In 1825 Edinburgh, Miss Elizabeth “Libby” Shaw yearns to follow in her father’s footsteps, to become a doctor, to heal others. But a woman in 1825 Edinburgh, or anywhere in the Western world, cannot apply to Surgeon’s Hall for studies and sit qualifying exams, for the very reason that she is a woman. Miss Libby Shaw strikes an arrangement with Mr. Ibrahim Kent, a society portraitist and exiled “Turk,” actually Ziyaeddin Mirza, Prince of Tabir. Libby will live in his house as his guest, under disguise as Mr. Joseph Smart, surgical student. In return, as Libby, she will sit as Ibrahim’s artist’s model. With this convenient bargain, Ashe begins her fourth Devil’s Duke historical romance and a remarkable achievement it is too. I’d read the first, The Rogue, and liked it very much, but The Prince far surpasses it. The two novels are linked in having admirable, easily-loved stubborn heroines who have a cause and mission that they fulfill by taking on acts then only enacted by men. Their heroes are taciturn loners who come to see the rightness of their heroines’ causes and aid and abet them without taking over, dictating, or directing. The novels are linked by questions about what it means to be a woman, a man, and have meaningful work. By virtue of their eccentricity, these heroes and heroines are outsiders yet live within society and are rewarded with a warm circle of friends and family. Continue reading
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 hasn’t read a Crews HP in a while. There can be something overwrought about Crews’s work, but all was toned down, as toned down as an HP can be, in Bride By Royal Decree. Crews’s romance roots are deeply embedded, maybe deliberately so, in fairy tale. Miss Bates enjoyed it all the more for that reason. Let’s face it: realism, nay plausibility, is not the HP’s companion. We read it as fairy-tale-wish-fulfillment-fantasy and Bride By Royal Decree has this in spades.
Decree‘s premise lies in one of Miss Bates’s favourite fairy-tale elements: the revelation of the heroine’s identity and mysterious past. In Deanville, Connecticut, Maggie Strafford scrubs the floor of her barista-job café when Reza Argos, His Royal Majesty, King and Supreme Ruler of Constantines, walks in with the revelation that Maggy is his long-thought-to-be-dead-and-lost fiancée, Princess Magdalena of Santa Domini. At eight, Maggy had “been found by the side of the road as a feral child with no memory of where she’d come from.” Since then, her “unfortunate childhood in foster care” and subsequent adult poverty made her the snarly, mouthy woman she is. Reza is controlled, proper, and duty-bound, “not a sentimental man” writes Crews. He reveals Maggie’s identity and, despite her lippy disbelief, whisks her away to a private island for princess-grooming where the novel’s main action takes place, soon thereafter to be put in her queenly place in his kingdom. Like many an HP-hero, Reza is a “beast,” not in appearance, but emotionally. He’s coiled inward, with a backstory that makes him balk at emotional entanglement. Continue reading
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
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.
Miss Bates is content to return to her neglected TBR Challenge! Check it out chez Wendy here. This month’s theme was to read a nominated, or winning Rita title. Because Miss Bates is pathetically slumping along to Ros’s Summer Big Fat Book read-a-long, she chose a category romance. They’re short and she’s already behind the BFB, and summer reading piles litter her apartment and slow down two e-readers. (Way too much time on Twitter for Miss B.; also lolling, gazing at sunbeams, and sleeping in. It’s a feline life.) Reading Rita winners was one way Miss Bates segued into romance: their annual nominated and winning title lists provided tried and true romance reading as Miss B. figured out what she liked and didn’t in the genre. (Shudder PNR.) It was with nostalgia for her early romance reading days that she looked at titles she’d added to the TBR from these romance reading baby steps. Marion Lennox’s Her Royal Baby won the 2004 Best Traditional Romance. Woot! thought Miss B., category, baby, Rita winner, and an author that she’s wanted to read for ages thanks to some nifty reviews over at Dear Author lauding Lennox’s more recent category novels. The whole royalty thing is not to Miss B.’s taste, no blood is blue she says, but she liked the cover. Miss Bates doesn’t regret her choice, but boy oh boy, was this ever a flawed and floundering effort. Continue reading