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Kate Hardy

REVIEW:  Ballroom to Bride and Groom by Kate Hardy

REVIEW: Ballroom to Bride and Groom by Kate Hardy

Dear Ms. Hardy:

I’ve read Kate Hardy’s Medicals and Presents novels for years, and the Posh Docs series is on my keeper shelf. When I saw a new novel in the Harlequin Romance line, I was intrigued, because it seemed a good fit in terms of voice and style.

Ballroom to Bride and Groom

Polly Anna Adams has just been dumped by her fiance, a week before the wedding, and she’s resigned her job on a children’s TV show, left the flat they shared, and is spending her time taking care of cancelling all the wedding details. Her agent gets her an audition for a Dancing-With-the-Stars type TV show, where she is partnered with Liam Flynn, a professional dancer who is returning after 18 months of rehab for injuries he suffered in an auto accident. Liam’s life fell apart after the accident; he wasn’t sure he could ever dance again and his dance-partner wife left him for a new partner. So Polly is shell-shocked and Liam has decided he won’t get emotionally involved again.

Polly’s bright and cheerful personality and always-on smile protects her from showing her true feelings. She perfected the technique after a crisis in her teens (we figure out pretty quickly what the crisis was). Liam sees through it and they develop a tentative friendship as they train for the competition, with an undercurrent of mutual attraction running through their time together. Polly is sure that she is too clumsy and awkward to be able to dance properly, but Liam is persistent and his alternately bracing and sympathetic attitude gives her confidence:

She’d never, ever experienced anything like this. And when he guided her effortlessly round the corners and danced her all the way back down the room again…

‘Wow,’ she said when the song ended. ‘I never thought I’d be able to do that.’

At the beginning of their lesson, he’d had his doubts, too. But she’d worked hard. Made the effort. And, from the look of wonder in her eyes, he was pretty sure that she’d just got what he loved about ballroom dancing. OK, it was tiny, as far as breakthroughs went, but it was a start. Part of him wanted to pick her up and spin her round. But the sensible side of him remained in control. Just.

‘Told you so,’ he said laconically.

‘Smugness,’ she said, ‘is not a good look on you, Mr Flynn.’

It was the first time she’d really answered him back—teasing, confident, and incredibly sweet. Liam couldn’t help responding to the glint in her eyes: he smiled at her.

Polly is appealing and sympathetic, and while she’s a bit of a doormat at the beginning, you can understand why she took the actions she did. She has almost no relationship with her parents, she has a circle of loving and supportive friends. Liam is more of a stock character at the beginning: the ambitious, gifted professional who shuts up his emotions and places everyone at arm’s length until he meets the woman who unwittingly pierces his defenses. The twist here, though, is that Polly is more reluctant to act on their mutual attraction than he is. There’s an utterly over-the-top but lovely interlude set in Vienna, where Liam takes Polly when she is having trouble getting the hang of the waltz. But after a wonderful night together, Polly is the one who draws back, not Liam. Their career plans put them on different paths, and at no point does Polly do that annoying romance-heroine thing of deciding that she’s willing to give up everything for her man.

The first half of the story involves introducing the characters and the dance competition plot. The scenes with Liam teaching Polly to dance and their weekly performances are a lot of fun, although they focus primarily on the two of them and don’t show much of the rest of the competitors (the snippets with the judges are amusing). The second half develops the relationship and deals with the fallout when the details of Polly’s teenage crisis are revealed. The scene where Polly faces her past and talks frankly about what happened is very moving. The last few scenes and the ending, though, like so many categories, feels rushed, and the Big Gesture at the end is one of those that readers either love or hate. Since they hadn’t resolved the believable issues that were blocking an easy HEA, I wasn’t quite sure I could believe the ending. I did believe that they really loved each other, though, which is probably more important.

Since this is in the Sweet line, the heat level is very low. I’m fine with that, but readers who don’t want to stop at the bedroom door will likely be a bit frustrated. I found the repeated use of one word to describe what the French call a coup de foudre to be a bit tiring (there’s a reason we borrow so much from French, as it turns out). I know you can’t explain coup de foudre feelings, and I understood not only why Polly was willing to marry her fiancé without it, but also why he felt something was missing. But the emphasis on Polly’s discovery of that feeling and its importance didn’t quite work for me as written. At a more technical level, there are also a lot of POV shifts within scenes that were sometimes difficult to follow.

