It’s been another super-busy work month, but I have three books going and Molly Fader’s McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets is the first I finished. Thanks to a compelling last third, I left the others idling on the nightstand. In the course of reading Fader’s novel, I decided I will no longer scoff at women’s fiction. No, I haven’t been converted to its smarmy, inward-looking, self-absorbed protagonists, or its not-without-my-daughter obsession with mother-child relationships, of no interest to me whatsoever — merely that, in the hands of a beloved writer, even a genre pandering to privileged women, can be redeemed and — gasp, enjoyed and celebrated. Molly Fader is, as you may know, one of my most beloved romance writers, Molly O’Keefe, whom I’ve been reading since she wrote categories! One of my favourite and I think most masterful contemporary romance series, Crooked Creek Ranch, was penned by O’Keefe (if you haven’t read it, address this stat). There was enough of the O’Keefe edge and intensity of emotion that I found in the romances to make me happy-reader-sigh through The McAvoy Sisters. And enough love interest to make me yearn for more … but I’ll take it. 😉 Continue reading
A Vicarage Homecoming is the fourth book in Kate Hewitt’s Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite series. Each book tells the story of one of four daughters to Thornthwaite’s vicar and wife. By book four, the vicar, Roger, and his wife, Ruth, are on mission in China, and three of the four sisters are attached and happy. Then there’s number four, Miriam Holley, 23 and pregnant after one careless night with a stranger while she was on her travels ’round the globe. We meet Miriam, five months along and miserable. She’s considering giving the baby up for adoption, pondering how her life lacks viable work and purpose, and feeling like she’s let her family, church family, and herself down: how hard will it be to make sure she doesn’t drag this baby along in her desultory wake? As it turns out, harder than she thought.
Hewitt’s Vicarage Homecoming is not a romance, thought there’s a romantic interest in it. It’s very much the story of Miriam’s growth and awakening to the possibilities of family, friendship, and motherhood. The first half of the novel sees Miriam spend time working for the new vicar, her sister Anna’s fiancé, Simon Truesdell. At first, I thought he was the love interest, but no. Then, she runs into her sister Rachel’s former fiancé, Dan Taylor, and he offers her a place to stay, the annexe he’s renting, in exchange for answering the phone at his veterinary clinic and dealing with his chaotic paperwork. Continue reading
New-to-me-author Jasmine Guillory’s The Proposal certainly starts off with a bang. I was quite taken by the premise. Heroine Nik (Nikole) Paterson meets hero Dr. Carlos Ibarra at an LA Dodgers game when he rescues her from the Jumbotron-drama of having her man-bunned boyfriend proposing to her before thousands of people … not counting the ones watching on TV. This is a “proposal”, hence the title, that Nik neither wants nor anticipates. Her boyfriend Fisher, an actor with more ego than talent, is a sleep-with boyfriend and no more than that. As Carlos, at the game with his sister Angela, watches Nik’s horror-stricken face on the Jumbotron, he and Angela, only a few seats away, ward off the cameras coming at Nik when she refuses Fisher. Angela, Carlos, and Nik join Nik’s besties, Dana and Courtney, for drinks after the game and Nik and Carlos strike a friendship with some incipient attraction. They text, call, and meet for drinks, go to dinner, enjoy each other’s company, cook together, watch baseball games, and generally have a great ole time. Not soon after a few get-togethers, they become lovers.
I’m not certain what possessed me to want to read Fiona Davis’s The Masterpiece, other than a yen to leave the familiar reader-world of genre fiction for a while. Romance and mystery fiction are like comfortable only-at-home pants and sweatshirt. I ease into them and enjoy their sense of familiarity; on occasion, they also stifle. I need “something else,” so I venture into other reading territory. As a result I’ve read some remarkable non-fiction, Philippe Sands’s East West Street, the overhyped Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, or left-me-agog Yuval Harari’s Sapiens. This time around, I went for historical fiction, that in retrospect, has a great dose of women’s fiction to it (cue moue of disappointment) Fiona Davis’s The Masterpiece. I love all things art and museums and thought this might be the thing to refresh my romance-murder-mystery-reading malaise. Written in third-person POV, The Masterpiece tells the story of two women, very much of their time and circumstance, 1920s-30s illustrator Clara Darden and 1970s breast cancer survivor, newly divorced Virginia Clay. The main character, however, is NYC’s Grand Central Terminal, its fortunes and misfortunes, its acme and nadir, its glory, dereliction, and resurrection. Of all the novel’s elements, I liked the building and Virginia the best.
