With the end of my precious holidays and a week of getting back into early-morning-commute mode, I knew my fried brain couldn’t handle reading anything more than an HP. However derided the category, it’s a survivor and, in the hands of its greatest practitioners (ahem, Sarah Morgan), it can be original, fun, and range from witty to angsty all in the same book. I consider Hewitt one of its best. Princess’s Nine-Month Secret is HP-typical, less than what I’ve seen Hewitt deliver. Nevertheless, it “hit the spot” during a can’t-work-too-hard to read week. Its trappings will be familiar to the die-hard HP reader. Sheltered, cloistered Princess Halina Amari sneaks away from the Roman hotel suite she shares with her mother and into a party. Halina wants a taste of freedom and adventure before she returns home to wed Prince Zayed al bin Nur, a marriage arranged by her politically expedient father, using his daughter to advance the kingdom. At the party, Halina spends her night of rebellion with Rico Falcone. Two months later, Halina is pregnant and exiled to a desert fortress. Her engagement to the Prince has been called off (see book 1) and the parents she thought loved her have brushed her aside as an embarrassment to the family. When Rico discovers Halina’s pregnancy, he kidnaps her from the desert “palace” and returns to Rome, where they will marry pronto.
Donna Alward’s The Crown Prince’s Bride seemed a romance palate-cleanser after Willig’s intense English Wife. Certainly that’s what it felt like – initially. But Alward is a writer who transcends what I call the trappings of trite, with emotional wisdom and psychological acumen. While I settled comfortably into a mild romance read – not too much drama, not too intense a plot, decent protagonists – Alward managed to surprise and delight me.
First, the trappings. In the fictional kingdom of Marazur, heroine Stephanie Savalas is the supremely competent right-hand woman of Crown Prince Raoul Navarro, grieving widower, single dad, and his homeland’s hope (now that King Alexander, his father, has handed kingly responsibilities over to him). The novel opens as Stephani plans Raoul’s brother’s wedding to Raoul’s children’s former nanny, all the while juggling the country’s well-being and the big-ole torch she carries for her boss. Raoul is deep in mourning for his beloved wife, Stephani’s cousin Cecilia, who died in a car accident. And yet, dear reader, stirrings! Raoul always cared for Stephani and their platonic relationship is warm, friendly, affectionate, and caring until one night, these vague “stirrings” lead to a passionate kiss. Continue reading
Caitlin Crews’s Prince’s Nine-Month Scandal opens with as ludicrous a premise as we’ve come to expect from the HP romance. In a bathroom at London’s Heathrow, Natalie Monette contemplates leaving her PA job with billionaire Achilles Casilieris after five years of all-consuming dedication to her volatile employer. In the mirror, she espies her twin, or someone who could be her twin. Princess Valentina of the mythical kingdom of Murin is running away from her arranged marriage to Prince Rodolfo of the mythical kingdom of Tessely. What better solution to both their dilemmas than to “switch” places: Natalie off to a princess’s life and Valentina to escape her impending nuptials by serving the mercurial Achilles. They put on each other’s clothes and take each other’s cell phones, with which they agree to text. Valentina pretty much goes off-grid till the romance’s final revelations and Natalie is left with her princess-fantasy in a bit of a shambles. She must navigate her kingly father, royal duties and protocols, and most importantly, devil-may-care, reckless, promiscuous fiancé. But Natalie hasn’t “handled” the temperamental Achilles for five years without learning a thing or two about difficult men. She sets out to set a few things straight with Rodolfo – for Valentina’s sake. She doesn’t count, this is an HP after all, on her visceral physical and emotional response to him.
Marguerite Kaye’s Claiming His Desert Princess is fourth in the Hot Arabian Nights series. Miss Bates read it and read it and read it and felt as if it would never end: this had more to do with how the day-job has a stranglehold on MissB than any flaws in Kaye’s romance novel. Nevertheless, her experience of it was disjointed and truncated. It’s a romance novel that Miss Bates feels she never quite grasped, never felt it pulled her in, but never lapsed so much, she’d abandon it. Suffice to say this is an interesting romance novel, and its flaw is that it is more so in concept than execution.
Certainly, its premise is an intriguing one: in 1815 Arabian mythical kingdom Nessarah, surveyor/archaeologist Christopher Fordyce searches for the origin of an amulet he recently inherited from his father. He hopes that Nessarah’s turquoise mine will lead him to the tomb that may house revelations of the amulet’s origins. Christopher isn’t merely searching his roots, or if he is, his roots have caused him pain. He recently discovered the loving family he believed his own was adoptive and his true parentage in a man he neither likes nor respects; his birth mother, a tragic young loss at his birth. Digging in the mine to purge himself of the amulet and what it stands for, Christopher encounters a beautiful young woman, with an equal passion for archaeology, Tahiri. Continue reading
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
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 be Lennox. Not that Neels and Lennox have everything in common, but they do share in the decency, good eats, animals, and pathos of the worlds and characters 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 his native country’s, Marétal’s, rule. With his parents’ deaths when he was a child, his grand-parents ruled while he dedicated himself to military service. He’s reluctant to return, but return he must. Before he does, however, he goes to the Tasmanian port where he and his fellow soldiers had conducted manoeuvres and takes a friend’s boat 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