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.
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
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 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 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.
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 Claiming the Royal Innocent starts in run-of-the-mill HP romance fashion. Miss Bates was clipping along, enjoying the ride, when something happened a third of the way in: run-of-the-mill turned extraordinary, pleasant -enough became keeper-shelf-worthy. Miss Bates loved Hayward’s The Italian’s Deal For I Do, but she’s persnickety because Claiming gains on it. Following the fine but not-rocking-world Carrying the King’s Pride, Claiming tells the story of that royal hero’s illegitimate, recently-revealed sister Aleksandra Dimitriou and Aristos Nicolades, the casino-owning billionaire whom the king puts in charge of her safety when Akathinia is threatened by war with neighbouring Carnelia.
The novel falls into two thematic parts: the first half is very much about Aleksandra coming to grips with her new-found identity and second, which moves geographically away from the palace and onto Aristos’s private casino island, with Aristos’s struggle to come to terms with his past, a past which leaves him emotionally closed off and jaded. In Miss Bates’s review notes, she found the following scribble: “the first half deals with Alex’s mess and the second with Aristos’s.” In the romance novel’s course, Hayward plays all the delicious notes the HP reader expects: glamor, money, exotic locale, and sexy times. And, in this case, her own quippy, witty brand of It Happened One Night banter. These are but the trappings of any superlative HP, however: the rest is made of the hero and heroine’s believable struggle to relinquish psychic patterns preventing them from achieving connection, commitment, and love. Continue reading
‘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.