Karen Templeton wrote one of Miss Bates’s favourite Christmas romances, Dear Santa. Like that fave, Templeton’s A Soldier’s Promise contains the elements that she does so well: a protagonist emerges from a time of crisis, difficulty, or grief; the other manifests as a helping figure; believable, likable children and animals; and, a plot centering on the creation of a new, or blended family. Oh, and humour. And poignancy. And an everyday casualness to the dialogue that makes her characters feel like they’re our neighbours, or we’d like them to be.
After ten years, Levi Talbot returns permanently to Whispering Pines, New Mexico, from serving in Afghanistan. He is a changed but better man than the wild, adventure-seeking bad boy he was. How to convince Valerie Lopez, née Oswald, the woman who best remembers his recklessness and cause of her deceased husband’s enlistment, Tommy following his best friend into the military? Valerie is a widow with two daughters, young Josie and baby Risa. She blames Levi for Tommy’s decision, even if not his death, and Levi is torn: afraid to open old wounds and resentments, but how not to keep his promise to Tommy to help his family? “Because he’d made a promise. One he fully intended to keep. Whether his best friend’s widow was good with that idea or not.”
“The choppers appeared just after the sun.”
Human beings make sense of experience’s ephemerality by embodying it in art. Maya Lin’s controversial Vietnam Veterans War Memorial was/is integral to healing war’s wounds. It offers solace and remembrance as vets and families, foreigners and natives, bring offerings of flowers, pictures, etc., touch, wonder, and heal as they meditate on the war’s wastes and ravages (war is a universal experience, is it not?). Yusef Komunyakaa’s Vietnam-War-Memorial-set poem, “Facing It” also embodies the war, recounting a vet’s turbulent, ambivalent emotions as he touches and is reflected in the wall, naming loss, anger, and the ever-present American tragedy of race. (Don’t read this humble post, but read and listen to the poem as linked. It’s powerful.) The humble romance genre offers its embodiment in Kathleen Korbel’s A Soldier’s Heart (1994). The novel’s opening line is the prologue’s introduction to nurse Claire Henderson, who held dying Marine Tony Riordan and willed him to live. Twenty-three years later, Tony’s final act of putting his war wounds to rest, psychic where physical are long-healed, is to seek, find, and thank Claire. What he finds in her haunted eyes is the confusion, guilt, and self-destructive impulses of his own struggle with PTSD. Continue reading
Ms Royce’s Once Beloved opens at London’s 1851 Great Exhibition. Heroine Helena Martin, née Thornton, is overwhelmed by the crowd. Two-years widowed and a recluse, she ventured out for her young sons’ sake. Helena suffers from agoraphobia and panic attacks, her anxieties stemming from the incident that killed her beloved husband. Her unexpected rescuer is Daniel Lanfield, brother to the fiancé she abandoned in Marksby, her native village, to elope with Isaiah Martin. When Daniel recognizes who she is, he expresses disgust and antipathy. But Daniel is too decent to leave Helena in this state. He helps her and, when she receives a summons from her only living Marksby relative, her ailing, possibly dying grandmother, he offers to take her in his cart. Accompanied by Helena’s niece, Vanessa, Daniel and Helena make their way to Marksby where Helena will confront her youthful actions’ fruits – an economically devastated village and cold, hurtful, insulting reception. Though he still resents her, Daniel becomes Helena’s unlikely ally in this journey of reckoning into the past.
Tanya Michaels is a new-to-Miss-Bates author, with titles in the TBR, including A Mother’s Homecoming, an interesting riff on romance’s “bad mom” as heroine. Falling For the Sheriff is first in Michaels’ small-town-USA series, Cupid’s Bow, Texas. Miss Bates had her trepidations with a cutesy town-name like that, screaming love-cupid-arrow, all the obvious. But Michaels’ novel proved to be more than cutesy, with its lower-middle-class protagonists, whose lives as single parents, though comfortable, require cheque-book balancing and caution spending. Kate Sullivan, widowed elementary school piano teacher, and Cole Trent, town sheriff, are parenting a thirteen-year-old son, Luke, and five-year-old twin girls, Alyssa and Mandy, respectively.
