair with his secretary, Nate has a huge-o-rama shoulder chip about his illegitimacy, place in the Di Sione family, except in his relationship with his paternal grand-father, Giovanni, his eschewing of marriage and anything that says “feels”. When Nate was a teen, Giovanni gave him a place at the family-company-table, thus saving him from a life on the streets. Now that Nate’s created and expanded his personal fortune as well as the family one, he wants to give dying, fragile Giovanni the gift of the “Di Sione ring,” which seems to have a mysterious special significance for Giovanni. In one of Nate’s Palermo hotels, he meets an adorably curvy, tiny chambermaid who, it turns out, is none other than the possessor of the precious ring.
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Lynne Graham’s THE GREEK’S CHRISTMAS BRIDE, Or Emotional Pay-Off

The_Greek's_Christmas_BrideIt’s been said ad infinitum that the HP is rom at its most elemental, most ur-like, most wild-fantasy unbelievability. And rom-readers who love their crazysauce HP tolerate, excuse, overlook, and forgive many elements that they’d excoriate in other rom: slut-shaming, evil step-mothers, “other women,” whose shenanigans make Lucrezia Borgia demure and modest. To say nothing of the alpha-heroes: they can stomp, dominate, and toss the heroine over their shoulder, pound their chest and be possessive and jealous and paternalistically over-protective. The reader, in the meanwhile, like MissB. sits blithely sipping tea, nodding, smiling, and reading into the wee hours (only the HP has the ability to deprive Miss B. of her love of a good night’s sleep). The reason for this, dear reader?: the HP’s capacity for emotional pay-off. And no one, no one, does it better than Lynne Graham. Miss Bates had barely typed the last period on her Kate Noble review when she read the first few pages of Graham’s The Greek’s Christmas Bride; a mere 24 hours later, here we are. Like Miss Bates’s favourite Graham, The Greek’s Chosen Bride, The Greek’s Christmas Bride has a moral-core, forge-ahead-with-independence, poverty-stricken, humble heroine, a successful bazillionaire arrogant “man whore” hero with a hidden heart of gold, and a dog, in this case, a traumatized terrier named Hector. Like Chosen Bride, Christmas Bride sees the matrimonially-averse hero have to marry and procreate to ensure control of his inheritance. To do so, he takes advantage of a poor heroine who’ll do anything to protect the well-being of the most vulnerable of her family and/or acquaintance.
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Amy Sandas’s THE UNTOUCHABLE EARL

Untouchable_EarlIt’s rare that Miss B. reacts to a romance (maybe because her choices tend to the tried and true these days) as she did to Amy Sandas’s The Untouchable Earl. About half way through, she wanted to DNF. But there was a sense of purpose and theme to it that said, “No, no, keep reading.” So, she did. And now that it’s done, she doesn’t quite know what to say about it. At its heart is a sexual healing theme that Miss B. despises, akin to her curled-lip reaction to Lisa Valdez’s Passion, possibly rivaling Old Skool romance to be the worst romance novel ever written. And yet, she also can’t dismiss The Untouchable Earl the way she can Passion. Its premise is the stuff of high eye-rolling melodrama. Melodramatic circumstances conspire to bring Plain-Jane husband-seeking ton debutante Lily Chadwick, kidnapped and drugged, up for auction at Madame Pendragon’s, a brothel. It’s all pretty sordid and awful until the eponymous Earl, a hero with possibly the most ridiculous name in romance, Avenell Harte (with, yes, the obvious pun there) purchases Lily and her intact maidenhead. As far as maidenheads go, hers isn’t half as impressive as Passion’s, but still. It doesn’t look like her maidenhead’s in any danger when we find out that Avenell (she’s strictly forbidden from saying his name and when you consider how lame it is, you can understand the guy’s reluctance) … well, he’s functional and all, but he can’t bear to be touched.
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REVIEW: Maisey Yates’ TO DEFY A SHEIKH, Or Kickboxing As Seduction

To_Defy_SheikhWith the Middle East in conflagration, Miss Bates’s taste for the desert sheikh romance is less and less palatable, requiring a greater and greater suspension of disbelief. If there’s a sheikh romance that engages and convinces, it’d be Maisey Yates’s. (Miss Bates’ loved last year’s Pretender To the Throne, though it was set in a fictional Greek island kingdom. Settings, in the HP romance, are interchangeable. The circum-Mediterranean world suffices, with its images of heat, passion, and enough foreign-ness to satisfy the safe-seeking sensibilities of HP readers.) In To Defy A Sheikh, Yates sets up a fascinating premise: hero and heroine meet after sixteen years under unusual circumstances. The heroine, Samarah Al-Azem, former princess of Jahar, attempts to murder Sheikh Ferran Bashar of Khadra, her childhood playmate. He is the reason for her father’s execution, the father who destroyed Ferran’s family … though, as revealed in the course of the romance, her and Ferran’s family were embroiled in the most sordid of affairs, with infidelity and control and violence as their causes and outcomes. Not all parties were guilty; the ones who were dealt the hardest blows are the innocents, the children, Ferran and Samarah. As adults, Ferran is tormented by guilt and Samarah burns with revenge. Continue reading