In spite of those issues, though, I enjoyed the book. The arcs of character growth for Polly and Liam were believable, and I liked that they were not just falling in love because they were physically attracted to each other but because they liked each other as people. The backstage scenes about the dance training and competition were nicely woven into the romantic progression. And no one was a pure villain, not even the person who triggered the public revelations about Polly’s past. I think the HR line suits Hardy’s voice well, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she does within it. Grade: C+

~ Sunita

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REVIEW: Once a Playboy by Kate Hardy

REVIEW: Once a Playboy by Kate Hardy

Dear Ms. Hardy,

I haven’t read too many of the Harlequin Medical Romance line up til now. I do like the medical slant of the stories and the fact that many of them are set outside the U.S. The short length, though, might turn out to be a problem for me as it seems to intensify the usual hurdles romance characters generally face on the road to a HEA.

Serena James is finding it difficult to get her physiotherapy patient, gorgeous playboy George Somers, to quit trying to overdo it on his road to recovery from the accident that broke his leg, both wrists and injured a certain other delicate area (my mind is boggling trying to imagine this particular impact). George is an adrenaline junkie who finds it hard to stay still for long and this recuperation time is about to drive him mad. Not that he hasn’t enjoyed working with Serena….still he’s itching to get back to full strength so he can go full throttle again.

Something about this woman, who is the exact opposite of the rail thin clothes horse blondes he’s usually pictured squiring around, intrigues him and when she signs off on him as a patient, George presents Serena with some decadent dark chocolate (I’d love him for that alone) and an invitation to lunch – since she’s skittish about dinner with him. Slowly the two begin to know each other and lay bare their past romantic heartbreaks. Serena’s fiance couldn’t manage their colicky son and left when Ethan was a baby while George’s position as the heir to a barony scared off the only woman he’s ever felt deeply enough to take to meet the folks at the ancestral pile.

But each needs to come to terms with their potential relationship – lotsa baggage here – before there can be a HEA for them. Are they up to the challenge or will their pasts ruin their chance of a future together?

I did initially worry when George started having thoughts of asking Serena out at a point when he was still her patient. Good thing both are aware of the impropriety of that. Then came all their assorted past issues and the baggage. Serena is actually the one who seems most ready for a relationship (but then after five years without any sort at all I’m not sure if she should ease into it or jump) though she’s the one who plays it cool first and isn’t sure of the wisdom in getting involved with someone she sees as a high maintenance, aristocratic playboy. Still when she’s willing to let George meet Ethan, it’s pretty obvious to me that Serena trusts George. A mother letting a man meet her child is Serious Stuff.

No, it’s George who’s the heel dragger here despite initially pushing for Serena to go out with him. George has deep abandonment issues (Mummy who left him when he was a child, you know) and then there’s the one girlfriend he thought he loved and took home who panicked and ran rather than trying to work with him about her fears of fitting in among the aristo set. George also isn’t sure about becoming an instant father – even though he’s great with Ethan. In fact he always thought Doing His Duty for the Succession would be a PITA and is surprised to find out how much he likes being with Ethan. Hey, fatherhood might not be so bad after all. If only his accident hadn’t smashed his junk and raised the likelihood that in order to father children extensive rounds of IVF could be called for. I wondered at the inclusion of this truncated subplot since the epilogue jumps to Three Years Later by which time it’s a moot point.

Oh well, none of that will matter because George keeps bolting this time around. He gets a glimpse of life with Serena and discovers the idea so nice that he skitters away like a crab. Poor Serena who’s finally coming around to liking a relationship with him gets texted that it’s over. Way to go, George. Then George and Serena cross paths and actually end up at his place scorching the sheets. The about-face of this is part of what I mentioned as being a problem for me in this book. Yes, no, push/pull, let’s go/stop. There seems to be no middle ground, take it easy, perhaps I should talk with him/her before jumping to extreme conclusions. I realize that the word count you’re working with is probably the cause of these sudden 180 degree relationship directional changes but even with me rooting for these two – and I do like them both and want them to achieve a happy ending together – I would start to brace myself for the next “Whoops no, can’t do this” breakup between these two.

When George finally gets his act together and proposes to Serena – which was lovely, BTW – my first thought was, “Really? You’re both sure this time?” I will award points for including a lot of “Serena at work as a physio” scenes. This is a nice grounding touch for the book and shows how dedicated she is to her patients and her job. I was also a bit stunned that not only is a condom mentioned – though with George’s junk injuries it wasn’t necessary to prevent pregnancy – but Serena also takes a morning after pill – which perhaps I’ve just missed seeing mentioned in a Harlequin book before. If only there weren’t those pesky relationship whiplash issues….C