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 a little 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, boring? Miss Bates would argue not because they create characters who are good people with plenty of personality. The dialogue is strong, the inner conflicts are believable, and the romance, well, it’s of the sigh variety. When MissB reaches the end, she is replete with sighs of 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, their give-and-take and back-and-forth of 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, temporary PA (when Bram’s right-hand-man is laid low by a skiing accident). Bram may not have seen kith nor kin in five years, but he’s cleaned up his act and is now a man worth billions. He can afford Ruby Dance. Continue reading
Maisey Yates’s The Last Di Sione Claims His Prize concludes the multi-author Di Sione family series. Apropos of being the last volume, it tells the story of Giovanni Di Sione’s eldest grandson, Alessandro “Alex”. It completes Giovanni’s journey to rediscover a lost love, while fulfilling his secret wish to guide each grandchild to love and commitment. Of the volumes Miss Bates has read, the series’ unifying premise never faltered in meaningfulness. Giovanni’s benign machinations and his grandchildren’s adventures to love and the fulfillment of their grandfather’s request were compelling. This is as true of His Prize as any of the others, though Hewitt’s A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure remains the best of the lot. Nevertheless, reading a Maisey Yates romance is never a loss for Miss Bates. Yates is consistently one of the genre’s finest practitioners, whether writing fantasy-driven HP, or closer-to-reality contemporary.
True to premise, Giovanni asks Alex to travel to Aceena in a “search-and-rescue/retrieve” operation to reunite him with a painting entitled “The Lost Love.” The painting, like the other lost and then recovered objects of Giovanni’s youth, is connected to a woman he left behind when he came to America to make his fortune. The portrait is in the possession of the disgraced, exiled royal family D’Oro. Though jaded and surly, Alex agrees to his grand-father’s request, aware of what he owes Giovanni – his upbringing, success, and most importantly, his rearing with love and care when Alex’s wastrel parents died in a car crash.
Miss Bates often wonders who can ever succeed Betty Neels in the rom-reader’s world of comfort reads? With every Marion Lennox she reads, she inches towards thinking that it might very well be Lennox. Not that Neels and Lennox have everything in common (the greatest difference being the reader’s access to the hero’s interiority) but they do share in the sheer decency, good eats, animals, and pathos of the worlds they create. These elements are present in Lennox’s Stepping Into the Prince’s World. And like last year’s Saving Maddie’s Baby, there’s much to love.
Lennox enjoys writing an accident, or disaster as the hero and heroine’s meet-cute. When Stepping Into the Prince’s World opens, disgruntled Special Forces soldier, Raoul de Castelaise, realizes he must leave the military he loves to take up the mantle of his native country’s, Marétal’s, rule. With his parents’ deaths when he was a child, his grand-parents have ruled while he dedicated himself to military service. He’s reluctant to return, but return he must. Before he does, however, he goes down to the Tasmanian port where he and his fellow soldiers had been conducting manoeuvres, and takes a friend’s boat out for a sail, is caught in a terrible storm, and rescued by Claire Tremaine. Continue reading
Miss Bates is at the mid-point of her heavy winter: the new parka’s lost its cachet and there are only so many cocoas you can drink. Her romance reading is a great winter sustainer and she’s had a run of good luck with darn good reads lately. The trusted HP, short enough to get through in a few evenings and yet so concentrated on the couple’s romantic journey that it really hits the escapist sweet spot, is a fave pic around this time of year. Jennifer Hayward’s Marrying Her Royal Enemy, third in the mythical Greek-speaking kingdoms of Akathinia and Carnelia series, tells the romantic journey of Akathinian Princess Stella Constantinides and her marriage-of-convenience Carnelian king, Kostas Laskos. Stella and Kostas share a fraught backstory. Their royal families of adjoining kingdoms spent time together, as children, teens, and into adulthood. Kostas’s friendship with Stella’s brothers, Nikanos and Athamos, brought Stella and Kostas together often. Ten years ago one night, Stella waited in Kostas’s bed, her teen crush-faith emboldening her. Kostas squelched his desire for honour’s and frienship’s sake and rejected Stella … even though he wanted her badly. A familiar story to the romance reader and, in Miss Bates’s now-decade-old romance-reading habit, somewhat a tired one. The experience left Stella feeling a failure and harboring dislike and resentment for Kostas.
