Continuing with my category romance reading for Wendy’s TBR Challenge 2022 I was happy to see this month’s fairy-tale theme. After all, what are romance novels but fairy tale retellings? And what is closer to fantasy and wish-fulfillment than the HP category romance? Which is why I chose to read Caitlin Crews’s The Man Behind the Scars. When an HP is done right, you stay up reading till past your it’s-a-work-day bedtime, as I did with Crews’s little HP gem. It’s over-the-top and groans under the weight of its melodrama, but I enjoyed it. Is the premise ludicrous? Yes, that’s what makes it fun. The scarred hero, Rafe McFarland, eighth Earl of Pembroke, is lurking in the shadows of a society wedding when Angel Tilson, “former model and tabloid darling,” spots him. On the lookout for a rich husband, one waltz later, Rafe and Angel are engaged! She needs money and he, an heir. Before you know it, they’re ensconced in Rafe’s “remote Scottish estate” as husband and wife and the interplay of two lonely people who feel unworthy of love prove how much they deserve it. (more…)
Meh. I can’t say I loved this, but Kleypas always manages to keep me reading and I was entertained. The heroine, Pandora, was amusing and Gabriel, her hero, matched her wit for wit, banter for banter. Moreover, Gabriel is eldest son to Sebastian and Evie, my favourite Kleypas couple in my favourite Kleypas romance, Devil In Winter. Catching glimpses of their latter married years was one of the novel’s delights, but it didn’t make up for a narrative that splits right down the middle with an entertaining first half and an eye-rolling, here-we-go-again second. Here’s the back-cover blurb:
Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger. After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught-by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain. After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy—and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven . . .
I did so enjoy my latest Betty read, The Little Dragon. I especially appreciated the non-OW conflict. Instead, we have a heroine (who skips!) with an unreasonable hatred of wealth. Utterly unconvincing because she reaps its benefits when the hero throws delicious dinners and beautiful clothes her way. But I don’t want to make Constantia sound like a hypocrite. She’s just not terribly smart and can’t recognize either the irony of her position, or the evidence of her husband’s wealth! (That it’s a marriage-of-convenience-troped romance made it all the better for me.) It’s a bit silly, but I loved the dynamic between Constantia and Jeroen and its accompanying Betty accoutrements: food, flowers, clothes, treats, cuddle-able animals, adorable children, extended warm family, a beautiful, graceful home (where hot drinks are served in Meissen cups), and a gargantuan, handsome doctor-hero who is described with my favourite Betty adjective, “placid,” and whose actions are accompanied by the adverb, “lazily”. He even smiles “lazily”! He is the ideal of Betty safety and security, comfort and strength; when Constantia gazes at him, she sees someone who is “solid and safe and very handsome”. I loved how Betty conveyed the hero’s kindness, through acts and second-hand. The children tell Constantia about the new doggie addition to the household, magnificently named “Prince,” given his humble beginnings: “Oom Jeroen found him in a ditch and brought him home to live with us.”
The Little Dragon is standard Neels fare. The blurb summary:
She swore she would never marry a rich man! As a private nurse to wealthy spoiled people, Constantia had seen the misery too much money could bring. Jeroen van der Giessen, though, was only a poor overworked G. P., so when she found herself stranded in Delft without money or passport, and Jeroen offered marriage, Constantia accepted. At first she was quite happy with her loveless marriage, though she thought Jeroen was being recklessly extravagant–until she began to discover things, about herself and him, that took away all her new-found happiness… (more…)
I didn’t expect to enjoy Hoyt’s When A Rogue Meets His Match as much as I did. Greycourt #1 wasn’t super-great and great is what I expect of Hoyt, The Raven and Leopard Princes being some of the first enthrallingly good romances I read when I returned to the genre. (Their only match, IMHO, is Duke of Sin.) I read When A Rogue Meets His Match in less than two days, partly because I greatly enjoyed the cross-class romance, reminiscent of Marrying Winterborne, and partly because it fell short, pun intended, in the conclusion department. To start us off, some blurbish summary:
Ambitious, sly, and lethally intelligent, Gideon Hawthorne has spent his life clawing his way up from the gutter. For the last ten years, he’s acted as the Duke of Windemere’s fixer, performing the most dangerous tasks without question. Now Gideon’s ready to quit the duke’s service and work solely for himself. But Windermere wants Gideon to complete one last task, and his reward is impossible to resist: Messalina Greycourt’s hand in marriage. Witty, vivacious Messalina Greycourt has her pick of suitors. When Windermere summons Messalina to inform his niece that she must marry Mr. Hawthorne, she is appalled. But she’s surprised when Gideon offers her a compromise: as long as she plays the complacent wife, he promises to leave her alone until she asks for his touch. Since Messalina is confident that she’ll never ask Gideon for anything, she readily agrees. However, the more time she spends with Gideon, the harder it is to stay away. (more…)
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…)
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.
