Maisey Yates’s The Last Di Sione Claims His Prize concludes the multi-author Di Sione family series. Apropos of being the last volume, it tells the story of Giovanni Di Sione’s eldest grandson, Alessandro “Alex”. It completes Giovanni’s journey to rediscover a lost love, while fulfilling his secret wish to guide each grandchild to love and commitment. Of the volumes Miss Bates has read, the series’ unifying premise never faltered in meaningfulness. Giovanni’s benign machinations and his grandchildren’s adventures to love and the fulfillment of their grandfather’s request were compelling. This is as true of His Prize as any of the others, though Hewitt’s A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure remains the best of the lot. Nevertheless, reading a Maisey Yates romance is never a loss for Miss Bates. Yates is consistently one of the genre’s finest practitioners, whether writing fantasy-driven HP, or closer-to-reality contemporary.
True to premise, Giovanni asks Alex to travel to Aceena in a “search-and-rescue/retrieve” operation to reunite him with a painting entitled “The Lost Love.” The painting, like the other lost and then recovered objects of Giovanni’s youth, is connected to a woman he left behind when he came to America to make his fortune. The portrait is in the possession of the disgraced, exiled royal family D’Oro. Though jaded and surly, Alex agrees to his grand-father’s request, aware of what he owes Giovanni – his upbringing, success, and most importantly, his rearing with love and care when Alex’s wastrel parents died in a car crash.
Miss Bates made the mistake of assuming that Kate Hewitt was an HP author who ran to trope. And what a lovely comeuppance for MissB! About the only thing HP-typical of Hewitt’s romance is the ho-hum title (the cover, OTOH, is lovely, with its cool blues and greens). Miss Bates hadn’t read far before it dawned that Hewitt was rocking classic gothic conventions. In A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure, Hewitt nods to Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Du Maurier’s Rebecca, though it’s only fair to say the housekeeper is more benign, indifferent matchmaker than nut-bar obsessive. Hermetic, agoraphobic heroine, Natalia Di Sione, braves the world beyond her grandfather’s sequestered Long Island estate (where she’s lived and created art for eight years) to travel to Greece in pursuit of locating a book her dying grandfather is obsessed with possessing again. Still hurting from her parents’ loss when she was a child and a traumatic teen-age experience, Natalia wouldn’t easily leave her safe environment. Her grandfather’s precious book, however, resides with one tormented, widowed Greek billionaire, Angelos Menas. Resisting panic attacks the entire way, looking “pale but resolute,” Talia walks in on Angelos as he tries to hire the umpteenth nanny for Sofia, his scarred eight-year-old daughter. When Sofia takes to Talia, Angelos hires her. Talia, in turn, accepts his grudging offer in hopes she’ll be closer to finding her grand-father’s precious book.
Much as Miss Bates loves the HP line, she’s never been much for the connected HP-series. A few years ago, the line went with a crud-awful interconnected hotel-setting series and it was ugh. So MissB. was leery of trying another one in this “Di Sione” series, but, hey, Jennifer Hayward! woot!, one of the more original, more interesting HP writers (her The Italian’s Deal For I Do one of MissB’s favourite HPs EVAH). The past few books have never reached The Italian’s Deal‘s heights, but they’ve consistently been well-written and absent of the insane WTF-ery that distinguishes the line. Hayward seems to like the idea of the “deal” as a romantic premise, essentially the opening to a good ole marriage-of-convenience romance narrative, in this case, a marriage-deal for Nate Brunswick and Mina Mastrantino. The product of Benito Di Sione’s affair with his secretary, Nate has a huge-o-rama shoulder chip about his illegitimacy, place in the Di Sione family, except in his relationship with his paternal grand-father, Giovanni, his eschewing of marriage and anything that says “feels”. When Nate was a teen, Giovanni gave him a place at the family-company-table, thus saving him from a life on the streets. Now that Nate’s created and expanded his personal fortune as well as the family one, he wants to give dying, fragile Giovanni the gift of the “Di Sione ring,” which seems to have a mysterious special significance for Giovanni. In one of Nate’s Palermo hotels, he meets an adorably curvy, tiny chambermaid who, it turns out, is none other than the possessor of the precious ring.
