After an excess of mystery-reading, I was ready for some romance. And you can’t get more of a romance-concentration than in an HP. And Dani Collins being one of my favourite HP authors, I was set. I stayed up way past my bed-time to finish A Hidden Heir To Redeem Him and it wasn’t because it blew me away. Rather, there’s something so viscerally satisfying in the HP that even a less-than-stellar effort from a favourite author keeps you glued to the page. Is it over-the-top-ness? Is it every wish-fulfillment fantasy for safety and devotion? Is it pure escapism and thus a respite from this surreal, frightening year? Probably all of the above. Hidden Heir hit the notes, but Collins didn’t always hit them as perfectly as her Cinderella’s Royal Seduction, which is as perfect an HP as Sarah Morgan’s Playing By the Greek’s Rules or Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife. These three titles distill the best of the HP. They’re tightly focus on the couple’s relationship. A Hidden Heir, on the other hand, lost its way when the hero’s and heroine’s painful backgrounds overwhelmed their romance.
After a work-week from hell, a well-done HP is exactly what can set the mood right and tilt the world back towards HEA in one intense, short take. Dani Collins, a fellow-Canuck, is becoming one of my favourite HP authors. With category romance out of its Golden Age, and taking one step forward and two back trying to remake itself, the good ole HP, as practised by Collins, Smart, Hayward, maybe Hewitt, still stands sentinel to the category virtues.
Collins’s The Maid’s Spanish Secret is open to Romancelandia’s cognoscenti’s derision: secret baby! virginal heroine! emotionally-stunted bazillionaire hero! exotic locales! (Saskatchewan’s Northern Lights!) yet Collins manages to make it fresh, endearing, intense, with tongue-in-cheek banter and wit.
On a European vacation, Poppy Harris, aspiring photographer, loses her money and takes a job as a maid for a Spanish billionaire’s mother. Said billionaire, Rico Montero, the day his arranged-marriage fiancée breaks their engagement, gives in to the attraction he’s had for the maid and the maid for him and they make passionate love in the solarium. Continue reading
When I think about how much I’ve loved category romance and how much of that love has diminished, I do thank the romance gods for Marion Lennox. Though I didn’t love her last romance, she’s come back in signature form in Cinderella and the Billionaire. Like Betty Neels and maybe Carla Kelly, Lennox has a set of romance elements that speak to me, never feel formulaic or repetitive, and put romance in the best of lights. There’s a man; there’s a woman, neither of whom are very happy, nor terribly unhappy. There’s a dog, or a child, or a vulnerable need somewhere. They answer the call of caring for another, or the land, or work that needs to be done. Their journey is funny, and touching, and painful, in the way that coming alive and feeling things after an emotional hibernation is. In Cinderella and the Billionaire, Matt MacLennan is “one semireclusive billionaire” who brings one grieving-7-year-old boy to Australia to give him over to his grandmother’s care, after his mother (Matt’s employee) is killed in an accident. (Matt had seen Henry around the office, as his mother worked all hours and grew to feel liking and sympathy for him.) Henry’s grandmother, Peggy’s care lives on an isolated Australian island. Matt needs to hire a private boat to reach it. In comes one skipper fisherwoman, heroine, Meg O’Hara, whose boss hands them a ramshackle boat named “Bertha,” the last of his meagre, dilapidated fleet, with which to reach Peggy’s Garnett Island. Continue reading
Michelle Smart beautifully parallels the Cinderella fairy tale in the second volume of the Cinderella Seductions series, The Greek’s Pregnant Cinderella. Tabitha Brigstock toils in Vienna’s Basinas Palace Hotel as a cleaner after her evil stepmother and beloved father’s widow, seizes control of her wealth and property and kicks her out of the Oxfordshire family home. Tabitha’s fairy godmother comes in the form of a wealthy elderly Basinas Palace Hotel denizen, Amelia Coulter. In appreciation of Tabitha’s care and company when Amelia was ill, she gifts Tabitha with a Basinas-hosted 40 000-euro Viennese ball ticket, and a dress and shoes fit for a princess. Widower and billionaire Giannis Basinas takes one look at Tabitha (he insists on describing her as “exquisite,” which annoyed me to no end; I have a feral spinster antipathy for the word) and is enchanted. They dance, drink champagne, and share a passionate night. In the morning, while Giannis makes coffee to share with Tabitha, she sneaks away. Giannis is angry and hurt, but in the weeks ahead, can’t get Tabitha out of his mind. Continue reading
Sometimes you need a shot of pure romance and the HP delivers. I went for one of the many TBR ARC HPs I have knocking around, Caitlin Crews’s Untamed Billionaire’s Innocent Bride and got what I was looking for; the HP recipe: eye-rolling premise and plot, standard-fare hero and heroine, and heart-tugging romance experience.
Personal assistant to billionaire Matteo Combe trudges through a Hungarian forest in high heels and red cape to lure a beast out of its lair. Said beast is Matteo’s long-lost half-brother Dominick James, the product of their mother’s foolish youth, abandoned to the miseries of an orphanage, the Italian streets and eventually the army. Though Dominick is wealthy in his own right (the ubiquitous security company having earned him $$$$$$$$), he chooses to keep his own counsel and company in this forest. When Lauren pounds on his cabin door and is granted entry, the inevitable visceral lust-response follows, “lust at first sight”. (Except for the niggling sense that neither Lauren nor Dominick has ever reacted to a man or woman this way before! *gasp*) Lauren tries to convince Dominick to return to England with her to take his place in the Combe family and claim his inheritance. In the interim, she’s going to give his wild, rough, gorgeous ways, a make-over. I must say I did get a kick out of this HP role reversal: it’s usually the heroine who gets the grooming and clothes update.