Kate’s widowhood is two years old and Luke, sadly, is acting out at school out of grief and loss. Leaving Houston and returning to her paternal grandmother’s farm in Cupid’s Bow seems like the best Kate can do for Luke and her harried self. Kate arrives knowing she’ll find warmth, support, and a loving home with her beloved “Gram.” “Gram” throws Kate a big ole party and invites, with the conspiring of her friend Gayle, Cole’s mother, Cole and his twin cutie-pies. Kate and Cole share instant attraction, mitigated by single-parent status and protectiveness towards their children, as well as Kate’s yet sore heart over Damon’s, her husband’s, loss, a policemen killed in the line of duty. Cole’s law enforcement career serves as another deterrent to Kate, who quails at the idea of ever being with another cop. But Kate and Cole, other than sharing an attraction, strike a friendship, share similar dilemmas and questions as single parents, and unite in avoiding their families’ matchmaking efforts. They strike a bargain to feign an interest in each other to evade their families’ machinations. Except a joint-family trip to the pool and a few dates and Kate and Cole’s attraction and growing affection see them consider, approach, and finally admit a relationship. Continue reading
Miss Bates almost DNF-ed Janice Kay Johnson’s To Love A Cop (cheesy cover and title should be ignored; this is thoughtful romance). It opens at a gun show, as cop hero, Ethan Winter, admires a gun; to give Johnson credit, he’s there to look out for potentially dangerous gun buyers. He spots a boy, one who seems fascinated by what’s on show. Ethan chats with him, realizes he’s younger than he appears and has skipped school. Ethan takes the boy, Jake, home to his single-mom, Laura Vennetti, to realize yet again that, five years ago, Jake was the boy who shot and killed his cousin when his father, Officer Matt Vennetti, left his service weapon carelessly lying on the kitchen counter. Not long after, with an extended family in shambles and ravaged by guilt, Matt committed suicide.
Heavy subject matter in romance doesn’t drive Miss Bates to DNF; but guns … man, she, like our heroine, doesn’t like them, doesn’t think they belong anywhere, should be strictly controlled and, if it was up to Miss B., banned. Living in Canada, gun control doesn’t have the divisiveness it does for her southern neighbours. But living in a city where a man with a gun killed fourteen women because they were being educated, she doesn’t buy the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” as a viable argument against their strict control. Miss B. doesn’t like wearing a seat belt either, but it does make for accident prevention. She’s digressed to this point to reinforce she didn’t really want to read Johnson’s romance, didn’t see much romance to be had in it … but she’s awfully glad she squelched her distaste, her visceral judgement against all things “gun” to take the story in. Because Johnson is a long-standing, serious, balanced, considered writer and this is one of the best stories she’s written. Continue reading
Miss Bates is grateful NOT to be adding Sophia James’s Marriage Made In Money to a DNF post. She was sooo glad to find a romance novel that at least kept her attention to the HEA. James’s alliteratively-titled Marriage Made In Money echoes Mary Balogh’s A Christmas Promise and Rose Lerner’s In For A Penny, favourites of Miss Bates’s. (If you haven’t read them, do it now!) Marriage-of-convenience on the basis of one of the two characters’ need for money, usually the impoverished lord, is often a difficult trope-variation for Miss Bates to stomach. It takes subtle skill to convince a reader that the marriage-deal’s mercenary nature can turn to love and devotion; after all, one of the two protagonists is morally compromised from the get-go. Balogh’s and Lerner’s romances convince. James’s tried. Amethyst Amelia Cameron, 26, and widowed, her former marriage a sham of abuse and trauma, agrees to marry Daniel Wylde, 6th Earl of Montcliffe and Napoleonic war veteran, to make her tradesman-father, gravely ill, happy. Lord Daniel agrees to marry Amethyst to save his crumbling, debt-ridden estates, brought to this low point by his gambling brother, Nigel, whose untimely death also left him a peevish, spendthrift mother and two unmarried sisters. (Just once, Miss Bates would like to read a romance that reverses that convention … but then mercenary women are not half as attractive as men, right?) The novel follows Amethyst and Daniel as they interact, attract each other, misunderstand each other, and stumble their way to an HEA. Continue reading
