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.
Miss Bates ran a gamut of reactions to Mary Burchell’s Warrender Saga. She adored the first and loathed (DNF-ed) the second and third. And yet, the first, A Song Begins, was so good, she get kept trying to read one after another. Well, fourth time’s a charm because The Curtain Rises is masterful. There is much in it that Miss Bates usually dislikes, but it totally totally swept her away with its emotional intelligence. To set the scene for MissB’s reader: Nicola Denby, possessed of looks, sound judgement and reasoning, and a doting, country-life-middle-class-respectability English family, goes off to London to earn her living as a secretary. Family connections see her become assistant to her prima donna aunt (who must never be referred to as “Aunt”) Gina Torelli (Torelli is a fascinatingly machinating character: a mercurial, temperamental fairy god-mother, vain and sharply intelligent, one of romance’s greatest secondary characters). Nicola was engaged to a brilliant viola player, Brian Coverdale. When Brian was on tour in Canada, he took ill and yet rushed to Toronto from Montreal at the conductor’s, Julian Evett’s. Brian, sadly, died of some consumptive-like illness and Nicola is left with great enmity towards Julian, who soon turns up to direct her aunt’s Covent Garden production. Continue reading
Reading Michelle Smart’s Once a Moretti Wife was balm to Miss Bates’s reading soul after its wounding by Knox’s Madly. Admittedly, if you’re an HP reader, you’re going to recognize some of the line’s pernicious elements in Smart’s novel: a hero and heroine plagued by abusive and/or disappointing families, a heroine the nonpareil to the hero’s negative views of women, and a gargantuan mis. MissB. had one of two choices: cling to every accusation thrown at the HP, even though conventions are givens and if you don’t like them, don’t read them, OR revel in its wit and the characters’ vibrancy. Add a dollop of amnesia to the heroine, show her disoriented and weak, even while the dark, nasty hero conjures his revenge against her, then catches her when she collapses at his feet and nearly has a heart attack from his fear over her well-being. Marvelous, thought MissB., this is going to be great! And it was. Continue reading
Jonathan Bear, grumpy, huge, solitary, made cameo appearances in previous Copper Ridge romances, as Rebecca Bear’s overprotective, gruff, scary older brother in Last Chance Rebel, one of many Yates contemporary roms set in fictional Copper Ridge, Oregon. With each one Miss Bates picks up, she thinks this’ll be the one to break her, where she throws her hands up to say, “I’m done.” Well, hell no. Seduce Me, Cowboy is fresh and moving and one of the best of the lot. It gripped MissB., kept her up till the wee hours. She’d been drumming her fingers in impatience and anticipation of Jonathan’s story and Yates delivered, giving him an unlikely, perfect heroine. Twenty-four to Jonathan’s thirty-five, Hayley Thompson’s life is far removed from Jonathan’s. She is “good girl” to his “bastard son of the biggest bastard in town,” a beloved, coddled, protected pastor’s daughter to his abusive, abandoned childhood and virgin to his one-night-stand experience. But Hayley is breaking out, to be more than what she calls her family’s “beloved goldfish” and starts by taking a job with the elusive, mysterious, close-mouthed Jonathan Bear, step one of her escape from Copper Ridge and “plan for independence.” 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
Miss Bates loved Kate Hewitt’s A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure and willingly delved into Hewitt’s women’s fic/romance incarnation in Meet Me At Willoughby Close. Meet Me has enough romance, and a likeable one at that, to satisfy a rom-reader. It contains an endearingly goofy heroine, Ellie Matthews, working at figuring out her divorced, single mum life, moving away from family and, for the first time, at 28, tackling life with eleven-year-old daughter, Abby. Ellie has a new job as an “administrative assistant” in the University of Oxford history department and new cottage in Wychwood-on-Lea, at Willoughby Close. Ellie is paired with her “boss,” a history professor she’s temporarily assigned to, the Darcy-like, upper-crust, Victorian-Era historian Oliver Venables, he of the grey-green eyes and impressive physique. Meet Me At Willoughby Close is funny and romantic. It tackles some serious subjects, with a light touch but no less profoundly: parent-child relationships, bullying, family dynamics, deadbeat dads, and class. Oh, and the joys and vagaries of pet ownership. Ellie’s dog, Marmite, is a great loping mutt whose exuberance (and wee bit of flatulence) elicit reader-giggles in every scene he snuffles into. Continue reading
Miss Bates is looking at a very busy few weeks, so her reviews will be especially “mini” and impressionistic. She restlessly DNF-ed several titles … too trite, too much tell, *shudder* insta-lust … before settling on Christine Rimmer’s Ms. Bravo and the Boss, an author she enjoyed with her first foray into the Bravo-Word, a series whose novels run in the double-digits!
Ms. Bravo and the Boss tells of the meet-near-fail, burgeoning sympathy, eventual courtship, betrayal, and reconciliation of two likeable characters, the eponymous “Ms”, Elise Bravo, and reclusive Justice Creek, Colorado-resident thriller writer, Jed Walsh. When the novel opens, Elise’s life is a shambles: her business burnt to the ground, her best friend off to Seattle, her relationship with her family a tad estranged, working two menial jobs (on the humiliating generosity of two Bravo sisters), living above a donut shop, eating too many of the sweet-rounds and not quite fitting into her clothes. Jed too is in a pickle: he has trouble keeping an assistant and is working on a tight deadline. Jed needs to find the right person to help him with his “process”: dictating his novels to a silent, fast typist while he either throws knives, or cleans guns. His gruff ways and beastly temper chased every assistant away. Since his grandmotherly typist, Anna, left to live with her grandchildren, he’s blocked. Until Nell, Elise’s sister, suggests that Elise take the job.
Jennifer Hayward’s Tempted By Her Billionaire Boss coulda been a dud. The signs: office romance … ick … worldly tycoon-hero and innocent secretary-heroine (hallelujah, not virginal) … ick-compounded by a ten-year age difference between hero and heroine. And yet, it’s not the tropes you’re dealt, but how you play the game. Hayward took on HP-dom’s tried-and-true in the first of her Tenacious Tycoons duet, Tempted By Her Billionaire Boss, and gave them a good twist. When the romance opens, Francesca “Frankie” Masseria, 23 and PA to an automotive company’s VP, Coburn Grant, watches Rocky Balboa, her fish, swim. Like “Rocky,” Frankie and family are an Italian-American success story: her father built a thriving restaurant; her many siblings, from doctor to business owner, flourish; and Frankie used tip money to attend business school and fulfill her dream of working as a PA for a glamorous Manhattan-based corporation. Coburn asks her to fill in for his brother’s pregnant PA. Unlike easygoing Coburn, CEO Harrison Grant is intimidating and demanding. The Grant family, with a congressman grand-father, are American “aristocracy,” but dark struggles haunt them. Harrison and Coburn’s father died in the midst of a gubernatorial run and financial crisis: his sons had to rebuild. Tempted By Her Billionaire Boss is sexy and romantic. However, it’s also about family obligation, the ethics of revenge, and conflict between justice and mercy. Continue reading