I adored Rock Hard, Gabriel Esera and Charlotte Baird’s story, and was delighted to find the opening scene to Love Hard was their wedding day. By the time I tapped the final page, I realized it was the novel’s best, most vibrant one, with droll moments and full of affection, fun, and Esera family high-jinks. The Eseras are QUITE the clan. It is in this scene we are introduced to hero and heroine as they take their places as groomsman and maiden of honour. They are Jacob Esera, Gabriel’s rugby-star younger brother, and Juliet Nelisi. They are also former HS antagonists and, as a result, there’s a lovely dose of banter when they reunite. Not all is light and fluffy, however; they share a great sadness. Juliet’s best friend and Jacob’s HS sweetheart, Calypso “Callie,” died of meningitis soon after giving birth to their daughter. Callie and Jacob were teen parents. Jacob has been a single-dad to Esme going for six years.
After reading Amber Belldene’s Not Another Rock Star, with its unique, true-to-life mix of messed-up faith characters and non, minister-heroine, earthy love scenes, the wonder of its ability to posit a faith-based romance with an atheist hero, a novel where sexuality, love, faith, romance, community, goodness and integrity don’t come within the strait-jacket of inspirational romance tropes … well, I really wanted to read an inspirational romance and consider my response to it. Karen Kirst’s The Engagement Charade fit the bill, especially because I’ve loved her books in the past and I’d be inclined to do so again. And, I did … mildly (it isn’t her best). However, it also solidified why the either-or, evangelical-Christianity-based romance narrative brings me out of reader-pleasure-zone to render me hyper-conscious of its flaws.
First, to set the scene: in late nineteenth-century fictional Gatlinburg Tennessee, our hero, Plum Café owner Alexander Copeland broods in his office, tormented by memories of a fire that killed his wife and son back home in Texas. Meanwhile, widowed, pregnant heroine Ellie Jameson cooks and runs his business. Continue reading
When Miss Bates started reading romance again in 2007, she scoured various “best of” lists looking for titles to read. Karen Templeton’s Swept Away was one of those discoveries. It languished in the TBR for ten years before Miss Bates read it and she hasn’t a clue why, except so many books, so much day-job.
Swept Away opens with three-years widowed Sam Frazier, single dad and one of Haven (pop. 1000), Oklahoma’s family farmers. We’re introduced to his brood: teen daughter, Libby, and five younger brothers, baby Travis, Mike, Matt, Wade, and Frankie, all school-aged, as well as farm animals and sundry house-pets. Having put all the kids but Travis on the school bus, Sam is making his way to the hardware store when he rescues a maiden of stick-like proportions and her father from their ditch-succumbing vehicle. Lane Stewart introduces himself and Carly, his daughter, quipping, ” ‘My daughter, Carly. To whom a certain squirrel owes its life.’ ” The Stewarts, it turns out, are on a road trip, hoping to recover from lives that have been too sad for too long. Lane and Carly lost a beloved wife and mother, and Carly is nursing an injured knee that won’t see her resume her balletic career. With this “meet-cute,” Templeton tells the romance of how nice-guy farmer and prickly, wounded dancer fall in love and reach an HEA that promises family, love, laughter, and community. Continue reading
Miss Bates will always love Donna Alward’s categories, but her move to longer contemporaries offers readers uneven results: some books, reviewed here, have been great; others, so-so. But Alward’s depth and sensitivity will also see Miss Bates’s return to her books time and again. She did so with Alward’s second Darling, Vermont, contemporary romance, Someone To Love.
