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.
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.
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