When Only Short and Sweet Will Do: Liz Fielding’s THE SHEIKH’S GUARDED HEART

_Sheikh's_Guarded_HeartTruth be told, as far as romance reading goes, Miss Bates is a category aficionado. Now that she’s somewhat extricated herself (and she was the sole person responsible for putting herself there) of the ARC-shackles, and given that the day job will make relentless demands on her until Christmas, you can expect A LOT of category reading and ruminating. Liz Fielding is an auto-buy and go-to author for Miss Bates. Why? Because the writing is laudable; characters; finely drawn; and, there’s humour and gravitas to the story. For example, Miss Bates loved the 2004 A Family of His Own, with its broody hero, grubby gardener-heroine, and gardening metaphors out of Wilde’s “Selfish Giant.” Fielding’s The Sheikh’s Guarded Heart has similar elements: an oasis-garden setting, a loving heroine, a cute moppet, a brooding, suffering hero and elegant writing. And the idea that the love of a good woman can water the soul of a brooding hero. Was it a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience for Miss Bates? Continue reading

REVIEW: Molly O’Keefe’s NEVER BEEN KISSED, Or The Flower and The Watering-Can

Never_Been_KissedMiss Bates noted, since reading Molly O’Keefe’s first Boys of Bishop contemporary romance, Wild Child, that her second, Never Been Kissed, again builds a romance around headline news. Characters are besieged by the media, or embroiled in it, seeking, or avoiding notoriety, or manipulating it to gain their ends. This makes for an interesting vacillation between the public world of the camera’s flash and news report and the private world where characters work out their varied, complex relationships with lovers and family. It reminds us how easily, in this age of voracious media, the private becomes public, how it encroaches, and what a challenge it is to stay. This theme adds depth to O’Keefe’s story, depth that she’s always had in spades anyway, if Miss Bates’ last O’Keefe review is anything to go by. If you read one historical romance this year, it should be O’Keefe’s Western-set, post-bellum Seduced. Though years and worlds away, Never Been Kissed confronts similar questions of how to move on from the past, of self-worth and purpose, of negotiating a relationship with odds stacked against it, of the heart’s conflicts, of what it means to be American. Never Been Kissed is the story of the romance between taciturn ex-Marine-bodyguard, Brody Baxter, and rich-girl do-gooder, Ashley Montgomery, who, ten years ago, at seventeen, made a pass at him when he worked as a bodyguard for her family. He rebuffed her, quit his job, but never forgot her … nor she him. Extraordinary circumstances bring them together again, but everyday, private life, when they retreat to Brody’s hometown of Bishop, Arkansas, will make, or break their fragile love. Continue reading

Romance Panacea Part II: The Betty Neels Canon, Gifts That Keep Giving

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Weird cover: what’s with the “rival” nurse? Not in book, Harlequin.

As you know and may be tired of hearing, Miss Bates is revising and renewing her blogging project without straying too far from her original purpose. One way she’s done so is by reading outside her romance comfort zone, tackling a Big Fat Book over the summer (Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which she’s enjoying more than she expected to). At the same time, she’s revivifying her blog by writing about romance beyond the review (rest assured she’ll still review romance). In her previous post, she considered the idea of romance reading as panacea, as a comfort zone in the daily grind, when “troubles come not single spies, but in battalias,” as Claudius says to Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Romance reading, however, doesn’t happen solely as an escape, or coping strategy. Romance is read for comfort, but it’s also read for pleasure. Miss Bates offers this eloquent summary of what she’s been trying to say about romance, which she found quoted in the Mary Burchell Wikipedia article (thanks to a Twitter convo with Sunita). Burchell, one of the founders of the Romance Novelists’ Association, wrote in one of their newsletters, ” … a good romantic novel is a heart-warming thing which strikes a responsive chord in those who are happy and offers a certain lifting of the spirits to those who are not.”  There is one writer, at least for Miss Bates, who exemplifies Burchell’s point: the Immortal, Inimitable Betty Neels.

