Tag Archives: hp

Maisey Yates’ new(ish) HP

At His Majesty’s Request

Harlequin Presents #3112, January 2013

The blurb:

Marry the jaded prince and receive a title, a small island, a castle and a tiara.

Matchmaker extraordinaire Jessica Carter arranges marriages that work.  And that is exactly what Prince Drakos is looking for.  The last thing he needs is someone as unsuitable as her…but none of the beautiful socialites paraded before him excite Stavros as Jessica does.

Usually unchallenged, Stavros welcomes Jessica’s defiance — his fingers itch to lower her prickly facade and discover what lies beneath.  Will Jessica agree to his final request?  One month to exorcise their scorching passion, before he marries someone fit to be his queen….

As a fairytale, this book works.  The uber-wealthy and responsible prince, heir to the throne, chooses as his mate the commoner to whom he is attracted, throwing over convention and duty.

Any deeper look at the plot leaves me feeling dissatisfied though.  The heroine is from North Dakota, yet is otherwise not identifiable as American or a Dakotan; her word usage and choices (like charity shop) are more BrE than AmE.  Readers are told that she’s an expert in the matchmaking field, yet she seems to constantly make errors in judgment about the women she selects for Stavros and the situations she arranges for them to become acquainted.

The author set up a backstory and used a fair amount of page space to convince me as a reader that Stavros was a duty-driven automaton; his change of heart and abandonment of duty at the very end of the novel felt unconvincing.  Perhaps more POV from him would have changed that?

Recommended as fluff for readers of HPs, otherwise not so much.

 

 

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A different sort of HP?

His Marriage Ultimatum by Helen Brooks (c)2006

Another book picked up as part of the Great Book Purge of 2012.  I could probably count this as part of the TBR challenge that SuperLibrarian is hosting, although I’m posting a day early.

This reads like a pretty typical backblurb for Harlequin Presents:

A bride for the taking?

Carter Blake is sued to getting his own way — he didn’t become a billionaire by taking no for an answer!  And he has to have shy, virginal Liberty Fox.  He’ll charm and seduce her into becoming his…

But Liberty is not ripe for Carter’s picking. To possess her, Carter is forced to make one final ultimatum…he will have her and hold her in matrimony. . . if that’s what it takes!

Billionaires! Virgins! Ultimatums!  Oh my!

Except.

1.  Although the hero is very wealthy and became so after a youth of relative poverty on a council estate, it isn’t explicitly stated (that I recall) that he’s a billionaire.  A mention of his first million and his connections in various places, as well as a vague statement about real estate and entrepreneur are really it.  Beyond that, it’s very clear that he is New Money, and that he’s not that far removed from the poverty of his youth and some of the people who knew him at the time.

2.  Liberty Fox is not shy.  At no point was she ever shy with Carter.  In fact, she’s pretty belligerent and mouthy with him at the outset of the book, giving him a hard time about anything and everything she can.  And even once the belligerence is gone, she remains pretty resistant to following where he’s leading.

3.  There wasn’t really much overt seduction.  There is no sex (and just a little foreplay) until the very last pages of the book.  And it was marital sex.

4.  The blurb implies that he’s forced to propose, when in fact, he proposes because he wants to and has to work to get her to even consider marriage.  He’s the one who realizes he loves her first, who wants to make things permanent, who acknowledges that their original agreement (nothing heavy) isn’t working for him any more.

I especially loved this passage early on, when the two are discussing the viability of long term relationships and marriage:

“You’re saying you would voluntarily choose a solitary lifestyle?” Well you have, the voice outside himself pointed out sharply, and when he answered it with, But I’m a man, that’s different, he felt instantly appalled at himself.  Both in his work life and his love life he had always held to the view that women were equal with men in every way, and it was galling to discover he was as male chauvinist at heart as the next man.  More than galling.

Readers get a fair amount of Carter’s POV, which is a positive aspect:  he’s by turns bewildered by his attraction to this woman, and frustrated by her intransigence when it comes to any sort of commitment, and yet also just completely gobsmacked by her.  Liberty is a pretty sympathetic heroine, too:  she’s got mommy issues but recognizes them, appears to be good at her job, self-sufficient and with a life that suits her…until Carter comes along.

Would I recommend this book to the average reader?  Maybe not, because it does contain some standard HP tropes (billionaire, virgin, etc.).  But I would recommend it to other HP readers.