I both dreaded and looked forward to Barbara O’Neal’s The Art Of Inheriting Secrets, dreaded because I dislike women’s fiction and looked forward to because the blurb offered gothic potential. In the end, the novel’s gothic and romance aspects outweighed the women’s fic. I was one contentedly satiated reader at pages’ end. Be warned, there’s also first-person narration, but the narrator is engaging, funny, self-deprecating, intelligent, and as the hero notes, looks like Kate Winslet (I adore Winslet, ever since I saw her in Heavenly Creatures). Our narrator-heroine is San Francisco-based food writer and editor of the fictional magazine Egg and Hen, Olivia Shaw. When the novel opens, Olivia’s life has taken some spectacularly difficult, life-altering turns. She arrives in Hertfordshire’s Saint Ives Cross having recently learned she has inherited a crumbling estate, Rosemere Priory. She is mourning her mother, only six weeks gone, but she’s also learned that her mother kept her identity as Lady Caroline Shaw secret. The drippily unhappy heroine, the rain, the English countryside, the quaint village, down to the country-accented friendly cab-driver who drops her off at the local inn, absorbed me. I loved the premise of the family secrets, the crumbling priory, Olivia’s voice, and the notion of a heroine navigating a new place, culture, community, and her own new-found, strange identity.
Kate Hewitt’s Willoughby Close series is more women’s fiction than romance and yet, even though Miss Bates is no fan of women’s fiction, she embraced Hewitt’s little English-village-life novels. They’re written with a poignant, gentle touch. Their protagonists are often people with difficult pasts. They’re squarely focussed on the heroine’s growth and POV, but contain heroes no less likeable, sexy, and burdened with their own compelling baggage.
Kiss Me At Willoughby Close opens with the will-reading of Ava Mitchell’s older, moneyed husband and the news that David left Ava only 10 000 pounds, his vast fortune going to his grown, rapacious children by his first wife. Ava is genuinely grief-stricken over her husband. She may not have been in love with him. Five years ago, she was urged by poverty and lack of opportunity and education to marry him for the creature comforts and ease he could provide; nevertheless, she cared for and about him and been content in his company. Now, Emma and Simon are staring her down coldly and informing her she must leave the only home she’s ever known in a week’s time, with only her clothes and David’s “generous” gift of a mini Austin only. As Ava quips, “For being a trophy wife, she didn’t possess that many trophies.” She moves into Willoughby Close, following the heroines of Hewitt’s previous novels in the series, who become neighbours and, eventually, friends. Continue reading
Miss Bates loved Kate Hewitt’s A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure and willingly delved into Hewitt’s women’s fic/romance incarnation in Meet Me At Willoughby Close. Meet Me has enough romance, and a likeable one at that, to satisfy a rom-reader. It contains an endearingly goofy heroine, Ellie Matthews, working at figuring out her divorced, single mum life, moving away from family and, for the first time, at 28, tackling life with eleven-year-old daughter, Abby. Ellie has a new job as an “administrative assistant” in the University of Oxford history department and new cottage in Wychwood-on-Lea, at Willoughby Close. Ellie is paired with her “boss,” a history professor she’s temporarily assigned to, the Darcy-like, upper-crust, Victorian-Era historian Oliver Venables, he of the grey-green eyes and impressive physique. Meet Me At Willoughby Close is funny and romantic. It tackles some serious subjects, with a light touch but no less profoundly: parent-child relationships, bullying, family dynamics, deadbeat dads, and class. Oh, and the joys and vagaries of pet ownership. Ellie’s dog, Marmite, is a great loping mutt whose exuberance (and wee bit of flatulence) elicit reader-giggles in every scene he snuffles into. Continue reading