Miss Bates’ Christmas romance posts are edging closer to the much-anticipated day, Christmas! She has another three titles queued; her posts may just go to the twelfth day of Christmas 😉 … which is a perfect segue to her latest Christmas-set read, Susan Meier’s The Twelve Dates of Christmas, a romance built on the premise of a “deal” between two lonely, sad people. Ricky Langley, wealthy tech entrepreneur, seeks fake-date girl to convince his friends that he’s getting over the sad thing that happened to him a year and a half ago. He finds Eloise Vaughn at a mutual friends’ Christmas party when he bumps into her and crushes the crackers she’s sneaked into her purse. Why is Eloise stealing crackers? Because she’s poor, working as a temp, disowned by her wealthy parents for marrying beneath them to a motorcycle-riding bad boy. The bad boy died of cancer and left her widowed in New York City: now, all she wants is the independence and security that come with a solid, high-paying job. Eloise agrees to Ricky’s twelve-date deal in exchange for his help and connections to getting her dream job. Their deal is cemented by each one’s private resolution that he/she’s too hurt, too broken, and too cautious to be interested in anything more than an exchange of convenient “services.” Continue reading
Miss Bates anticipates an Elizabeth Camden novel. She appreciated Camden’s previous novel, Into the Whirlwind. Since then, she follows Camden into her inspirational-lite, historical bent because Camden is a writer with ideas. Into the Whirlwind had grand sweep and great drama in its setting, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Camden is a thoughtful writer who considers context and a story to tell about how historical circumstances affect individual lives, important. She researches carefully and conveys time, place, and the concerns of ordinary people living in that time with skill and sensitivity. Miss Bates lays, however, the same caveats at With Every Breath as she did Into the Whirlwind. Those shortcomings are more apparent in the former. Set in the fictional Washington Memorial Hospital in 1891 Washington D. C., Camden tells the story of Dr. Trevor M. Kendall, tuberculosis specialist and researcher, and his statistician assistant, Kate Livingston, as they battle to cure a deadly and widespread disease. What a compelling idea for the background to a romance, thought Miss Bates, how unique and interesting. Moreover, how inspiring to have a mathematician heroine! Camden’s novel offers all this in concept, but suffers somewhat in execution. Continue reading
One of Miss Bates’ dearest friends is an artist. She once told Miss B. that visual artists fall into one of two categories: those whose primary focus is colour, or those whose primary focus is line. Maybe we can say the same about romance writers? Those who use line make use of strongly delineated roles for their characters; they rely on convention to build a narrative. Their characters, such as in PNR romance, do not deviate from their prescribed roles: mates are fated; there may be some negotiation and manoeuvring to reach the HEA, but, overall, the reader can see exactly where this is going. Deviations occur in plot rather than characterization. We may also see this in romantic suspense, which is not to say that subversions of the conventions don’t occur. Then, there are colorists, whose primary focus is in the development and transformation, over the course of a simple narrative, of character, in particular the heroine and hero. Mary Balogh is a colorist; her interest lies in characters in transition, caught in a moment when they have to do serious thinking and decision-making about where they’re going. She is also interested in how desire and love can insert themselves into people’s lives at the most inconvenient, unlikely, and often unwelcome moments. Hero and heroine have to work out the impetus towards love/commitment and pulling away from the bonds of engagement, a yearning for connection and longing, at the same time, solitude and independence. These conflicting and conflicted impulses are evident in both her male and female characters. Continue reading
Miss Bates assumed that Romain’s To Charm A Naughty Countess would provide a few hours of fun with some histrom fluff, one of the ephemeral romance novels that one reads and promptly forgets. She was surprised to find a unique, well-written, angst-filled novel with flawed but likeable protagonists, tackling challenging issues for the hero, in particular. Recently, historical romance has the maddening habit of using long, cumbersome titles that are likely to misrepresent the content. This is true of Romain’s novel, as it is of others. Miss Bates reckons that the “fluffy” titles are a buying inducement; if so, it has the opposite effect on Miss Bates, as does the smirking heroine cover, which also graces Romain’s novel. Miss Bates, however, does not dictate the terms of the genre … though she’d like to. 😉 In Romain’s novel’s case, the title serves to tell the reader what this novel is not about. The hero, Michael Layward, Duke of Wyverne, is the least charming duke Miss Bates has ever encountered in the pages of a romance novel. Charm is one weapon he is incapable of wielding in winning his countess, Caroline Graves; honesty, intelligence, and humour serve him well and are preferred qualities, to Miss Bates at least. His countess is beautiful, smart, kind, and compassionate; she isn’t naughty, a word Miss Bates despises, conjuring only nasty images of ludicrous Benny Hill episodes. To Charm A Naughty Countess surprised Miss Bates and she very much enjoyed it. It is not flawless, but it is one of the better historical romances a reader could spend time with this year. Continue reading