In these days of coronavirus isolation (I’m blessed to be healthy for the time being and hope you, Miss Bates’s readers, are well), a diverting, witty book is the best of companions, offering respite, amusement, and the hope that we will, once more, “embrace one another joyously” (as we chant in my church on Pascha). Such is Kate Bateman’s first in her new series, “Bow Street Bachelors,” This Earl of Mine. It’s light, fresh, engaging, and written with ease and a lovely flow. It is premised on my favourite histrom trope, marriage-of-convenience, which, in truth, if it’s well done, should turn into a marriage-of-inconvenience when those pesky feels come into play for hero and heroine. This Earl of Mine captivated me from the opening scene: wealthy cit-heiress, Georgianna “Georgie” Caversteed, has arranged to marry a Newgate condemned convict to put an end, once and for all, to her cousin Josiah’s, among others, constant, persistent, and unwelcome forays into acquiring her fortune for himself, or as Georgie thinks, “Better a temporary marriage to a murderous, unwashed criminal than a lifetime of misery with Josiah.” A convenient marriage and subsequent widowhood, while Georgie hightails it to her Lincolnshire estate, will ensure her independence of person and fortune. Instead, she marries undercover Bow Street runner and impoverished second son, Bendict “Ben” William Henry Wylde, Etonian and formerly of the “Rifles” during the Napoleonic Wars. It is a most engaging opening scene when Georgie notes, despite the grime and overlong hair, how handsome, strong, and confident her husband is, he of the teasing, twinkling eyes and “broad shoulders, wide chest, and long legs.” (more…)
Three romance novels saw me DNF them because of their opening scene: Mary Balogh’s The Secret Pearl; Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Nobody’s Baby But Mine; and, Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened. In time, I returned to all three and loved them. We can add a fourth, Lopez’s début, Lush Money. All four open with a scene where one or both of the protagonists are morally comprised; we see the them at their worst. All four involve a scene where the body is exchanged for money, or services, where the “other” is objectified and exploited. It is most interesting that in three of the four, including Lopez’s, the hero is objectified. What Lopez brings to the table is a flip to the classic HP ethos: the billionaire, in this case, the heroine, Roxanne Medina, “buys” Prince Mateo Esperanza’s, the hero’s, services to make her dream baby and cement her business empire. They marry, business-like, and “meet” once a month over a three-day period when Roxanne ovulates. So, what’s in it for Mateo? (more…)
I always approach a new-to-me author with trepidation; like Captain Wentworth, I am “half agony, half hope”. Matthews did not disappoint, however; au contraire, I may, with a heavy heart for my least favourite rom-heat-designation, “closed-bedroom-door,” have discovered another historical romance autobuy.
Reading Matthews’s The Work Of Art, I was pleasantly surprised, often delighted, definitely engaged, and intellectually stimulated. In a nutshell, for the most part, I loved it. The play on the heroine as a “work of art,” the “My Last Duchess” allusions, and the tropish-goodness of marriage-of-convenience drove me to request the title. What kept me reading, however, was everything Matthews did with it. The premise in and of itself is compelling: zoophilic, penniless, and orphaned heroine, Miss Phyllida Satterthwaite, is brought to London by her uncle and heir to her beloved grandfather’s estate, Mr. Edgar Townsend, to début and put on the aristocratic Regency ton’s marriage mart. A generous gesture on his part, perhaps. But Philly is a deeply introverted young woman who prefers walking her dogs (various injured and decrepit strays she rescued over the years), reading, playing pianoforte, over balls and gossip. She finds a kindred spirit in one of her uncle’s guests, the hermetic former soldier, Captain Arthur Heywood, beloved second son, who keeps his own counsel, and still suffers physical and emotional war wounds.
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. (more…)