When Miss Bates started reading Hewitt’s Forced Bride Of Alazar, she was not pleased. Alazar‘s title, premise, and set-up left much to be desired, but HPs are Miss Bates reading-snack of choice, she loves Hewitt, and she persisted. There isn’t much to recommend Alazar‘s opening. Johara Behar’s arranged marriage to Malik al Bahjat was dissolved when Malik’s long-lost love, secret baby, and kidnapped older brother showed up. For a few days, Johara enjoys the possibility of steering her life her way. To date, she’s lived quietly in Provence with her mother. She reads, tends her garden, and creates plant-based cures for a variety of ailments. Hewitt’s Johara is a classic introvert. Her hopes and dreams of a free life are shattered, however, when her father informs her that the broken engagement has been reinstated with the new Sultan, the long-lost brother Azim. You’re probably thinking, this is standard HP fare, what got Miss Bates’s goat? Patience, dear reader.
Miss Bates is a fan of Gifford’s medieval-set romances. Rumors is set among the machinations and intrigue of Edward III’s court. One of Gifford’s many appeals is her hero’s and heroine’s place among royalty and aristocracy. Though not of peasant descent, they are always subject to the whims of the royals they serve. Decisions are made for them, even by benign lords and masters such as the ones featured in Rumors.
The romance opens as John of Gaunt, Edward III’s third son, marries Constance of Castile and becomes, in potentia, King of Castile (once he wins it back from the present king). Gifford’s hero, Sir Gilbert Wolford is a man of war who yearns to return to Castile, retake the kingdom, and make his life there. Gifford’s heroine is the widowed Lady Valerie Scargill. John decides one of his greatest warriors, Gilbert, should marry, and who better than the genteel Lady Valerie. Valerie and Gilbert both have reasons for being averse to this marriage, but the royal’s word is law and their lives not their own. They agree to marry, despite the emotional impediments to their marriage becoming a love-match.
Miss Bates is a loyal reader to certain romance writers because they offer engaging romance about goodness: Liz Fielding, Marion Lennox, Carla Kelly, Jessica Hart, and Kate Hewitt. Their heroes and heroines may be melancholic, mistaken, even sharp at times, but they are fundamentally good – decent, caring, and kind. No one is smarmy, no one is mean, and no one dominates. It’s fair to ask if this makes their books, their characters, humdrum? Miss Bates would argue not because they create characters who are good people with plenty of personality. The dialogue is strong; the inner conflicts, believable; and the romance, of the sigh variety. When MissB reaches the end, she is replete with reader satisfaction.
Such a book is Liz Fielding’s The Sheikh’s Convenient Princess. The premise is outlandish, but Fielding’s hero and heroine are believably fleshy, in their dilemmas, give-and-take and back-and-forth witty banter, serious sharing, charming flirtations, and deepening affection. When we meet Sheikh Bram Ansari, he is “disgraced, disinherited, and exiled.” Youthful shenanigans led his father to disinherit him and put his younger brother on the throne, a younger brother who also married Bram’s arranged fiancée, Safia. Enter Ruby Dance, exclusive, much-sought-after, lauded temporary PA. Bram may not have seen kith or kin in five years, but he cleaned up his act and is now a billionaire. He can afford Ruby Dance. Continue reading
Miss Bates was conflicted reading Duran’s latest, A Lady’s Code Of Misconduct, her responses a roller-coaster of dips and climbs of disappointment or enthusiasm. Misconduct contains Duran’s signature themes: trust, conscience, identity, wealth, class, ambition, power, and how they mesh, shift, and change as two people who start out one way make their way to their better selves because they discover they love the other.
To start, Duran’s narrative takes a convoluted route, opening with a compelling scene and then flashback to bring us the sequence of events leading to it. A man in his prime, a Victorian MP, Crispin Burke, lies dying of a head wound in his parents’ London house. Charlotte, his sister, brings a young woman to his death-bed, a woman who is familiar, yet he’s ignorant of their relationship. Jane Burke, née Mason, announces she is his wife.