I’m enjoying Michelle Smart’s conceit in her latest HP series: “Cinderella” heroine and wealthy hero, especially because the Cinderella brings the “prince” to his feet. In Smart’s latest, A Cinderella To Secure His Heir, the Cinderella in question is 24-year-old Beth Hardingstone, a product of the foster system who made a career out of event planning. She has fallen on hard times, however, because she had to leave her job to care for baby Dom, entrusted to her after the death of best friend and fellow fosteree, Caroline Palvetti. Dom’s father, Domenico, also dead, in a motorcycle accident, is the hero’s, Alessio Palvetti’s, estranged older brother “RIP”.
When the novel opens, Alessio has deceived Beth into coming to Vienna, for quite a sum of money, to organize a Viennese ball for Alessio’s business partner and friend. Under the guise of working as Alessio’s assistant, Valente Cortada, aka Alessio himself, arranged for Beth’s job and transport, with baby Dom in tow. Thankfully, Valente reveals his identity pronto and moves to Phase 2 of his plan: threaten Beth with fighting her for Dom’s custody (a nebulous claim, but hey, it’s an HP and I’ll bypass laws and last wishes if I want to) unless she marry him. Continue reading
Given a weakness for bhangra music and Indian food, also a hot cover, I was eager to read Nisha Sharma’s first adult romance, The Takeover Effect, the first of a trilogy. I wasn’t keen on its corporate setting and it turns out there’s a lot of “corporating,” but I hoped the, sadly because scarce, unique Sikh ethos would make up for what it lacked in premise. Hemdeep “Hem” Singh, estranged son of Deepak, returns to the family fold when his father’s digital empire, Bharat, Inc., is threatened by a hostile takeover; hence, the title. Hem finds his family in disarray. Deepak has suffered a heart attack and Hem’s brothers, CEO Ajay, and West coast R&D, Zail, are scrambling to deal with the crisis. Into this critical period in their company’s future walks heroine, Mina Kohli, hired by the board, as a neutral party, to oversee the takeover details. What the Singhs do not know is that Mina’s Uncle Sanjeev has told Mina she’s to rule in favour of the takeover, thus serving his nefarious interests. What does Sanjeev hold over her?
My dear friend “Shallow Reader,” loves Dani Collins and that’s rec enough for me. After the intensity of Griffiths’s Stranger Diaries and especially its Victorian-gothic length, I was happy to read a snappy category romance. Snap it did, Ms Collins’s Innocent’s Nine-Month Scandal, with my favourite kind of HP heroine, kind, generous, plain-Jane, funny, and a deliciously broody hero, not too annoyingly domineering, but definitely in the strong, caretaker arena.
Collins’s plot was HP-fare ludicrous. Rozalia Toth is in Budapest looking to find the mate to her grandmother’s earring, given to grammy, in troth, by her true-love during what may be (Collins doesn’t make this explicit) the uprising of ’56? Sadly, gram’s true-love succumbed in the riots and she travelled to America, pregnant and destitute, where she made a marriage-of-convenience with one Benedick Barsi. As grammy is now getting on, Rozalia wants to give her the chance to see the earrings as a pair. Many convoluted family connections are discussed between hero and heroine, but I admit I didn’t give them much attention. Plot isn’t why one reads an HP. Continue reading
Just when I think I’m done with the HP, Michelle Smart comes along with The Sicilian’s Bought Cinderella and hauls me back in …
The HP is romance at its most undiluted and when it’s good, it’s totally sigh-worthy immersive. The last two greats I read were Sarah Morgan’s Playing By the Greek’s Rules (possibly my favourite HP ever) and Caitlin Crews’s Bride By Royal Decree. Smart is a contender thanks to this latest. In typical HP fashion, the premise is ludicrous, the trope-ishness over the top … and reading it, sheer delight. Bought Cinderella opens with hero Dante Moncado in Palermo. He’s fuming over an aborted business deal. Billionaire Riccardo D’Amore won’t let his son, Alessio, sign a deal with Dante because Dante lives fast and loose with women. He’s a player and a playboy. He’s also grieving his father’s death, conflicted though he is about a dad who was both loving and loyal, yet gambled and needed Dante’s constant bailouts. Dante’s called to his abandoned childhood home, a cottage he can’t seem to give up, because an intruder was detected. Continue reading
Jennifer Hayward’s Married For His One-Night Heir started out very conventionally HP-ish, but that’s not how it developped, or where it ended up, though I assure you the HEA is front and centre. I like to pepper my reading with the occasional HP, especially when it’s written by a writer as adept as Hayward (gosh, I do miss Morgan’s HPs). And this appeared, at first, to give me the same-same. Warning to those who don’t like’em: heroine Giovanna “Gia” Castiglione, aka De Luca, has been hiding out in the Bahamas with her three-year-old son Leo after her mobster husband Franco was killed in Las Vegas. Leo, however, is not Franco’s son, but the hero’s, Santo Di Fiore’s. When Santo and Gia reunite at a party given by Gia’s boss, Delilah Rothschild, it isn’t long before Santo figures out that Leo is his son, the result of one passionate night with Gia. The morning after that night, despite Santo’s pleas to defy her mobster father and stay with him, Gia left, scared for Santo, scared for herself, and in thrall to her dangerous, powerful father.