I read Jessica Gilmore’s first romance novel, The Return Of Mrs. Jones, and hailed her a romance-writer of great promise. I was disappointed in her second book and she dropped off my reviewing radar. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Some reviewing-Tinkerbell pushed me towards her latest, Baby Surprise For the Spanish Billionaire and the Gilmore magic was reinstated! Baby Surprise is conventional and uses some annoying conventions, BUT the writing is elegant and smooth, the dialogue clever, witty, funny, and moving, and the romance, well, so romantic, that I was reconverted to Gilmore.
Dr. Anna Gray, not medical, but an Oxford-trained historian, with a successful book in the world, arrives at her feckless mother’s Spanish island, La Isla Marina. Sancia has sent out “help” signals to her daughters: the resort Sancia inherited from her parents, one of Spain’s most beautiful tourist destinations, has gone to ruin, thanks to Sancia’s dreamy, negligent ways. But there is now a chance to restore its past splendor because one of the year’s great society weddings has booked the island as its venue. Practical, efficient, list-making daughter Anna (prodigal Rosa eventually also shows up) comes to the rescue, with begrudging resentment well in control, and one month to bring the resort up to Instagram-Twitter-hashtag-photo-snapping elegance.
Into Anna’s painting-repairing-throw-pillow-decorating plans sails (literally moors his yacht at La Isla Marina’s quay) Leo di Marquez y Correa, the bride’s devoted half-brother, playboy, billionaire, and as Anna quips, “over six feet of muscled pirate”. And that’s how Gilmore got me: while there are conventions at play here that I dislike, any romance can win me over when the writing, wit, and allusions work together to transcend conventions. Gilmore has such a great start using Old Skool romance and mythological references to describe her hero and heroine: to Anna, Leo’s shirtless sauntering and roguish grin makes him a pirate and Anna’s hair, build, and other-wordly determination have Leo seeing her as a nymph. Here is one of their first marvelous exchanges: “He fixed the nymph with a hard stare. ‘Pass me that notebook,’ he said. ‘We have a lot of work to do.’ The nymph clutched her notebook tightly and glared. ‘We?’ ‘We,’ Leo confirmed.” Leo and Anna’s meet-cute is a lot more than rom-com cute: it calls up romance tropes in the best possible way, with a gentle irony.
Or maybe I’m a sucker for an antagonistic couple that makes its way to friendship and love, as Anna and Leo do in the most moving, romantic way? But first, the fun of banter with an opposites-attract pairing, as Leo quips ” … he had a month’s work ahead of him and a hostile colleague. He couldn’t wait to get started.” How utterly delicious! But Gilmore doesn’t leave her protagonists in the purgatorial superficiality of witty, romcom banter, she makes them deeper and more interesting, though some of the conventions she uses to do so do not appeal. Leo is funny and loveable, but his psychic wound and vulnerability come from a poor, little rich boy backstory that made me roll my eyes.
Anna is more interesting in her loving, but kind of useless, clueless family. (Sadly, there’s a bad boyfriend and miscarriage in Anna’s backstory, for those who might find reading Gilmore’s book painful, be warned, please.) What I found unbelievable and equally unappealing is Anna’s attitude towards her work: research and teaching as an Oxford historian. A dream academic position is sloughed off as undesirable! Maybe it’s me, I’d love to do what Anna is doing and I’d love to see her keep her accomplishments and get the guy too. But that is not to be.
In the end, all my critiques are mere quibbles because I came to love and care for Anna and Leo, with their vulnerabilities and fears. Gilmore is that good a writer and their journey to the HEA one filled with delightful scenes, touching revelations, droll banter, heartfelt conversation, and such emotional honesty and poetry to their final avowals of love that I grew teary. I loved Baby Surprise For the Spanish Billionaire and it has ensured that I won’t be bypassing any Gilmore romances in future. And this, from me, given this “baby” is a closed-door romance is saying a lot. With Miss Austen, we say that Jessica Gilmore’s Baby Surprise For the Spanish Billionaire is indicative of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Jessica Gilmore’s Baby Surprise For the Spanish Billionaire is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on March 1st and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.