Last year, Miss Bates was introduced to Marguerite Kaye’s work when she read the Comrades In Arms series, The Soldier’s Dark Secret and The Soldier’s Rebel Lover. She loved them and found they brought something new to the tired old Regency romance: truly independent heroines, with will, will power, conviction, and a strong impetus to forge their own destiny and heroes who let them be themselves. In the Hot Arabian Nights series, Kaye brings the same feminist ethos to her heroines and the same consideration to her heroes. In the second book, Sheikh’s Mail-Order Bride, this heroine-centric disposition comes in the form of Lady Constance Montgomery, on her way to India to fulfill her parents’ arranged marriage for her to an English merchant. We learn that “mama” and “papa” sent her to India in exchange for Mr. Edgbaston’s hefty payment to deal with debts incurred by her father’s hare-brained money-making schemes. On the way, however, Constance is shipwrecked on the Kingdom of Murimon’s shores. Murimon’s soon-to-be crowned king, Kadar, is native and would be to the manner born had he not spent the last seven years travelling the world and putting his cultural-know-how and sharp judgement to kings’ and nobles’ disposal. With his brother’s Butrus’s death, Kadar, though he’d vowed never to return because of the “sad thing” that happened to him (ah, cherchez la femme, chère lectrice) must take power to devote himself to his people’s well-being and country’s prosperity.
One of Miss Bates’s favourite films is Frank Capra’s 1934 It Happened One Night. Barbara Wallace’s gently romantic Christmas Baby For the Princess echoes it. Wallace’s hero, Manhattan night club owner Max Brown, is a film noir buff. References to Miss Bates’s beloved black-and-white films abound, enriching Wallace’s romance narrative. Capra’s film is not noir, but its themes of class, sex, love, and HEA are certainly of the romance variety. Like One Night‘s Ellie, Wallace’s heroine, Princess Arianna Santoro, has run away from her father, King Carlos IV of the mythical kingdom of Corinthia. Arianna was near-affiancéd to Manolo Tutuola, a Corinthian businessman her father had urged her to date with the hope they would marry. Always conscious of duty, and wanting to make her still-grieving father (after her mother’s loss) happy, she did her darndest to work out a relationship with Manolo. But Manolo turned out to be a cheating rat-bastard and now, Arianna is in Manhattan for the time and space to figure out what to do next. She’s pregnant with rat-bastard’s baby and her flea-bitten hotel doesn’t afford her protection, or comfort. Out and about for some air, she finds that “her wallet was missing”. “Out of all the gin-joints in all the world,” she walks into Max Brown’s for help (Miss Bates knows, wrong film, but since we’re making vintage film references … ) where the charming maître d’, Darius, Max’s friend and right-hand man, mistakenly thinks she’s answering their help-wanted ad for a waitress. Continue reading
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.
Jennifer Hayward’s Carrying the King’s Pride, first in the Kingdoms and Crowns series, opens with a break-up. ” ‘We should end it now while it’s still good. While we still like each other. So it doesn’t get drawn out and bitter. We did promise ourselves that, after all, didn’t we?’ “, says heroine Sofía Ramirez to lover and hero Prince Nikandros Constantinides. Hmmm … then, they have mind-blowing sex, “exit Sofía”. Whirl-wind sex is followed by a dizzying sequence of events: Nik’s brother dies, father suffers massive heart-attack and Nik’s spare-heir, billionaire-businessman-playboy status goes down like ebbing fireworks. Meanwhile back in Sofía-World, our heroine is working hard at her fashion-design and boutique business and eating A LOT of chocolate. Poof, add a little nausea and Sofía is preggers. Little does she know … Nik had her watched all along and knows immediately when she sees a doctor to confirm the pregnancy. He flies back to Manhattan and scoops her away to his Akathinian island-kingdom-paradise. All improbably delicious events and the premise to Hayward’s marriage-of-convenience romance: how can King Nik, though engaged to a Countess whose family’s wealth can save the island-nation, give up his heir? He can’t, of course, but fully expects Sofía to give up her life to marry him. Sofía puts up a feisty fight. Alas, she loves the arrogant ass and wants to have this baby too.
‘Tis the season when Miss Bates embarks on reading and reviewing Christmas-set romance. There aren’t too many pending in the ARC TBR this year, but enough to tide her over till Christmas. Last year, she opened the Christmas review series with a post on past favourites. (There are great recs in the comments as well.) This year, for her début Christmas romance review post, something a little different: a brief discussion of a past favourite and mini-review of a recent Christmas-set read.
Miss Bates thinks the Christmas setting gives romance writers the opportunity to weave a healing theme into the romance narrative arc of encounter, attraction, consummation, repulsion/dissolution, and reconciliation/HEA. Carla Kelly’s Marian’s Christmas Wish, one of MissB’s favourite Christmas romances, embodies this idea. The eponymous Marian, a maybe-too-young, irrepressible, exuberant heroine meets Gil Collingwood, gentle, older, charming, but a little tired of life’s struggle, when her brother brings him home for Christmas. Their romance is sweet and funny; moreover, it also strikes a serious note when Marian uses her healing salve, created to help her beloved animals, on a persistent, painful sore on Gil’s cheek. The physical healing reflects the heart’s healing of Gil’s reintegration into a family and a hope for the future in the love he’ll share with his betrothed, Marian. The theme of healing through love and the creation of a new family/reintegration into a broken family can also be found in that unlikeliest of genre places, the HP, and, particularly, in Miss Bates’ latest Christmas romance read, Maisey Yates’ A Christmas Vow Of Seduction.