Duran then takes us three months prior: filling in Crispin and Jane’s unholy alliance, bred of coercion, manipulation, and expediency. Duran’s plot starts and remains tangled. Crispin and Jane have been long-acquainted: Crispin, a frequent visitor to Jane’s uncle’s, her guardian’s, estate. Allied by ambition, Crispin and Uncle Philip shared a politics of personal gain. They’re not friends, nor loyal, content to use each other for political gain. Duran sets up the villainy: by pointing to how people, without love, see the other as an object, used for personal advancement. Continue reading
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.
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.
MissB’s been very busy at the day-job and preparing for Pascha to get a lot of reading done. Though it’s seasonally months-late and incongruous given the Paschal season, she thought she’d try one of her not-yet-reviewed Christmas romances. Maybe get that warm glow of hope going. And … novellas, short reads are good when your time is at a premium. Yet it still took her ages to get through them, despite being possessed of some of Miss B’s favourite tropes. St. John’s “Mistletoe Reunion” has a proto-feminist, no-nonsense alternative medicine doctor-heroine, Dr. Marlys Boyd, and the man she left to be educated and practice her profession, newspaperman and widowed father, Sam Mason. Theirs is a reunited-fiancé(e)s romance with doubt and hurt on the hero’s part and a reassessment of her life-choices on the heroine’s. Shackelford’s “Mistletoe Bride” is a marriage-of-convenience romance, Miss B’s favourite histrom trope. Newly-arrived Austrian immigrant mail-order bride, Beatrix Haas, arrives in Cowboy Creek, Kansas, only to be told that the man she was to marry, Sheriff Quincy Davis, was killed by a local gang. When farrier-hero Colton Werner meets her, it’s because he’s been summoned by the mid-wife to help translate from Beatrix’s German as she labors to give birth. Beatrix travelled to Kansas to give her baby a name and Quincy Davis, it seems, was willing to do so. Now, the realization that she’s near-death and her baby to be born thus and left without a care-giver is devastating. Until Colton offers to marry her, even knowing she might die and he left with an infant’s care. Continue reading
It seems appropriate that Miss Bates open her reviewing year with one of her favourite contemporary romance writers. Maisey Yates’s Tough Luck Hero is part of that sprawling fictional Oregon town that Yates has created around the Garretts and Wests, as well as various inter-connected denizens. Yates’s Copper Ridge tales have yet to grow stale or pale. Some are stronger than others, but each one is a necessary part of Yates’s compellingly woven whole. (Brokedown Cowboy remains Miss Bates’s unwavering favourite.) Copper Ridge is a place of mountainous and sea-set beauty, complicated family dynamics, and the small-town warp and weft of stricture and support. With every book, Copper Ridge grows, as the lonely and disparate find someone special. The road to love, commitment, and many babies, however, is fraught with Yates’s particular vision of what falling in love and committing entail: a crap-load of resistance and torment. Tough Luck Hero‘s hero, town Golden-Boy Colton West, really has had a run of terrible luck. Mayoral candidate Lydia Carpenter is sitting pretty … until Colton and sympathy shots at Ace’s bar see her luck run out too.
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.
A Family For the Holidays is the third Sherri Shackelford romance Miss Bates has read and she can say with confidence that Shackelford gets better and better. Miss Bates liked the first one, with misgivings; loved the second; and the third is a charm for auto-buy territory. One of the reasons Shackelford’s romances are getting better is because they’re funnier, without losing the pathos and sentiment romance readers enjoy. A Family For the Holidays reminded Miss Bates of her favourite HPs, Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife and Sarah Morgan’s Playing By the Greek’s Rules. You’ll rightly think, dear reader, what a strange pairing: the contemporary HP with the historical inspie. And yet … like the HPs, Shackelford’s romance has an orphaned, irrepressible, blithely-plunging-into-danger, child-loving heroine and broody, alpha-male hero who turns to putty in the heroine’s small, vulnerable hands, a heroine who grows in bravery and élan and hero who learns how to tap into the pleasures of the heart. Like Graham’s and Morgan’s HPs, Shackelford’s romance is a hoot! The characters aren’t drippy the way inspie characters can be, the plot moppets neither pathetic nor corny. They and Lily beset the hero’s space and heart with their energy and humour until they dissolve his good-bad-and-ugly, cheroot-chewing persona. Continue reading