The distance in time from my last review, on April 26th, and today, the eve of a new month, feels like a lifetime. I wrote my Yates review Friday morning and spent that afternoon and evening and the week-end in church, experiencing the magnificent journey of the Eastern Orthodox Pascha. I cannot describe how meditative and profound is the experience, at the same time as it’s joyful and renewing. Every year, these few days are a precious time of juxtaposition to the mundane world of work, taxes, and a city going about its business without consideration of the enclaves of worship occurring in it. I like that feeling of being in a protected space out of time (even while I was aware of how blessed I was, given that miles away, in Sri Lanka, safe spaces were devastated). More than anything, the Holy Week of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection is the privilege of entering into a profound, endlessly-giving Narrative. I always take this time to think about what sustains my spirit, other than, obviously my faith, which I rarely mention on this blog. And will not be making a habit of … but it does connect to my social media Lenten fast and why I write this blog.
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
There are two romance authors I read for the sake of sinking into their familiar world: Betty Neels (I’m in the process of reading ALL her books, presently on 24 of 134) and Maisey Yates, incredibly prolific both. Do their books blend together and I don’t remember hide nor hair of any particular one? Absolutely. And yet, I can’t quit them. Neels and Yates, unlike in every way, share a deep, profound, abiding theme: no matter how chaste the Neels romance or carnal the Yates, the connection between hero and heroine is mystical, inevitable, and sacred. They are meant for each other: their bodies know this before reason accepts and acknowledges. Love is a realization arriving in an epiphanic moment. In Neels, the heroine believes the hero couldn’t possibly love her undeserving self, but she loves him; the hero, older, wiser, and more knowing, knows from their introduction the heroine will be his wife. In Yates, love is an agon, a passion, a difficult birth, many layers of ego, hurt, and lack of faith and hope must be divested for a character, more often than not the hero, to admit his love and need for the heroine. Once he does, however, his devotion, love, and protection are his sole purpose. The Neels and Yates worlds? One quieter, on the surface more conservative; the other, created out of the passions of the flesh and a tender antagonism.
Though I’m suspicious of new-to-me authors, I was willing to give Janice Preston a try because: a) MOC is my favourite trope and b) the word “highland” in the title always evokes a frisson of excitement and anticipation. What I found was an enjoyable, uneven romance. But, first, to the plotty details!
Because His Convenient Highland Wedding is the first of a four-book, four-author series centring around a mystery, Preston’s novel opens with a silly scene of the heroine’s discovery of a creepy tower and mysterious brooch. Flash-forward seven years and heroine Lady Flora McCrieff, having refused the lecherous old goat her father had arranged for her to marry (important to saving the straitened family estate) is in disgrace with fortune and her family’s eyes. To make up for her refusal to save the family fortune and marry within her class, her father compels her to marry second-best, wealthy but from lowly beginnings whiskey-baron Lachlan McNeill. Lachlan is looking to make inroads to the aristocracy for his whiskey and hopes Flora will help him achieve his goal. Little does he know, Flora is in social purgatory …
After Kingston’s intense, lengthy Desire Lines, I needed a romance palate cleanser and Liz Fielding’s signature gently-created world was the perfect choice. Though I fulfilled my wish for bluebell gardens, charmingly crumbling castles, and cute dogs, Fielding’s The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride also delivered an emotional punch. An ominous note rang from scene one. Kam Faulkner arrives at Priddy Castle with humiliating memories and a desire for revenge against heroine Agnès Prideaux. Agnès and Kam had grown up together, running wild and free on castle grounds and surrounding land and water. Later, as teens, their childhood bond was complicated by physical attraction. But the cook’s son and castle “princess” was a love that could not be; when Agnès’s grandfather caught wind of it, he fired Kam’s mother, winning Kam’s resentment and hatred. Kam and his mother had to leave their sole home and income source. In the intervening years, Kam worked hard and achieved huge financial success. Continue reading
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
Untouched Queen by Royal Command is the latest in Kelly Hunter’s “Claimed by a King” series for Mills and Boon Modern/Harlequin Presents. All the books feature royalty in various made-up countries which appear to be located more or less in the Balkans, as far as I can work out. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books: Shock Heir for the Crown Prince and Convenient Bride for the King, so I had pre-ordered Untouched Queen by Royal Command.
I was not entirely prepared for what I got.
In Untouched Queen, Hunter goes all out for high fantasy in this old-school category romance. There are hints of this in some of the back story in Shock Heir, but the central romances in both the previous books of the series are standard category tropes: secret baby and marriage of convenience. The royal settings are effectively evoked, with no more than the usual number of skeletons in closets. 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
Donna Alward’s follow-up to Best Man for the Wedding Planner has a premise worthy of Janice Kay Johnson, especially with a title like Secret Millionaire for the Surrogate. The Surrogate‘s premise is dependent on the first book: if you’d like to read both, then this might be a tad spoilerish, but it can’t be helped. At the end of Planner, when heroine Adele Hawthorne marries the reunited love of her life, Dan Brimicombe, her best friend and business partner, Harper McBride, offers her a gift of unusual, profound proportions – since Adele had a hysterectomy in her youth, Harper will carry a Dan-fertilized-Adele-egg for her. For Adele and Dan, it’s the completion of their dream and the three embark on making this come true. Adele and Dan’s wedding, however, also brings Drew Brimicombe, Dan’s younger brother, into Harper’s life, a man who travels the world, making his freedom and business interests the centres of his life. Nevertheless, “he was warm and funny and put people at ease” and Harper wants to be close to him. Drew, in turn, is blown away by Harper’s generosity, genuinely enjoys her company and is attracted to her. Harper is cautious with her heart, however, and kindly declines his invitation to spend some happy days together amidst the beauty of Banff. Continue reading
Donna Alward wrote some of my favourite category romances and seeing her back in “category-form” was most welcome. Alward writes romance for adults and it was disappointing to see her venture into imaginery-royal-kingdom territory in her past few books. While previous books have consistently been bedroom-tame, I think the classic Harlequin romance line results in a good fit.
Best Man for the Wedding Planner is book one of a two-book series, linked by the eponymous wedding planner, Adele “Delly” Hawthorne and her photographer best friend, Harper McBride. I was also delighted to see Alward set Wedding Planner in some of the most beautiful places in western Canada, heck, setting it in Canada alone is unusual and it made me so happy! Moreover, Wedding Planner sees Alward return to some familiar themes and draw her signature adult, mature, responsible characters, who nevertheless still manage to surprise the reader with their honesty and vulnerability. Ne’er is there a stupid misunderstanding or the shackles of bad parenting as explaining EVERYTHING there is to understand about a character’s obstacles to loving and being loved. There’s also the angst that Alward loves to write so well and there’s plenty of it in Wedding Planner, as Adele confronts the “best man” to her latest wedding venture, Dan Brimicombe, the man she loved and rejected eight years ago. Continue reading