 

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SBD: is HP gouging readers?

Today’s thought for SBD:  where is the line between innovation and gouging readers?

The Marriage Betrayal by Lynne Graham

(c) August 2011, Harlequin Presents, also published by Mills & Boon as part of their Modern line, June 2011.  Part of a mini-series, The Volakis Vow.

Careless passion, pregnancy surprise…

Sander Volakis goes his own way. He’s forged his reputation in business, rather than relying on the family fortune, and indulges his darkly passionate, wild streak. He has no intention of marrying…

He doesn’t do country weekends, either. Pitching up at Westgrave Manor is a favor to his father and a bore…until he sees Tally Spencer, so pretty and voluptuous that he can’t resist her. Sander’s looking forward to casually seducing her, not knowing that one night with the innocent Tally could end his playboy existence…

Sander and Tally’s story continues next month in Bride for Real.

TMB was…fairly typical for a Presents book.  Virgin heroine, utterly put-upon and in love with a Greek billionaire.  Said Greek billionaire prizes Tally because she’s so different and not of his normal millieu; what he doesn’t know (until too late) is that she’s the illegitimate daughter of a member of his business/social circle.  Add in a surprise pregnancy resulting from ignorance about birth control + two towering egos + latent doormat syndrome = The Marriage Betrayal.  The only slight difference was that both hero and heroine were relatively young, 25 and 20.  In terms of plot and characterization, there was nothing original here and the execution was fairly uninspired.

I suppose I would feel less cranky about this book if it wasn’t for the excerpt of the next book of the series that was included at the end.  TMB got to the end and the h/h were, in theory, happy and in love, expecting a child.  And yet in the excerpt of next month’s book, we fast forward at least a year and learn that the infant was either stillborn or died very young and the h/h are separated.  So readers get to pay for the pleasure of reading about a second attempt at an HFN or HEA for the very same h/h.  How convenient for HP and the author!  Tell the same story twice!

Okay, marriage in trouble is a legitimate trope in Romancelandia in general and in HP’s in particularly.  Normally, the early part of the marriage, with some happiness, is recounted but is not seen on the page, only the trouble and the reconciliation.  What irks me here is that what is essentially a very long category (or soapy single title) has been split in two.  Readers get to pay to read one ostensible HEA and then are told “oops, no, buy the next book to see if the h/h really are going to be HEA.”

Is this innovation?  The migration of the omnipresent sequel bait of single titles into categories?  Or something less benign?  Being a cynic, I see it as something less benign:  as the publisher reaching into the reader’s pocket.  The publisher’s goal is, of course, for the readers to buy their books.  But this is just cheap, and as a semi-regular HP reader it feels like a money grab.  No sale for me, and I’ll be careful about what HPs I buy in the future.

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SBD: The Disgraced Princess by Robyn Donald

Robyn Donald’s Harlequin Presents are like cotton candy: quickly consumed and really not all that good for me.  And still I read them.  

The title is kind of ridiculous, even more ridiculous than the usual mistress/virgin/Greek/sheikh mix and match titles that HP specializes in.  The heroine isn’t a princess; even at the end of the book, once she has married into royalty (no spoiler there, really, given HP tropes and genre requirements, yes?), she’s still not a princess.  And there’s no disgrace.  But whatever. Standard cover art, embracing characters with wind-tossed hair.

The backblurb:

Prince Gerd Crysander-Gillan has long held a torch for beautiful Rosie Matthews. But three years ago that need turned to rage when he discovered that Rosie’s affections were apparently for his brother.

Now Gerd has taken the crown, and His Majesty needs a princess. The obvious candidate for marriage is Rosie—a chance to take sweet revenge for the wound that has never healed. Only, once he has his royal bride, he is astounded to find that she’s still a virgin….

The first paragraph is actually accurate. Shocking, I know. The second not so much, since Rosie isn’t an obvious candidate, and he realizes she’s a virgin when they have sex long before they get married.  And there’s really no revenge involved.