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. Continue reading
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.
In a romance-reader’s life, nothing is more gripping than a good HP. The HP is the essence of romance, the genre in its barest, most elemental manifestation. If done well, the HP offers the romance reader the genre’s immersive emotional engagement in two hours of reading time.
Miss Bates loved her first Michelle Smart HP, Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed, and says no less for her Christmas HP, Claiming His Christmas Consequence. His, that is, hero Nathaniel Giroud’s “consequence” is the baby he makes with heroine Princess Catalina Fernandez, during one unforgettable night of love-making. Smart cleverly (pun totally intended) ensures we are never privy to the baby-making night, thus ratcheting up Nathaniel and Catalina’s relationship-mystique and making the post-night-of-love agon of working out their relationship the novel’s crux. When the novel opens, Catalina is patiently attending the wedding of the man her father had chosen for her to marry, Prince Helios of neighbouring kingdom Agon. Nathaniel Giroud, her brother’s school-days enemy and Helios’s good friend, is also in attendance. Catalina, in a rare instance of self-indulgence and defiance of her family and royal role, takes something for herself in one night of love with Nathaniel, the self-made French playboy billionaire. She closes the bedroom door behind him the next morning, knowing she can keep this wonderful memory through all her duty-bound nights and days. Nathaniel is moved by his night with Catalina, but eschews commitment.
Sarah M. Anderson’s His Forever Family has a dramatic opening and an intriguing premise. Chicago billionaire hero, Marcus Warren, and his executive assistant, Liberty Reese, are jogging along Lake Michigan. They’re sharing a near-banterish conversation about Marcus’s attendance at his ex-fiancée’s wedding. Liberty is urging him to find a date, then intuiting that he really doesn’t want to attend. Marcus is insistent on attending (because his mommy wants him to) while resisting selecting a date from the list his uber-efficient assistant compiled. He hits on the idea of taking Liberty. The reader senses that Liberty is afraid of Marcus’s social world, but we’re not yet privy to the reasons. Anderson balances witty dialogue with character revelations. We learn that Marcus is nervous about being attacked, distant from his self-serving parents, and yearns for love and belonging. We learn that Liberty’s beginnings are as far removed from her role in Marcus’s world as Lake Michigan is from Alaska. Into this complex little scene, Anderson drops a – BABY! – an abandoned baby, a foundling. Nearing Chicago’s famous Buckingham Fountain, Marcus hears a mewling and notes some strange movement. He drops to his knees, thinking it might be an abandoned kitten. He is shocked to discover ” … an African-American newborn in a shoe box by the trash can.” Liberty to the rescue! She cradles and croons to the baby, cools him off with their water bottles, and evokes warm, fuzzy, protective, and desirable feelings in Marcus.
