Now that I’ve arrived at the end of Roni Loren’s conclusion to her four-book series based on the adult survivors of a Texas high school shooting, I can confidently say that, with Molly O’Keefe’s Crooked Creek Ranch series, Loren has written one of the best contemporary romance series of the past ten years. Though #4 wasn’t my favourite (my heart remains with The One You Fight For) it was a most satisfying conclusion. The One For You tells the romance of two of Long Acre High’s shooting’s survivors, prom queen beauty Kincaid Breslin and her best friend, Ashton Isaacs. Cue sixteen years. Ash returns to Long Acre from NYC (after having left soon after the tragedy, abandoning Kincaid) to stay with his deceased friend’s parents, Grace and Charlie Lowell (his ex-fiancée left him homeless). Ash is a globe-trotting successful writer and the opportunity for some down time to let the Muse have her way with him is welcome, even in the town he’d hoped to never see again … and the friend he can’t forget. Meanwhile, wrong-side-of-the-tracks Kincaid is now a successful realtor and in the midst of clinching a sweet deal on a charmingly dilapidated farm house … except, like most things, Kincaid can’t resist the call of the broken, so she buys it instead, hoping to juggle job and renos and start her own B’n’B. Like estranged friend Ash, Kincaid is still close to the Lowells; their son, one of the shooting’s victims, was her high school sweetheart. The Lowells own Long Acre’s sole bookstore, but decide it’s time to sell and retire. They ask Ash, who’s staying in the bookstore’s upstairs apartment, and Kincaid, to spruce it up and put it on the market for them. Continue reading
I was pleasantly surprised at the complexity and page-turning élan of Sarah M. Eden’s The Lady and the Highwayman. Eden is a new-to-me author and I’m glad I’ve discovered her romances; this first read won’t be my last, thanks to her robust backlist.
Victorian-set among the humble and working-class, Eden’s thriller-melodrama-romance boasts a former-“guttersnipe” hero, now successful penny dreadful author, and girls-school headmistress heroine. Fletcher Walker struts the streets of 1865-London with the swagger of a man who brought himself out of the gutter and into success. But Fletcher is not an advocate of the every-man-is-an-economic-island making his own way in the world. He is the defender, rescuer, and fighter for the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of London’s invisible people, the widowed, fatherless, and orphaned; the sweep’s agony, the harlot’s cry come under Fletcher’s protection and his penned stories tell of their pathos, endurance, and spunky survival, the importance of helping one another, and defending those who cannot defend themselves. His author’s income isn’t for himself alone, but largely given to the poorest of the poor. Continue reading
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.
Miss Bates has followed the fortunes of Karen White’s heroine, Melanie Middleton, her on-again, off-again fraught relationship with writer Jack Trenholm, and her ghostly encounters, malevolent and benign, through four books. Though written in first-person narration and with a maddeningly slow-moving romance, MissB enjoyed every one, especially when they culminated in pleasing romantic conclusions. How could she pass up an opportunity to learn of Jack and Mellie’s further adventures? And how not to revisit beautiful Charleston and the vintage homes that feature in each mystery? Be warned, readers, if you haven’t read the first four books, MissB’s review of #5, The Guests On South Battery, contains spoilers. It’s inevitable when each book, while resolving the ghostly mystery at its heart, only moves Mellie and Jack’s relationship one smidgen forward. But there’s epilogue-satisfaction to The Guests On South Battery. When it opens, wife and husband, Mellie and Jack, their ten-month-old twins, JJ and Sarah, and Nola, Jack’s daughter from an earlier marriage, and now Melanie’s step-daughter, are living a good life. Continue reading
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?
Miss Bates is looking at a very busy few weeks, so her reviews will be especially “mini” and impressionistic. She restlessly DNF-ed several titles … too trite, too much tell, *shudder* insta-lust … before settling on Christine Rimmer’s Ms. Bravo and the Boss, an author she enjoyed with her first foray into the Bravo-Word, a series whose novels run in the double-digits!
Ms. Bravo and the Boss tells of the meet-near-fail, burgeoning sympathy, eventual courtship, betrayal, and reconciliation of two likeable characters, the eponymous “Ms”, Elise Bravo, and reclusive Justice Creek, Colorado-resident thriller writer, Jed Walsh. When the novel opens, Elise’s life is a shambles: her business burnt to the ground, her best friend off to Seattle, her relationship with her family a tad estranged, working two menial jobs (on the humiliating generosity of two Bravo sisters), living above a donut shop, eating too many of the sweet-rounds and not quite fitting into her clothes. Jed too is in a pickle: he has trouble keeping an assistant and is working on a tight deadline. Jed needs to find the right person to help him with his “process”: dictating his novels to a silent, fast typist while he either throws knives, or cleans guns. His gruff ways and beastly temper chased every assistant away. Since his grandmotherly typist, Anna, left to live with her grandchildren, he’s blocked. Until Nell, Elise’s sister, suggests that Elise take the job.
“She was there. At the bar wearing a dress the color of a bruise’s dark heart.”
Miss Bates first read Molly O’Keefe’s short story, “The Heart Of It,” in the Summer Rain romance anthology, which she reviewed in 2014. Miss Bates reread it when it was recently self-published as a standalone and was struck again by its fineness, the delicacy with which O’Keefe recounts her story. “The Heart Of It” isn’t a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. Gabe and Elena’s baggage is contained in the lovely opening line. Their initial encounters are monetary, self-interested, and heartbreaking. They are bruised by life, hurt; like a bruise, visible, when pressed, painful. In O’Keefe’s description of Gabe’s perception of Elena’s skin lies the hope at the story’s heart:
“Her skin was the color of the harvest moon, or the inside of a shell, something white and creamy and perfect.”
Purple bruises give way to an HEA wrested from pain, like the delicate, recovering skin emerging from a fading bruise. Continue reading
Ever since youthful Miss Bates watched black-and-white film matinées, she’s a sucker for a narrative set in WWII (also, the glorious Band Of Brothers). She watched The Guns Of Navarone sundry times, even Mrs. Miniver, which gets a nod in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, fifth in the Maggie Hope series set during WWII. MacNeal’s murder mystery is historically rich, interweaving fictional and non-fictional characters that never feel contrived. The heart of Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante is the eponymous heroine, Maggie Hope, ostensibly Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s secretary, actually special ops spy and code-breaker. For the most part, the novel takes place in Washington D.C. during Christmas of ’41 to New Year’s ’42. Maggie and her cohorts, David Greene and John Stirling (former RAF pilot and ex-fiancé) accompany Churchill to his meeting with President Roosevelt. For Maggie, David, and John, this is the culmination of what Churchill and they have been hoping for and planning, an alliance giving Britain the edge to defeat Nazi Germany. However, forces in the U.S. and Europe are operating against them, some of global significance and others of an equally pernicious domestic nature. Maggie is embroiled in the latter when figures, aiming to hurt the liberal president and scuttle his war efforts, frame his wife Eleanor. Blanche Balfour, Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretary, is found dead, an apparent suicide, with a note claiming that Eleanor made amorous advances to her. Should the letter be leaked to the media, repercussions would affect Roosevelt and Churchill’s plans … Continue reading