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.
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
Miss Bates loves the opposites-attract romance trope, especially when the hero’s and heroine’s surface characteristics mask their opposites. Opposites-attract “squared” describes Sabrina Jeffries’s second Sinful Suitors 1830-set romance, The Study Of Seduction. “Grumpy Edwin” Barlow, Earl of Blakeborough, pits himself against “frivolous beauty” Lady Clarissa Lindsey, his sister’s best friend. In time, Edwin reveals a wicked wit and Clarissa, a gravitas borne of pain.
Edwin is a member of the St. George’s Club, a gentleman’s circle dedicated to protecting their families’ and friends’ women from scoundrels, socalled “sinful suitors.” Edwin’s friend, Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, Clarissa’s cousin, has watched out for her and her widowed mother, Lady Margrave. Knightford is called away to the continent to help Clarissa’s brother, Niall. Edwin and Clarissa, long-acquainted, have sparred and jabbed at each other since Clarissa and Yvette, Edwin’s sister, tittered, gossiped, and shopped together. Edwin’s steadfast, stodgy, introverted propriety rubs Clarissa’s social butterfly effervescence and flirtatious energy to poke and prod at his restrained demeanor. Nevertheless, Edwin insists he take Knightford’s place, protecting Clarissa from a stalker. Count Geraud Durand, France’s chargé d’affaires, follows, goads, importunes, and forces his unwanted, oily attentions on Clarissa and infuriates Edwin.
Now that Miss Bates has read Bliss Bennet’s second romance novel, she can place her in histrom-world with Rose Lerner, Cecilia Grant, and recent discovery Blythe Gifford. They all have the rare, and becoming rarer, ability to create main characters who reflect their times and are in turn uniquely, likably themselves. Their main characters’ constraints are not solely those of personality or circumstance, but political, economic, social, and/or gender strictures. Bennet creates creatures of their time and yet uniquely themselves, approachable and sympathetic to the reader. In her second Pennington romance, Bennet tells the story of Sibilla Pennington, sister to Rebel Without A Rogue‘s Kit Pennington. Like Lerner’s Lydia in True Pretenses, Bennet’s heroine is a young woman grieving her beloved father’s recent loss. Neither Lydia nor Sibilla were daddy’s-girls-spoiled-princesses. Their fathers’ love and acknowledgement allowed them the unique opportunity for women of their time, to lead lives of social and political purpose. Without their paternal lodestones, they’re adrift. Their only recourse is to place their political championing onto their reluctant brothers and make marriages of convenience to further their charitable causes. Continue reading
Shannon Stacey’s romance ethos is a likable one and it’s evident in volume two of her Boston Fire series, Controlled Burn. Her characters aren’t glamorous, super-rich, brilliantly educated, or extraordinary. Boston Fire is set with everyday heroes, their local watering-hole, families and friends. Stacey prefers mature protagonists and Miss Bates likes how the heroes often feel it’s time to settle down, marry, have a family. Controlled Burn‘s hero, Rick Gulloti, is no longer comfortable with his reputation as “not the marrying kind”. Grey’s in his hair and a hint of stiffness in his joints. Otherwise, Rick is content: Ladder 37’s lieutenant, uncle to his two nephews, a good son, and Joe and Marie Broussard’s loving neighbour and friend. Rick rents their upstairs apartment, renovated to his taste and comfort. He helps them out, hangs out, and enjoys Marie’s cooking. The Broussards, however, are aging and less and less able to care for their home, more fragile and prone to hospital stays. One such stay brings heroine Jessica “Jess” Broussard to Boston from San Diego when the hospital contacts her father, Davey, and she intercepts the call. Her father hadn’t shared his parents’ existence with her. They’ve been estranged for years. As a woman running her father’s financial advising firm, Jess is a no nonsense, super-competent woman. She arrives in Boston to meet her newly-discovered grandparents and help them re-settle their lives in an assisted-living community – and runs smack into Mr. Firefighter-Hunk and Joe and Marie’s support and protector.
