Scarlett Peckham’s The Rakess is an interesting experiment in reversing the rake figure in historical romance. I’m not sure it succeeds. We’re familiar with the rake-“anti”-hero, who remains “anti” until he meets the heroine: dissipated, carousing, given to sin and excess and focussed solely on pleasure, two of my favourites being Hoyt’s Duke of Sin and Balogh’s Notorious Rake. The rake is inevitably confronted by a good woman, a woman of purpose and substance who unearths his deeply-held desire for connection and an abandoning of his soul-destroying dissolute ways. Peckham’s heroine, with the unfortunate name of Seraphina Arden, exhibits the trappings of rakedom: she uses sex as an anodyne, drinks, and gads about town with unsavory characters. When the novel opens, she’s returned to her Cornish childhood home to write her memoirs, a much-anticipated double-volume of salacious deliciousness. There, she meets and has an affair with the upright, hard-working Scot architect, widower, and single father of two, Adam Anderson.
When I first started this blog, I was reading romance exclusively. Now, I balance romance with crime and nonfiction, and the occasional classic, or litfic. I like the variety and I tend to have three books going at the same time. I’ve been thinking about what I get from each genre, but mainly been focussing on romance and what it offers a reader, especially because I think it is still maligned in many quarters. There is no one better to show the romance genre’s virtues than Jenny Holiday, one of the masters of contemporary romance. The blend of humour, character growth, and the delightful journey to commitment for her two protagonists are perfectly executed. Though they’re unique, I find similar joy in reading Lucy Parker. The present Holiday volume I consumed, Mermaid Inn, first in the Matchmaker Bay series, adds a magical Canadian small-town setting to the Holiday trail-mix of goodness. In a pandemic panic, I’ll often wake up in the wee hours and reach for a romance to keep the ghosties away. Mermaid Inn kept me company the past three nights and I brought it to a final-page flip this AM with a satisfied sigh.
Donna 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
(Dear Readers, Miss Bates continues to toil at the day-job above and beyond the call of duty. But when Friday night rolled around, she needed to put the feet up, brew the green tea, add the honey, and read the romance. It was a good one and there was late-night-in-bed reading. And this is why today, she offers her 300th review, compact as heroine Sierra West in Maisey Yates’s One Night Charmer.)
A Maisey Yates review is apropos for Miss Bates’s 300th. Yates is one of her favourite contemporary romance authors, balancing a visceral contemporary voice with traditional-values rom-HEA (marriage and babies). Her characters fall in love, work things out, and commit, but also go on a journey that transcends their weighed-down-with-negativity past. This is no less true for One Night Charmer than all the fabulous Copper Ridge novels and novellas. Moreover, One Night Charmer‘s elements are missbatesian rom-nip: an older, surly hero, wounded and jaded, a “bouncy”, smart ingenue heroine, drunken sex, the wages of sin, marriage-of-convenience, and a baby-filled epilogue. Continue reading
Cindy Gerard’s Taking Fire is fourth in the One-Eyed Jacks series, which sprung from her seven-volume Black Ops. Miss Bates admits to reading most of them (with the exception of the peculiar, unreadable Long Way Home). Though the elements of Gerard’s books should feel overdone, and while they’re not “fresh,” their familiarity and the genuineness she brings to them satisfy every time. Thinking about what Gerard did in Taking Fire, Miss Bates ventures to say it’s because Gerard mitigates her heroes’ alpha-ness with portraits of men who know what they’re feeling and feel it deeply. She endows her ultra-feminine heroines with steel and smarts. She skirts demonizing the Middle and Near East with a deep sympathy and positive portrayal of, in this case, Afghanistan’s people. She manages to turn Miss Bates’s reader’s distaste to page-turning sympathy. Taking Fire is of this ilk.
Miss Bates has written elsewhere of the theme of betrayal in romance. Gerard’s Taking Fire works with the same, except in Gerard’s case, heroine betrays hero. Taking Fire is tripartite: hero Bobby Traggert and heroine Talia Levine’s initial affair in Kabul; their reunification in Oman six years later; and, Oman events’ aftermath in Washington D. C.
Miss Bates is always happy to salute Wendy the Superlibrarian; Wendy’s led Miss Bates into many a romance love and is responsible for her obsessive love of category romance. Miss B. made a mental note to read Lacy Williams after reading Wendy’s review of her first inspirational historical category romance, Marrying Miss Marshal, which languishes in Miss B’s TBR still. 😦 It wasn’t a wholehearted Wendy endorsement, but it stayed with her because, like Wendy, Miss B. was intrigued by a “marshal,” that is, law-enforcing Western heroine. Reading A Cowboy For Christmas, Miss B. doffs her Stetson to Wendy for recognizing Williams’ potential in that early review. Lacy Williams’ A Cowboy For Christmas captivated Miss Bates from start to finish. Set in Wyoming in December of 1900, Wiliams’ novel tells the redemptive, healing story of two people who’ve suffered plenty and are ready and deserving of human and divine succoring.
Heroine Daisy Richards, with her “empty pinned up sleeve,” after a terrible runaway-horses-and-wagon accident, though fragile, frightened, and angry-sad, finds a way, with the help and support of the eponymous cowboy-hero, Ricky White, to embrace a full life. She learns to be strong and laugh again. Ricky (again with that unfortunate choice of name for a hero; what’s wrong with Rick?), former gambler, drinker, brawler, and promiscuous, with a new-found faith in God’s redemptive power, excavates the goodness that has been in him all along by helping and loving Daisy. As Daisy gains in confidence and begins to return Ricky’s feelings, what she doesn’t know is that he’s implicated in her accident. Continue reading
Miss Bates felt sorry for Joan Kilby’s innocuous little romance novel, Mad About You. Wait, wasn’t that the sentimental TV series that celebrated marriage and went head-to-head with Seinfeld for popularity? Miss Bates watched one episode of Mad About You and can recite reams of Seinfeld dialogue … hence, the spinsterhood. As went Mad About You, thus went Kilby’s Mad About You, Miss Bates’ read immediately after Lin’s sublime Jade Temptress. It just couldn’t win. It was a pleasant enough read, but derivative: plot points and characterization identifiable from the get-go. Moreover, Kilby’s friends-to-lovers trope choice is Miss Bates’ least favourite, though she admits when it’s done well by masters of the genre, it’s fabulous. She’s read Mayberry, O’Keefe, Alward and Bliss’s use and admits they’re some of her favourites (Anything For You, His Wife For One Night, How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart, and Here Comes the Groom, respectively. If you haven’t read them, do). But it takes great subtlety to convince a reader how two people who’ve been friends for years suddenly develop the hots for each other. Kilby doesn’t quite accomplish this: falls back on the gorgeous hero’s obliviousness and heroine’s lack of, and this is a most unlikeable character trait, confidence in her appearance. Despite this, there’s nicely humorous touches in the novel and some clever dialogue. But it’s pat and Miss Bates’ reading mood was less than tolerant after being blown away by Lin’s novel. Continue reading
Category 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