Maisey Yates’ HPs have seen more misses than hits for Miss Bates lately. At the same time, Miss B. can’t resist the tantalizing possibility Yates will hit the heights of Pretender To The Throne and, with that hope, readily plunged into another one. Not much distinguishes Married For Amari’s Heir from the sordid premises marking the opening of many an HP. “Mark” is the operative word here. Assistant-in-crime to her con-artist father, heroine Charity Wyatt receives a commanding missive from Rocco Amari, summoning her to a club called The Mark. An upscale boutique shopping bag contains the tight-fitting sexy dress and lingerie she’s to wear to the rendez-vous. Party to her father’s theft of one of Rocco’s many millions, Charity knows she’ll comply with Rocco’s revenge to avoid jail time – despite her father absconding with the money, despite her fear and guilt over her part in it, despite her living hand-to-mouth as a waitress. Rocco’s merciless and she’s about to pay the piper with her virginity. Awful, isn’t it? Nevertheless, their love-making is cleverly handled by Yates, consensual and even tender. The encounter, though Rocco was all kinds of a dick post-love-making, leaves them shaken with intensity and meaning. Months elapse and neither have forgotten the other. When Charity discovers she’s pregnant (let it be said the HP may be the last bastion of miraculous conception), it’s an opportunity to turn her life around. Her destitute existence necessitates, for her baby’s sake, a plea for financial assistance to Rocco. When Rocco decides he wants to be father to the baby, he again holds jail time as a Damocles sword over Charity. Frankly, all the ludicrous, the blackmailing, the threats, near-led Miss Bates to DNF territory, but something about the characters touched her. Continue reading
When Miss Bates needs to restore her faith in the romance genre, she’ll read Lynne Graham. First, her buddy over at Shallowreader loves Graham and that’s an ironclad rec and Miss Bates’ last (and first!) Graham read resulted in a precious keeper of delight. Delight is key to Graham’s accomplishment: she delights Miss Bates, surprises her, makes her smile, and upends her moues of romance-reading disapproval. Graham’s latest, The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain, vies with Morgan’s Playing By the Greek’s Rules as HP extraordinaire this year! Damn, but these two ladies can write romance. They can write it because they love it, believe in the story it has to tell of two people finding understanding and recognition of their essential selves in the other. But, the romance narrative’s thematic gravitas is couched in the garments of delight. Graham’s The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain is the contemporary marriage-of-convenience romance between billionaire Cesare Sabatino and Yorkshire farmer Lizzie Whittaker. As Miss Bates said in a recent review, contemporary marriage-of-convenience is hard to pull off, as evidenced by Celmer’s failure. Celmer’s More Than A Convenient Bride strives for verisimilitude … ack, wrong, realized Miss Bates when she read Graham’s Bridal Bargain. For contemporary marriage-of-convenience to work, it is best left to the fantasy-ridden HP, where the reader expects billionaires, babies, and make-overs … what’s a little MoC to that? Continue reading
Miss Bates doesn’t know how to write about a good book she disliked, not hated, not DNF-headed, not snark-inspiring, but a desultory slog, like eating a flavourless oatmeal biscuit. Partly, she attributes her response to the unappealing conventions of the New Adult romance sub-genre: the college scene, protagonists’ callowness, first-person narration, and HFN. New adult romance elements Miss Bates’ reader-self dislikes. Nay, avoids. She wasn’t well disposed to Milan’s Trade Me from the first solipsistic notes of “I” and “my”, but the issues were engaging, questions of wealth and privilege, the pressures on immigrants’ children versus good ole wealthy established American families.
Trade Me is, at least initially, a romance of economic realities. Californian heroine Tina Chen, computer science and chemistry college student, second-generation Chinese-American, struggles to get through school, pay rent, groceries, and help her parents out financially. Her mom succours persecuted Falun Gong members seeking asylum in the US, her dad’s on work disability and sister, with ADHD, requires pricey medication. Tina is poor: she can’t afford to do anything but survive on a shoe-string budget, working part-time and studying the rest. Hero Blake Reynolds is the only child of one of the wealthiest, most influential men in the US, owner of an innovative tech company, Cyclone. Unlike Tina, who has eleven dollars to her name, Blake is worth billions. During economics class, Blake makes privileged, ignorant remarks about people on food stamps. Tina retorts with hard truths about poverty that point to Blake’s cluelessness and presumptions. Blake is chastened and apologetic. He’s also nicer and more down-to-earth than Tina expected. He has the hots for her and she for him. He proposes a “trade,” to learn something about each other: swap lives. He lives in her unheated converted-garage apartment on her budget and she gets his Tesla, condo, and a hefty allowance. For Blake, he gets to be close to Tina while anonymity helps him figure out a “problem” plaguing him. Tina reciprocates the attraction, but also sees an opportunity to help her family. Continue reading