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
Miss Bates loves the 1963 film, Love With the Proper Stranger, Angie Rossini and Rocky Papasano’s one-night-stand story (Wood and McQueen are wonderful). Angie lives with her widowed mother and brothers and is constrained by their control over her life. In an act of rebellion, she sleeps with Rocky and thereafter realizes she’s pregnant. Angie seeks Rocky to ask for help to pay for an abortion and he agrees. They spend several days together making arrangements. Two things happen: the day of, in a place sordid and frightening, Rocky stops Angie from going through with the abortion; and, Angie and Rocky reluctantly grow to know and like one another. There’s no insta-love. Rocky begrudgingly asks her to marry. Angie refuses and, yes, he has a hard time with that. It spurs his interest, however. (Another aspect to the film that is interesting is how Rocky and Angie want to escape the stifling atmosphere of their overly protective but strong-on-the-family-loyalty Italian-American clans.) The film ends with Angie’s “upper hand.” The possibility of an HEA is there, but not the surety. Angie is vindicated. Miss Bates loved Angie: determined to forge a life for herself, uncompromising in her desire for love and independence, resolved to marry on her terms, not her family’s or Rocky’s, or not marry at all. She is fearless and glowingly beautiful mama material, this Macy’s shop-girl barely scraping a living.
Miss Bates suspects that Mira Lyn Kelly aimed for the same effect in Waking Up Pregnant. Unlike the 1963 film, the 2014 novel doesn’t manage this as successfully. Miss Bates enjoyed reading it, thought it well-written, with innocuously sympathetic leads; however, its ethos was conventional and she couldn’t help comparing it, and it coming up short, to a film over 50 years old. It is a novel with a situation similar to that of Sarah Mayberry’s More Than One Night, which is not a Mayberry novel that received the attention it deserved, but Miss Bates liked it very MUCH. Kelly makes all the right noises for her heroine, Darcy, wanting independence and finding herself pregnant after a one-night stand; at least initially, makes her hero, Jeff, if not reluctant, then gobsmacked. But what’s most interesting about Stranger’s Rocky and One Night’s Rhys is their reluctance for insta-love for the heroine. They’re responsible and decent, but man, this is not where they want to be. The development of how they end up wanting to be there, as dads and husbands, is so much more believable and natural than the utterly-smitten-I’m-all-in-all-the-time Jeff. Romance novels are to a certain extent, yes, fantasies and Jeff’s sheer goodness, sexiness, and emotional open-ness are attractive, just not terribly compelling. It’s not as much fun when the hero doesn’t have far to fall (do check out Stranger‘s Rocky and his near-clownish antics at the end). Darcy too is an etiolated version of the Amazonian Angie. She pays lip-service to a “feisty” independence, but never enacts it. What does Waking Up Pregnant have going for it? Continue reading to find out