Things I liked:

  • Getting the hero’s POV, so even if the heroine isn’t aware of the seriousness of his feelings, the reader is.
  • That the characters actually address the age difference, which is a little creepy — 18/30 in the flashed back scenes, 21/33 at present
  • That the heroine had realistic career goes and executed those plans, going to university and getting a business education, working in the industry she was interested in, even if the economy put the kibosh on her job plans

Things I didn’t like:

  • The characters conflating the morning after pill with abortion
  • Virginity again
  • Paparazzi as an excuse to railroad the heroine into marriage
  • The vast power imbalance in their relationship

Things I was on the fence about:

  • The heroine’s immediate abandonment of her life plans for the hero
  • The convoluted familial relationships that are never really explained: the h/h are related by marriage, although I didn’t really understand how
  • How/why the hero grew up in New Zealand but was the heir apparent for an Adriatic/Aegean duchy

As an HP, this one is pretty good.  But as usual, a reader unfamiliar with HP tropes would be not impressed.

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Belated TBR: The Bellini Bride by Michelle Reid

This past Wednesday was TBR Challenge day.  I’ve been negligent about the TBR Challenge lately, but I did pull a book off the TBR this month, so here’s my belated report.

Title:  The Bellini Bride
Author:  Michelle Reid
(c)2001 Harlequin/Mills & Boon

Why this book?  I bought a bunch of used Harlequin Presents a while back, part of the backlist of my favorite HP authors:  Robyn Donald, Michelle Reid, Helen Bianchin. Reading them in bulk is a bad idea, though, because too much of a particular trope (rich Greeks! vengeful Spaniards! secret babies and virgin mistresses!) wears out fast.  So a bunch of these were languishing on my bookshelves until Jane at Dear Author reviewed The Bellini Bride and reminded me of what was sitting there.

Wanted: a suitable bride…

Marco Bellini thinks he has it all: success, wealth…and Antonia — his beautiful, sensual mistress.Then his father becomes ill, and Marco feels bound to marry and produce an heir to the famous Bellini fortune.

But who should Marco choose as a bride? Antonia isn’t suitable, but she’s the only woman he wants in his life and his bed. Dare he take his mistress to be his lawful wedded wife?

What do I think about the cover art?  It’s pretty standard Harlequin Presents cover art fare.  More interesting to me is the title: although it has bride, at least it doesn’t include virgin, lover or mistress.  Which sort of makes sense, because I believe they became much more common title elements after 2001.
 

What did I think of the book?  It was pretty good on the Presents scale.  Set among the uber wealthy, with an emphasis on social class and the propriety of place that seems alien and kind of ridiculous to me but is nevertheless the standard European HP milieu.  Secrets and failure to communicate.  But the heroine wasn’t a doormat: she recognized when the hero was being an asshat and called him on it.  Often HP heroes never really apologize for their asshatery, but in this case he did and he acknowledged it in public.

Would I read this author again? Sure.  I’ve read her books before, I’m sure I’ll read more in the future.

Keep or pass on?  Eh, I don’t know.  Although I enjoyed it, I’m probably not going to read it again, so in an effort to reduce clutter, I’ll probably donate it in my next big UBS/PBS/GoodWill purge.

 

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SBD: honorable mentions

Yes, I’m still stuck on the Top 16 Winsor lists, and will post on the top yet again for SBD.

If you check out all of the lists and links that accumulated at Racy Romance Reviews, you’ll find a preponderance of historicals.  Which isn’t a huge surprise, given some of the posters.  [I’m looking at you in particular, KristieJ, SuperWendy and Maili.]  The names Heyer, Chase, Gabaldon, Balogh, Kinsale, Gaffney, Ivory, and James appear repeatedly.

You know what didn’t appear?  Category romances.  Even though thousands of category romances are sold every month, and categories are both a gateway drug for romance readers and a feeder route for a lot of authors, they don’t seem to be memorable for a lot of readers.

As my list narrowed, a few memorable categories were scratched off.  Here they are as honorable mentions:

Bad For Each Other by Kate Hathaway.  This is an older Silhouette Intimate Moments by an author who seems to have stopped writing.  (Or perhaps just stopped being published?)  It includes a secret baby, reunited lovers, and a heroine whose bag of sexual issues make me want to scream.  Yet I still love this book.

A Forbidden Desire by Robyn Donald.  My first Robyn Donald book, this one hooked me with the description of the heroine, likening her to Flaming June, one of my favorite paintings (see icon above, pls).

