There comes a time when a reader and a category must part ways and with this, Lynne Graham’s Cinderella’s Royal Secret, the time has come for me and the HP. If you’re looking for the HP’s requisite elements, they’re here, but their mix is a recipe gone bad, or my taste for them is off. Either way, I’m out. The only thing I still enjoyed about Graham was her humour, definitely evident, the rest was meh and way too much telling over showing to bring this baby to baby-filled post-HEA bliss. It started out all right, again because it was funny. Prince Rafiq is in Oxford to inaugurate something. Back home in the mythical kingdom of Zenara, the days are numbered before he must take another wife (yes, even though he’s only 28, this would be wife #2; the first one conveniently dead; they married when he was 16, squeeky-yucky detail #1 among others). Izzy Campbell is the chambermaid at his hotel, toiling at toilettes to finish her teaching degree and help her prodigal parents and twin sister (who also toils) to care for her disabled baby brother. It’s a misery-fest, but this family is CHEERFUL. Rafiq walks out of the bathroom as Izzy enters the hotel suite with her cleaning cart and it’s lust-at-first-sight. They have dinner, fall into bed, and, lo and behold, though Rafiq is infertile, Izzy is on the pill (were it not for those pesky anti-biotics and a butterfly stomach of subsequent heaving and puking, well, it could’ve worked) … tara! Broken condom and a few months later, Izzy makes her way to Zenara to tell Rafiq he’s going to be a father … twins no less. Miracle of miracles, his very own babies … Rafiq and Izzy must marry … and you know the rest. (more…)
It’s been said ad infinitum that the HP is rom at its most elemental, most “ur”, most wild-fantasy implausibility. Rom-readers who love their crazysauce HP tolerate, excuse, overlook, and forgive many elements they 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 tapped 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 secret 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.
Miss Bates is not a fan of sheikhs, or secret babies (babies yes, but not the secret ones). She loved Graham’s The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain, the first rom in the series, and wanted to read the second to learn about the heroine’s sister, Chrissie. Lizzie Whitaker, of Bridal Bargain, noticed her university student sister looking sad and stressed in a way she knows is not related to her studies. The reason why is evident in The Sheikh’s Secret Babies; she married Prince Jaul, future king of the Middle Eastern kingdom of Marwan, in haste and repented at leisure, strapped for cash and pregnant. The novel opens four years later with Jaul contemplating marriage to Zaliha, a woman he doesn’t love who will be good for his reign and people. Cue ta-da music … Bandar, his legal advisor, informs him he’s still married to Chrissie. Jaul pegged Chrissie as a “mercenary, hard-hearted” “gold-digger,” after she accepted his father’s five-million-pound bribe to desert him. Little did he know Chrissie was destitute and pregnant in London (after he left for Marwan without her) until Lizzie and Cesare came to her and soon-to-be-born twins rescue. Though Chrissie doesn’t deserve it, Jaul thinks the decent thing to do is go to London, inform Lizzie about their still-married state, and ask for a divorce. 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 has a weakness for heroines who rule with their chin … a chin described as defiant, stubborn, mutinous, obstinate. The thesaurus yields a world of possibilities. This perception of willfulness is the hero’s interpretation of the heroine’s personality. He knows better, thinks better, and it’s to the heroine’s benefit that she submit to his greater wisdom. BUT her usually stubborn little chin (body language is all in the romance novel, folks) goes up, or down, depending on whether her eyes spark defiance, or her brows lower with disobedience, and boom, she asserts her will … against the hero’s better judgement. No romance category is more subject to these interactions than the charged emotions, reactions, and interactions of the HP (no longer exclusive to Harlequin, of course, but most easily associated with it). In Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife, Miss Bates found the most delightfully truculent heroine she’s read since early Julie Garwood, though Miss Bates would argue that Garwood’s heroines are oblivious over truculent (that’s for another post). As for Graham’s HP masterpiece, what could be more appealing than the chin-leading truculence of a doughy heroine named Pudding? Continue reading