It’s been said ad infinitum that the HP is rom at its most elemental, most ur-like, most wild-fantasy unbelievability. And rom-readers who love their crazysauce HP tolerate, excuse, overlook, and forgive many elements that they’d excoriate in other rom: slut-shaming, evil step-mothers, “other women,” whose shenanigans make Lucrezia Borgia demure and modest. To say nothing of the alpha-heroes: they can stomp, dominate, and toss the heroine over their shoulder, pound their chest and be possessive and jealous and paternalistically over-protective. The reader, in the meanwhile, like MissB. sits blithely sipping tea, nodding, smiling, and reading into the wee hours (only the HP has the ability to deprive Miss B. of her love of a good night’s sleep). The reason for this, dear reader?: the HP’s capacity for emotional pay-off. And no one, no one, does it better than Lynne Graham. Miss Bates had barely typed the last period on her Kate Noble review when she read the first few pages of Graham’s The Greek’s Christmas Bride; a mere 24 hours later, here we are. Like Miss Bates’s favourite Graham, The Greek’s Chosen Bride, The Greek’s Christmas Bride has a moral-core, forge-ahead-with-independence, poverty-stricken, humble heroine, a successful bazillionaire arrogant “man whore” hero with a hidden heart of gold, and a dog, in this case, a traumatized terrier named Hector. Like Chosen Bride, Christmas Bride sees the matrimonially-averse hero have to marry and procreate to ensure control of his inheritance. To do so, he takes advantage of a poor heroine who’ll do anything to protect the well-being of the most vulnerable of her family and/or acquaintance.
Trite? Formulaic? Been there, done that? Maybe. What matters, however, is the reader’s engagement with the novel’s emotional offerings. And Miss Bates loved The Greek’s Christmas Bride. It was funny and moving and packed an emotional punch. Apollo Metraxis is a playing-the-field Greek god. He is characterized by his disinterest in commitment. When he learns he must marry to retain his inheritance, his concern is more for the divorce to follow than the marriage: ” ‘And how am I going to get rid of her again? Apollo growled. ‘Women cling to me like superglue.’ ” Well, he receives his comeuppance in the form of a termagant named Pixie, “a hairdresser and poor as a peasant.” Graham’s storytelling chops are evident with two figurative gems and an ability to draw characters clearly and sympathetically.
Graham breathes dimensionality into her hyperbolic characters (even in size, Apollo is HUGE and Pixie is diminutive) by giving them suffering childhoods that cling to them and deter them from love. For Apollo, it’s all about evil stepmothers and trust issues, “his cynical distrust honed over no fewer than six stepmothers and countless lovers … had never trusted a woman in his life.” Pixie, on the other hand, is a product of two thieving parents and, as a result, has “a horror of theft and dishonesty … a hangover from her shame-filled childhood.” What happens when a man who can’t trust “conveniently” marries a woman who is shame-filled over any deception? Well, many wonderful things, dear reader: because Graham “flips” her characters. Apollo may not trust, but his every action says he can love: his care for Pixie’s well-being and his campaign to win over her dog are utterly endearing. As for Pixie, she may enter into a marriage of convenience to save her brother, but deep down, she also wants to be close to Apollo and it isn’t long before a girl who’s more interested in loving than being loved is in love. One of the wonderful things about Graham’s characters is how easily she draws our liking and sympathy by humorously and gently bringing their winsome vulnerabilities to the foreground.
Apollo’s and Pixie’s childhoods are definitely a misery-fest. Graham, however, especially in Apollo’s case, gives him the pathos of knowing how to take care of Pixie and Hector even when he’s denying it to himself. Here he is, abandoning one of the many blonde models who throw themselves at him; note the reason: “Lauren stalked out in a snit, leaving Apollo free to see Pixie. Of course he wanted to see her, he reasoned with himself while his brain questioned why he would want to see her. But Pixie was very probably the woman he was going to marry and therefore infinitely more important … in any case he wanted to see if Hector liked his new hideaway bed.” One of the loveliest aspects of rom are those moments when hero and heroine, even before admitting their love to t’other, draw a magic circle of specialness and exclusivity around the other. It isn’t the alpha-ness of tossing Pixie over his shoulder (which Apollo does, most amusingly), but the care and attention that says “You matter”. And Apollo indulges in a romantic gesture to end all that involves a romance novel! And Pixie’s response is hilarious: ” ‘It was the first romance I ever read. I bought it at a church jumble sale … but when I got older, I didn’t think it was realistic to believe I could ever meet a man as swoonworthy as the hero … and here you are, Apollo Metraxis, and you’re hotter than the fires of hell!’ ” With humour, with understanding, with a willingness to care for the other, body and soul, two broken-but-giving people find love and happiness. Miss Bates was charmed by Graham’s Christmas Bride and with Miss Austen says, “there no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Christmas Bride is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in November 2016 and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC, via Netgalley.