Now that Miss Bates has read her second Michelle Smart romance, she can say that Smart is writing some awfully interesting HPs. Plot- and convention-wise, her roms are made of melodrama and hyperbole, but they’re also wonderfully tongue-in-cheek aware of the HP’s tropes. In Married For the Greek’s Convenience, melodrama and hyperbole come in the form of the novel’s premise and hero’s and heroine’s fraught families. Elizabeth Young and Xander Trakas met, wooed, wedded, and consummated their love as just-past-teens ten years ago from the story’s opening. When it opens, bitterness reigns, especially for Elizabeth. Mere days after their Caribbean-beach wedding, Xander abandoned Elizabeth (ostensibly because he cared about her and was protecting her) and asked her to ensure their marriage was annulled. Now Xander needs Elizabeth. Firstly, he recently discovered the judge never confirmed the annulment. Secondly, he needs a “convenient” wife to present a respectable front to a judge who will decide whether he can retain temporary custody of Loukas, his eight-year-old nephew, while his brother and sister-in-law are recovering from addictions, so severe that SIL needs a liver transplant. Wow. Moreover, the people vying for Loukas’s custody? His cold-hearted, avaricious, negligent parents. Xander’s mother makes Cruella de Vil look like Florence Nightingale.
Ten years after their hasty marriage, Elizabeth leads an interesting life. Vowing never to trust, or love another man, Elizabeth is fully and wholly dedicated to Leviathan Solutions, her matchmaking company! Irony of ironies for it’s the only baby she’ll ever have; she’s too soft-hearted, however, to refuse Xander’s call to her pretending to be his loving wife, and therefore indicative of his life’s stability, to a judge. Xander forces Elizabeth to forego her company, shutting her down, assuming only blackmail will get her to do what he wants, be his “convenient” wife. Elizabeth, herself the product of a feuding mother and father, more interested in foiling each other than caring for her, cannot allow a child to be a pawn in a power game, though she acknowledges that power is the game only Xander’s parents are playing. She recognizes that Xander loves his nephew and wants the best for him. As a committed to her education and work Miss Bates, MissB. had a hard time accepting Elizabeth’s acquiescence to Xander, no matter how heart-wrenching Loukas’s big-eyed pathos may be. Not because she’s a hardened career woman, because the pride and ethic of doing good work is ingrained. It seemed the same for Elizabeth …
Though Miss Bates read Married For the Greek’s Convenience in one sitting, it was more likely due to her ambivalence than its ability to engage. So much of the romance novel felt “off” to MissB. The family backstories were such a misery-fest they pushed the boundaries of plausibility, as did Elizabeth’s career backstory. Elizabeth was a star English literature student at Brown, but switched to study business at a state college after her break-up with Xander. As a result of the change, her mother disowned her?! Because she changed to a business career?! What every parent dreams of? It was bizarre. Above all else, however, Miss Bates found Xander’s character the most peculiar. Xander is one of the most oblivious heroes Miss Bates has ever read. He blithely goes through the novel’s length really not feeling very much. One of the aspects to the HP romance hero’s character is his loss of control where the heroine is concerned. This guy is cool as a Popsickle. Even when the moment of an end to the marriage arrives, he’s honest about his non-feelings, saying things like I care about you and all, but I can live without you. What’s really strange about this is that Miss Bates found it easier to believe him when he was an honest, insensitive dunderhead than when he grovelled.
And yet, Miss Bate also found things to like about Smart’s HP. Firstly, she liked that sexual desire didn’t serve Xander as gamma radiation does to Bruce Banner (aka The Incredible Hulk). Like his emotions, Xander can control his desires and this turns into quite a nice scene that says a lot about what romance can do for, and with, consent, agreement, respect, and mutuality:
She waited breathlessly for him to make his move but he stood quite still, the only movement the pulsing in his eyes. He was waiting for a signal from her. He wouldn’t make a move without her explicit blessing even if they had to stand there the whole night doing nothing but gazing at each other. This was her moment to run away and lock herself in her room but her body fought back, the longing careering through her trumping anything like rationality. And desire didn’t have to mean anything unless she chose to make it so …
Miss Bates loved this moment: the hero is still, waiting, and giving the heroine a wide berth of choice. The heroine has an opportunity to think things through, to consider whether this is a good choice for her. Of course, the whole sex doesn’t mean anything rationale is antithetical to romance and we know the heroine will eat her words. Nevertheless, the freedom to choose, even badly, is better than none at all, which is, all too often, the heroine’s physical and emotional response to the hero. Even if the hero isn’t a dick and grabby, her own physical response to him doesn’t allow time, or room for thought. In this case, it does and MissB is all for people thinking. And portraying people thinking, well, that’s just genius.
Lastly, Miss Bates sees Smart as a romance writer who is aware of romance tropes and the possibility of playing with them in a “meta” way, as her dear friend and fellow blogger, Shallowreader would say. After the dissolution of Elizabeth’s company, she starts writing. Elizabeth begins, while living with Xander and Loukas on a Greek-island-paradise, to write a script, maybe a rom-com, about second chance at love. When Elizabeth forgets one of her notebooks on the island, it gives Xander an opportunity to re-open a dialogue with her:
“You’re writing a script.” Not a flicker of response this time. “Second chance love.” He rubbed his jaw. “Not about us. Not exactly. I could figure that for myself. But still, second chance love. The path to redemption and forgiveness.”
And in this moment of Xander’s realization, Married For the Greek’s Convenience redeemed itself. Not as great as Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed, but an interesting HP-rom, one that made Miss Bates think, even if it didn’t bring on all the feels. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates would say that Smart’s romance offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Michelle Smart’s Married For the Greek’s Convenience is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in December 2016 and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.