Reckless Conduct by Susan Napier.  Napier’s early Harlequin Presents are peopled by alpha men and distinctive women.  Her later ones (picked up after a hiatus due to family issues, I’ve heard) don’t thrill me, but this one has a comedic feel that I enjoyed.  Check out Rosario’s review.

Marriage Meltdown by Emma Darcy.  Marriage in trouble!  In a Harlequin Presents, no less!  I liked that the heroine confronted her marital problems head on.  The hero…well, his grovel was fairly good, as was his lightbulb moment about the dishonesty of what he was *thinking* about doing.

Ultimate Betrayal by Michelle Reid.  Another marriage in trouble.  The heroine begins as a bit of a doormat but grows a spine during the course of the book. 

Night Shield by Nora Roberts.  This was a belated addition to Roberts’ early Night Tale series, being the story of the next generation.  Unlike a couple of the original Night Tale books, there was no paranormal here, just a straight-up romance between a detective and a nightclub owner.  On the surface, that sounds a little like Eve/Roarke compressed to category-length, but it’s not.
 

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SBD: side-tracked

Monday again.  Ho hum.  Beth has rung the bell on SBD.  She’s reading more of the Twilight series.  After her post last week, I went hunting for my copy of Twilight and pulled it out for this month’s TBR Challenge.  Sadly, I haven’t cracked the book open yet.  Instead, I’ve read other stuff.  Such as…

I read Erin McCarthy’s Hard and Fast last week. It wasn’t bad. The pacing was a little uneven if you compare the first half and second halves, but still, not bad at all. The hero and heroine had great chemistry, and their dialogue sparkled. (It’s such a cliché, but it really did.  They clearly enjoyed talking to each other and listening to each other, and playing some word games.) The Big Conflict was not a huge surprise, but I though the heroine really stuck her foot in her mouth. In fact, I thought she needed to grovel, and that never really happened. SPOILER: see, the hero is dyslexic and she’s Smart and Educated, and when he reveals his disability, she immediately announces how she’s going to help him. What the hell? He’s been successful at helping himself; frankly, the way she wanted to “help” him (fix him, really) struck me as a little patronizing and judgmental, and outright ignorant in terms of the treatment, if that’s the right word, of dyslexia. Still, they apologized to each other and went off to live happily ever after.  

As I read, I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering what the heroine was doing as an academic, and what she did, if anything, before becoming at teaching assistant in North Carolina. She works for another character, who was an instructor of some sort at the local university. I say instructor because the other character has “only” a Master’s Degree, and I believe “professor” is reserved for those with Ph.D.’s, no? There’s such a variety of labels in academia: lecturer, instructor, adjunct, assistant, professor. I know there’s a hierarchy applied to them, but I’m not entirely sure how both education, longevity, employer/employee relationship with the university, etc., apply.  Anyhow, the heroine is an assistant to this instructor. She talks about her thesis project, but her work is also referred to as a dissertation project and/or doctoral research.  I thought thesis = Masters, dissertation = Ph.D. Yes? No? Despite the confusion in terminology, it becomes clear that the heroine is working on her M.A. in Sociology.  Which leads back to my original question:  she’s twenty eight years old and has been presented as a career academic, studying in New York; what has she been doing for 6 years that she is only working on her thesis now? That seems like an awfully long time for a dedicated student to still be M.A.-less. Was she working, and this is a return to academia? Was she working on a degree in some other field of study? Inquiring minds want to know.

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy this book; really I did.   I’m just distracted by a detail.

Unrelated sidenote: my copy of Joseph McAleer’s Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon has arrived at last – only took a month and a half! The cover is gorgeous, composed of the cover art of old M&B books. I’m going to have to look for copies to read, based entirely on the art and titles.  There’s even another book cover on the back cover, Roberta Leigh’s Too Young To Love.

And the back cover copy: 

The fascinating story behind Mills & Boon, the household name for romantic fiction, and twentieth century cultural phenomenon.

An animated account of the establishment and development of the company, exposing the personalities who played a part in Mills & Boon’s often dramatic past.

Draws upon a long-lost archive of over 50,000 remarkable letters to reveal the intimate relationship between editorial policy, sales and morality.

An entertaining look at the famous Mills & Boon ‘formula’, and a lively investigation into the ingredients which make the novels so addictive.

Right now I’m reading L. Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, but Passion’s Fortune is next on the TBR, along with Dru Pagliassotti’s Clockwork Heart.

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