Divine BettyN. is Miss Bates’ heal-all turn-to writer, good for all occasions, and when no other romance will do. When Miss B. wrote about her bad-day reading of Judith McNaught’s Paradise, it was a sheepish admission. She returns Paradise to the keeper shelf feeling a tad soiled … she can’t believe she read that … AGAIN. Like eating too much chocolate, or ice cream straight from the tub. Betty Neels’ romances have an opposite effect. Neels validates how very very good romance can be, as good as honeyed tea, buttered toast, orange marmalade, and a slice of sharp cheddar. Food to be eaten every day, at any time of the day. A staple, a stalwart reading friend, a BFF when the BFF can’t come ’round. She’ll explore this by writing about her fifth Neels read, Damsel In Green (again, with thanks to Sunita, for the rec). Miss Bates has read Sister Peters In Amsterdam, Visiting Consultant, Tulips For Augusta, and “Making Sure of Sarah.” Tulips is her favourite thus far, but Damsel vies with Visiting Consultant for second place. Continue reading

REVIEW: Noelle Adams’s A BABY FOR EASTER, Or The “Resurrection Victory”

A_Baby_For_Easter” … this book … is not an inspirational romance. It is a regular contemporary romance that features characters who happen to be religious … Spirituality is an important aspect of human experience and the lives of a lot of people, but it’s often surprisingly absent from contemporary romances … the point of this story is not to present any sort of religious message, but faith is important to these characters, and so the plot and character development turns on their spiritual condition.” Says Adams in the forward to A Baby For Easter. Miss Bates was fascinated by her distinction and remains fascinated by any treatment of religion in romance, especially if it’s not contained in the obvious, i.e., the inspirational sub-genre. She was also keen to read Adams when she read Ros’s interview with her here. Miss Bates’s opinion of the novel is two-fold, how the religious theme was treated and how it held up as a romance: the former was refreshing, appealing, and interesting, and the latter, uneven. Miss Bates agrees with Adams when she says that religious content should come naturally to the romance novel because religion, or the questioning of religion, or the rejection of it, are ideas that many people consider at some, or many times in their lives. It doesn’t have to be in every romance, but it also doesn’t have to be so strangely absent from it either. It is an aspect that offers one more opportunity to  enrich character and deepen narrative; or not, depending on the treatment and writing. It does so in A Baby For Easter, so much so that the romance pales in comparison. Miss Bates enjoyed Adams’s novel and would recommend it with caveats; as Adams herself says in her forward, “there’s likely to be too much religion for some readers and too little for others.” In Miss B.’s estimation, the religious component was “just right” for her taste and sensibility. What the novel gained in that richness, it lost in the romance. The narrative giveth with one hand and the narrative taken away with another.   Continue reading

REVIEW for TBR Challenge: Sarah MacLean’s NINE RULES TO BREAK WHEN ROMANCING A RAKE, Or How A Spinster Lost Her Shelf

Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A RakeMacLean’s Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A Rake sat on Miss Bates’s TBR for a long, long while.  She was averse to reading a romance novel possessed of such a lengthy and insipid title.  Spurred by Wendy’s TBR Challenge, the promise of interesting sharing on Twitter with like-minded readers, and MacLean’s sundry good reviews, she thought this month’s TBR theme, New-To-You-Author, perfect fodder for Nine Rules.   And, truth be told, she really really liked the Empire dress on the cover.  It took Miss Bates a while to warm to the characters, narrative, and MacLean’s style, but for a first-time read and début romance, it was a good reading experience: it got better the further Miss Bates read.  What started out as a middling read, mildly interesting and clipping-along, inched its way to pretty good to darn-good-ending.  Miss Bates admits that her impression of MacLean leans to “much ado;” nevertheless, Nine Rules is an amusing and heartfelt romance novel.  It doesn’t break any ground, falters on several fronts, is nominally historical, and doesn’t enter innovative, or interestingly controversial territory.  Would Miss Bates read another MacLean?  Probably, possibly, likely. Continue reading

REVIEW: Jennie Lucas’s THE SHEIKH’S LAST SEDUCTION Couldn’t Breach Her “Ironclad Virginity”

The Sheikh's Last SeductionThe loquacious Miss Bates is rarely rendered speechless by a romance novel, especially of the suspension-of-belief-HP-variety, but Lucas’s Sheikh’s Last Seduction came close.  Presents are romance fiction concentrated; when done well, they are the ultimate escapist fare, outlandish, skirting caricature, but sexy and fun.  In the hands of a good writer, like Sarah Morgan, Kelly Hunter, or Caitlin Crews, even their most over-the-top qualities are transformed into sympathetic heroes and heroines, compelling story-lines, and heartfelt romance.  When done badly, romance fiction can’t get worse; they open themselves up to ridicule (and that’s only from romance-loving readers).  Lucas’s sheikh, Sharif, and his virginal prig of a heroine, Irene, never make their way to our hearts, but inspire, thanks to the sentimentality of the writing and unsavoriness of the sentiments, no more than a snicker … or a whimper … and, believe Miss Bates when she says there’s ne’er a bang to be found. Continue reading, but it won’t be pretty