Willow Dunaway, owner of The Purple Pig Café, is Darling-born and raised. An unhappy childhood and adolescent trauma saw her leave Darling for years. Now she’s back with a new-found contentment in her business, yoga practice, and embracing of serenity. Willow has fought a long, hard battle to come back from some devastating experiences and the semi-colon tattoo on her forearm proves it to herself daily. She has found many things in her re-found hometown that she sought: friendship, community, and purpose. She does not, however, date … until she meets widowed single-dad and firefighter, Ethan Gallagher. In some delightful initial exchanges, Willow’s flower-child, vegetarian ways clash with Ethan’s carnivorous alpha-tendencies. Continue reading
Angela Bissell’s Defying Her Billionaire Protector gets a “wow” from the get-go thanks to its cover. While MissB is loathe to try a new author (burned one too many times), she wanted to know what an author, especially in the glamor-puss HP-world, could do with a wheel-chair-bound heroine. Bissell centres on a hero and heroine who have both lost a lot. Drunk, teen-aged Marietta Vincenzi got into a car with an inebriated driver and now, at thirty, lives with the consequences of that decision, as a paraplegic. While Bissell wants to throw a spotlight on the problem of drinking and driving, to her credit, she isn’t judgemental, or didactic. Marietta has regrets, but overall, she’s a heroine who is at peace with her life and living it fully. Marietta is an aspiring visual artist who runs a successful gallery. She lives on her own, but is close to her family, a brother, sister-in-law, and pretty adorbs baby nephew. But, she has a problem – someone is sending her creepy anonymous notes, gifts, and flowers. Marietta has a “secret-admirer-turned-stalker”. Into her full Rome-set life arrives Nico César, her brother Leo’s friend, and owner and operator of a security company. With the bond between Leo and Nico strong from ties forged in the Foreign Legion, Nico will personally oversee and be the primary operative of Marietta’s security detail. Like Marietta, Nico suffered loss when his beloved wife Julia was kidnapped and killed fifteen years ago. Nico is haunted by his inability to save her and, as a result, inures himself to love and commitment. Our hero has never concluded that it is better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all.
Contemporary romance is a big and diverse animal. Its “infinite variety” inhabits a breadth of verisimilitude, from HP fantasy to the realistic, at times gritty, MC urban wasteland, which, MissB argues, meet and mate in the fantasy realm when the straight-line continuum is arced to a circle. All this to say that along realism’s continuum, where tropes work at one point, may fail on another. Sarah Morgan’s third “From Manhattan With Love” romance, Miracle On 5th Avenue, is an example in comparson to her HP, Playing By the Greek’s Rules (possibly MissB’s favourite HP were it not for that pesky Lynne Graham writing annoyingly good HPs, like The Greek’s Chosen Wife.) The Greek’s Rules contains a naïvely endearing, full-force of positivity heroine and brooding, cynical alpha hero, as does Miracle. What works in one doesn’t in t’other, or maybe imitation isn’t the highest form of flattery when an author imitates herself?
Without a doubt, Elizabeth Hoyt’s Duke Of Sin was one of the best romances Miss Bates ever read. It was natural, therefore, that she greatly look forward to Duke Of Pleasure, Hoyt’s 11th Maiden Lane novel. She had a glimpse of its hero, Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle, as probity to Valentine Napier’s debauchery in Duke Of Sin. Therein and as Duke Of Pleasure opens, Hugh Fitzroy has been pursuing the Lords of Chaos, a group of immoral, aristocratics who use and abuse children and women. With Valentine’s semi-taming by his house-keeper-heroine, Bridget Crumb, Hugh finds himself relying on Valentine’s Constaninopolean correspondence to help him identify and eventually destroy the Lords. Late one night, he is beset and hurt by a hired group of thugs near the notorious St. Giles area of London. The night-bound Ghost of St. Giles rescues him, the boy who doubles as the information-gathering daylight guttersnipe, Alf. When Alf, at the end of their encounter, boldly kisses Hugh, he realizes that the guttersnipe “from the dung head that was St. Giles” is a guttersnipette! Hugh brings Alf to his ducal abode to help him pursue the Lords. What Alf finds in Hugh is an emotionally closed off widower with two troubled young sons , still mourning the mere months-old loss of their mother and Hugh’s estranged wife, Katherine. At 21, Alf herself feels a certain restlessness with her life, wondering what it would be like to live as a woman, have children, and how to react to the strange heart-and-body-stirrings Hugh elicits in her. Continue reading
Sherri Shackelford’s The Rancher’s Christmas Proposal isn’t proposed by Shane McCoy, said rancher; rather, Tessa Spencer, our heroine, proposes. (A more original and interesting premise, but the word “rancher” in a title sells books. And Shackelford’s book deserves a readership.) Miss Bates is guilty of inspie romance assumptions (sadly proving true too often), which she extended to Shackelford’s unlikely pairing of con artiste and rancher. Inspirational romance characterization is one-dimensional: hero and heroine make Christian conversion avowals and Pollyanna-world reigns, making internal and external conflict caricaturish. Shackelford’s previous Prairie Courtships series novel, The Engagement Bargain, though not as fine as Rancher’s Christmas Proposal, contained this complexity of characterization in a sub-genre that sees so little of it. Continue reading