Though I read less and less inspirational romance these days, I chose to read Henrie’s A Cowboy Of Convenience because Harlequin is shutting down its Love Inspired Historical line and I was feeling nostalgic. Like Superromance, I’ve found some authors I’ve loved in it: Lacy Williams, Sherri Shackelford, Karen Kirst, and Alie Pleiter. I hope they’ve found writing pastures and are busy and happy sowing their talents.
Henrie’s Cowboy Of Convenience contains much of what we’ve come to expect of the subgenre and, most importantly, what I appreciate of it: a certain humility in its world-building and characterization. Nothing in Henrie’s romance rocked my romance-reading world, but I appreciated what it had to say nonetheless. Its story is typical: a cowboy, Westin McCall, who yearns to start his own dude ranch asks the ranch (where they both work) cook, widowed single-mother Vienna Howe, to pool their resources, marry as a “business arrangement” and start their own enterprise. Vienna, with her daughter Hattie, recently inherited her abusive, deceased husband’s near-by ranch, in Wyoming. Until West’s proposal, Vienna was uncertain as to what she would do with her windfall. The idea of creating a country home and business that her daughter could inherit was too good to pass up and Vienna agrees to marry, in name only, with West.
Sarah M. Anderson’s hokey-titled One Rodeo Season is anything but. What starts as a fun little rodeo-meet-cute between Ian Tall Chief, bullfighter, and Lacy Evans, stock contractor, turns from a “no-strings” relationship to friendship and love, from rom-lite to considered romance novel about identity, cleaving to others, and negotiating commitment. Ian Tall Chief works as a bullfighter when he’s not working at the S. Dakota Real Pride ranch. Lacy Evans is a rodeo stock contractor when she’s not at the Wyoming Straight Arrow ranch she recently inherited from her parents. From their first meeting, Ian is Lacy’s protector and defender. She’s threatened by a powerful rancher, Slim Smalls, and hit on by a slimeball. Ian rushes in where “angels fear to tread,” his former-football muscles standing between Lacy and a world of hurt. But Lacy is a tough cookie, and comes at Ian from the get-go: “Who was she? Someone tiny and fierce and unafraid of him.” Lacy is “fierce,” gauche, a loner, but the attraction between them is undeniable. Except. There be inner turmoil for Lacy and Ian. The inner turmoils’ sources are deep and troubling. They make building a commitment-based relationship unfeasible. Ian charms and gently compels skittish Lacy to a friendship. While Lacy vehemently declares her ability to care for herself, she knows Smalls’ threat and her own precarious emotional state dictate she accept Ian’s help and protection. Ian and Lacy are one of Miss Bates’s favourite couple-combinations: Ian is charming, funny, and knight-in-shining-armor. He has a wide circle of friends, makes friends easily, fits comfortably in his huge clan, and is a looker. Lacy, on the other hand, is solitary, awkward with people, lacks social graces, and plain.
Reading Victoria Dahl’s Taking the Heat means taking the heat. To a love-scene-shy reader like Miss Bates (what else when you’ve lived in a Jane Austen novel?), Dahl’s raw love scenes stand in contradistinction to Miss B’s sensibilities. But Dahl convinces in the best way possible: intelligently, using love scenes to reveal character, show growth, and develop a relationship from superficial fun to emotional stakes that come with vulnerability and openness to the Other. Taking the Heat follows from the thematic concerns we saw Dahl work through in the novel that precedes it in the Girls Night Out series, Flirting With Disaster.
Taking the Heat picks up on the woebegone friend of Isabelle and Lauren, Veronica Chandler, a mysterious young women, déprimée, dominated by her powerful, indifferent-to-her judge father, and difficult to know. But Isabelle and company befriend her and bring her along on their girls night outs. Getting to know Veronica is one of the pleasures of Taking the Heat: she’s an endearing heroine. She’s funny, kind, and intuitively smart, which serve her well because she’s “Dear Veronica,” the local rag’s advice columnist. When we meet her, her publisher-editor has talked her into a stint at the local bar where she’ll pull Dear Veronica letters out of a fishbowl to respond to as bar patrons listen. She’s terrified and, as we soon learn, feels a fraud. Veronica Chandler is a girl living a lie: she dispenses advice like a pharmacist eking out pastilles, but she’s a virgin whose dream of big lights big city ended in failure. She returned to Jackson, Wyoming, needing her father’s help to find work and a place to live. Much of the novel’s success lies in witnessing Veronica’s emergence into strength and confidence without losing her generous heart. Our Veronica-butterfly comes forth from the chrysalis of her encounters with Gabe Mackenzie, librarian, rock climber, search-and-rescue officer, looker and lover extraordinaire. Continue reading
If you’re literal-minded, or a prig, or easily titillated, the stand-out elements of Victoria Dahl’s Flirting With the Disaster are explicit love scenes and the hero and heroine’s foul mouths. These may be good reasons to read Dahl’s contemporary romance, or reject it in outrage. Which is why Miss Bates wants to get the review part over with pronto. Because she has other things to say. The first quarter or so, the set-up, left Miss Bates dubious: like taking that first bite of a new dish. The uncertainty: “Do I like this? What’s that strange flavour?” By the time the heroine’s combination of vulnerability and independent spirit were established, she was a fan. The hero had to work harder to win her. By the time things were heart-wrenching, she was a goner. If you don’t want to read how Dahl’s romance about U. S. marshal hero, Tom Duncan, and hermit-artist heroine, Isabelle West, got Miss Bates thinking about genre conventions, don’t read on. Read the novel (consider yourself warned about its rawness; she’ll let its tenderness take you by surprise). Then come back, tell her what you think about what follows. Or not. As long as you read it. Continue reading
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