Miss Bates was never a fan of Sex and the City‘s cynicism about love. It was a show more about sex and friendship than love, despite its final concession to the HEA. One could say that Sarah Morgan’s first “From Manhattan With Love” series title, Sleepless in Manhattan, could be likened to “sex and the city”, but shouldn’t be. If it draws readers because it ostensibly echoes Sex and the City, then, so be it and more success and readership to it! But Morgan’s romances are never cynical, conceding to the HEA with one hand and nodding to the divorce rate with the other. Morgan’s romances are funny, loving, sentimental (MissB is tired of the pejorative sense given to the word), and hopeful. Sleepless In Manhattan introduces us to the series, which centres on three friends, originally from Puffin Island, the setting of Morgan’s previous series and possessed of two of her best recent roms, Playing By the Greek’s Rules and Some Kind of Wonderful. Paige Walker, Frankie Cole, and Eva Jordan work for Star Events, a Manhattan event-planning company … until they don’t. Meany office manager “Cynthia” fires all three. They make their way to the brownstone they share with Paige’s protective, supportive, and lovely brother Matt to drown their unemployed sorrows in wine, chocolate, and ice cream. Continue reading
Jodi Thomas’s Rustler’s Moon is the third Ransom Canyon romance. Miss Bates liked the first one, Ransom Canyon, and reviewed it with much lauding. In Rustler’s Moon, Thomas continues to weave several narrative threads set in the allegorically-named, fictional town of Crossroads, Texas. Thomas recounts four story-lines, some of which end in an HEA, while others are HEA-pending. The main story-line and HEA-concluded romance is the bantering, wooing story of Angie Harold, newly-arrived and sole curator of the Ransom Canyon Museum, and Wilkes Wagner, local rancher and historian. Thomas continues the story of Yancy Grey, ex-con and custodian and protector of the “old folks” living at the Evening Shadows Retirement Community. She also continues the story of Sheriff Dan Brigman’s daughter, Lauren, experiencing her first year at Texas Tech and trying to negotiate a relationship with the driven Lucas Reyes. Thomas introduces the character of septuagenarian Carter Mayes, whose memories of cave paintings of stick figures haunt him still sixty years later and bring him to Ransom Canyon in search of them every spring. Alternating story-lines in third-person deep POV, Thomas captures something about small-town romance that many of its writers miss. She creates an authentic sense of community because she doesn’t sacrifice her secondary characters to one-dimensionality. It may be she sacrifices all her characters to one-dimensionality – Miss Bates leaves that judgement up to Rustler’s Moon‘s readers.
Miss Bates loves pie, apple, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, but nothing beats humble pie. She happily munches on it after sneering, snarling, and dramatically slapping her forehead with “What was I thinking?” reading Jodi Thomas’s Ransom Canyon – it’s women’s fiction. More fool Miss Bates because Thomas’s novel has as much going for it as it does going on.
Ransom Canyon is braided with three narrative strands: the romance between dour, tragic Staten Kirkland, rancher, and Quinn O’Grady, lavender farmer, reclusive pianist, and his dead wife’s best friend; the burgeoning feelings between Lucas Reyes, ambitious teen-ager and hand at Staten’s ranch, and Lauren Brigman, dreamy girl and sheriff’s daughter; and, Yancy Grey, ex-con and handyman to the adorable old coots, all former teachers, at the local retirement home. Add the blue-cape-swirling, curvaceous, sharp-tongued Miss Ellie, nurse-in-training, and frequent visitor to the retirement home and Yancy Grey, at 25, newly released from the big house, has himself a serious case of desire. Ransom Canyon is set in Texas ranching country, in the allegorically-named town of Crossroads, not far from Lubbock. Thomas weaves the three story-lines beautifully, offering redemption, renewal, and love to the broken and troubled – and leaving pending romance threads in the stories of the young ones, Yancy and Ellie, Lucas and Lauren. Continue reading