Karina Bliss’s Woo Me is one-third of a unique three-part novella series. Its events occur concurrently with those in Joan Kilby’s Win Me and Sarah Mayberry’s Wait For Me. The novellas recount the story of three friends, “sisters-of-the-heart,” attending a traditional Bachelor and Spinster Ball in the Australian outback. Ellie, Jen, and Beth forged friendships in a girls boarding school, seeing each other through farce and tragedy. Now, at 28, they’re in various stages of heartbreak. They congregate at Ellie’s father’s cattle station and resolve to heal their broken, neglected hearts by romping through the bacchanalian shenanigans at the local Bachelor and Spinster Ball. Bliss’s Woo Me is Jen Tremaine’s story. Jen was dumped by her slick ex-boyfriend, the one who re-fell-in-love with his ex-wife. While drowning heart-sorrows with drinkie-poos, Jen accepts Ellie and Beth’s dare to wear Ellie’s “Clarabelle” cow costume at the B&S ball. With Dave’s betrayal fresh, Jen isn’t looking to mend her heart with a fling. She’s going to support Ellie in her unrequited love pursuit of her father’s wrangler, Rick, and heal her newly-divorced, fragile friend, Beth. One sexy, funny, and loving security guard later, Jen re-assesses her “man-ban”.
Janice Kay Johnson’s In Hope’s Shadow is second in the “Two Daughters” series. As its title suggests, the second is a “shadow” of the first. Yesterday’s Gone is dramatically visceral: after twenty-some years, a family recovers Hope, their abducted biological daughter, with the help of Seth Chandler, a dedicated police detective. In Hope’s Shadow tells of the romance between Eve Lawson, the family’s adopted daughter, and Ben Kemper, the detective’s partner. Yesterday’s Gone is as a stone thrown in clear water to Hope’s Shadow, its rippling effects bearing on the secondary characters’ lives. Those who merely witnessed the events of the first story are the focus of the second. Eve’s, the adopted daughter’s, insecurities come to the foreground and colour her relationships with Hope, her “new” sister, parents, and evolving relationship with hero Ben. In Hope’s Shadow is a romance novel about the emotional aftermath of a seismic event in the characters’ lives. Eve, her family, Hope and her now-fiancé, Seth, are still adjusting their lives to each others, trying to find an equilibrium in the family dynamic. Ben too is adjusting to new life circumstances. He still smarts from his divorce from Nicole, his high school sweetheart and love of his life, and new role as an every-second-weekend single dad to Rachel, his six-year-old daughter.
Miss Bates starts her fourth reviewing year (woo hoo!) with a new-to-her author, Sonali Dev, and the second novel in her “Bollywood” series, The Bollywood Bride. Ria Parkar is the eponymous bride, a Bollywood star with a past to hide and secrets to protect. When the novel opens, Ria struggles with painful memories of a childhood gone awry because of her mother’s mental illness and father’s grief. She struggles with the memory of betraying and abandoning Vikram Jathar, the great love of her life. She struggles with the sexual exploitation she endured to “make it” in Bollywood. Ria is a tormented figure; she’s on edge, unraveling, losing control. When a paparazzo takes a picture of her attempting suicide (she didn’t, she was reaching for a dropped cell phone), she flees to Nikhil’s, her cousin’s, Chicago wedding to avoid the publicity. As we soon learn, Ria doesn’t care what India’s papers say about her; her fears are deeper and more personal. In Chicago, amidst elaborate Indian-wedding traditions (the Bride‘s fun part), she encounters the young love she cast aside. Vikram is bigger, meaner, and angrier (at her) than his loving, optimistic twenty-one year old self ever suggested he’d be and it’s Ria’s fault. Keeping a cool distance, though as vulnerable to him as she was ten years ago at eighteen, Ria wants to ensure she won’t hurt “Viky” as she did then. Continue reading