One thing that Julie Bindel’s piece has done is peak my interest in Harlequin Presents books. In addition, a few weeks ago, I did a piece on category romances and how I was coming to appreciate the Blazes, Harlequin Historicals, and so forth that I have been reading. A couple people suggested authors in the Harlequin Presents line and I have since started reading them.
I don’t think that I had read them since my early reading days (maybe 20 years ago). My recollection of this series were that it was peopled by really rich men and their secretaries. In the last month, I’ve read 20 Harlequin Presents. 7 of them were by Sara Craven but most of them were in the Harlequin Presents One Click Buy. It’s a program where you can buy all the HPs for one month in one big package. Incredibly, you can buy the entire 8 books at Books on Board for $9.49.
I think it’s a bit interesting to read the entire collection. I felt like I was reading an album versus a single record. The collection itself was varied, as if the editors make an attempt to provide a little of everything to its subscribers each month. Here’s my review of the collection.
The Prince’s Forbidden Virgin by Robyn Donald.
Rosa Fierezza is an agricultural scientist studying shot blight – a disease that affects vineyards. Her area of study was prompted by her homeland’s primary source of income being wine. She is a princess of the country of Niroli. She left Niroli, in part because there was no future there for her as no female will ever be allowed to rule, and in part because she loves Max, the heir to the throne. Max and Rosa are cousins and by law, they are forbidden to marry. (thus the title).
All of Rosa’s and Max’s brothers have abdicated the throne in order to marry the loves of their lives. Max never expected to be the next King of Niroli but now that he is soon to ascend to the throne, he finds that it suits him. He loves Niroli and the land. He appreciates the importance of steady leadership.
When Rosa returns to Niroli, Max realizes what a beauty she has grown in to and as they spend time together fighting shot blight, they grow closer and closer. Max and Rosa’s attraction, though, must be fought because they cannot be together by law and Max feels that the duty to the throne is something he cannot give up.
I thought that the storyline dealt with the possibilities of other heirs pretty well, keeping the conflict strong throughout the book. Max could abdicate but Rosa is the only other legitimate heir to the throne which means that the cousin law would still be in force. There is one illegitimate heir but he apparently has no interest in Niroli and both Max and Rosa feel strongly that the country needs the right ruler.
I thought that the shot blight aspect added an additional layer of tension and I liked how it was resolved (no miracle cure). It also served as a small metaphor for Max and Rosa’s relationship (seemingly hopeless).
Bedded or Wedded by Julia James
Xavier Lauran, CEO of a luxury goods company, receives an email from his brother claiming that he found the love of his life and while others might believe her to be unsuitable, he will be marrying her soon. (Yes, I thought of Louis Vuitton as well).
Xavier, the meddlesome older brother, sends out an investigator to follow Armand and discover the “unsuitable” bride. Armand leads the investigators to a woman named Lissa Stephens. Lissa works as a casino hostess, a fairly unsavory job. Essentially, she cakes on gaudy make-up, wears a gaudy dress and leans on high rollers shoulders, encouraging them to spend more money.
Armand was right. Lissa was far from suitable. Xavier is puzzled as to why Armand would be attracted to this hard looking woman and goes to investigate personally. Lissa, of course, is not all that she seems and when Xavier sees her without her makeup and finds that underneath is a woman of substance, he is interested against his will. Xavier essentially forces Lissa to have dinner with him and while they are attracted to each other, Lissa says that no future can be had because she has a committment to another person.
Xavier is crushed. He cannot pursue Lissa because this is his brother’s love. Then one day, Liss rings him to tell him that she is free if he is and he responds immediately.
A big misunderstanding forces them apart (big Mis’s are a large part of HP novels) but the misunderstanding is not one easily solved by sitting down and having one conversation. Xavier accuses Lissa of horrible things and essentially, they are all true except one which she protests. But Xavier, in his hurt and anger, hears nothing from her except lies. When Xavier sees Lissa again, the truth is revealed but by then it might be too late.
I liked Lissa quite a bit. The story relies a bit on misdirection and I felt like it did a good job of keeping the suspense up about the relationship between Lissa and Armand. I had a fairly good idea about what the relationship entailed but it still provided a good basis for suspense and the “forbidden” aspect of Lissa and Xavier’s relationship.
The Greek Tycoon’s Pregnant Wife by Anne Mather
Jane married Demetri but left him over five years ago believing him to have impregnated a young woman. Demetri has come back to gain a divorce after these many years because he is ready to marry again. His father is dying and wants Demetri to marry and have children. Demetri feels that it is probably the right time. His mother has someone picked out for him.
Its clear that Demetri still loves Jane but why, I am not sure, for Jane treats him pretty poorly. Maybe she treats him poorly because Demetri is a schmuck. Demetri himself is no prince. Within minutes of saying that he is wanting a divorce, he and Jane are back in the sack. Most of the story is the two of them hurling hurtful words at each other and then engaging in lustfilled embraces.
I thought that there were efforts made to explain Jane’s stupidity, but overall, I thought Demetri and Jane both acted like five year olds.
The Demetrios Bridal Bargain by Kim Lawrence
Despite the outward trappings of this story (the greek billionaire, the island home, etc. etc), the main part of this story is kind of like a chick lit book. Rose fell in love with her boss, Steven, but since he is married Rose decides to leave her job and take another in Scotland cataloguing a rich man’s library.
Matthieu Demetrios goes to Scotland to help a friend save his family estate. The two of them meet when Rose falls on thin ice into the water and Matt saves her. He recognizes her instantly as a young woman who had crept into his room one night after a Formula 1 race. Only, it wasn’t Rose, it was her twin sister Rebecca, who was going through a “summer to forget” after her fiance declared himself to be gay.
Matt, of course, doesn’t believe this “twin” story and proceeds to poke fun at her. Someone overhears this conversation and gossip spreads through the village that Rose is a fast girl. Her employer then fires her so Rose goes to Matt and tells him he must find her a job since he ruined the one that she had.
Matt decides that her job will be to pretend to be his fiance for a while to get back at his estranged father. Rose agrees but she is the surliest pretend bride ever, hardly making a secret of what a farce she thinks it is.
The ending of the story turned a little schmaltzy for me given how smart the first part was, but I would definitely read another Lawrence book.
Italian Boss, Housekeeper Bride by Sharon Kendrick
Raffaele ‘s sister Ellysbetta is in a mental hospital being hounded by the press. His attorney cooks up a plan to take away attention from her. After all, the press is only interested in Ellysbetta because of her relationship to Raffaele. Raffaele will pretend to get engaged and that will cause the tabloids to shift attention to him.
Natasha is his housekeeper. She showed up on his doorstep, wet, tired, bedraggled but desperate for a job. She had a son and Raffaele decided that the two of them could live in his house and Natasha would be his housekeeper. She has been a very good one.
Tom, the attorney, suggests Natasha as the fake wife to be and Raffaele agrees. Natasha would be perfect. She would understand what her role would be and would not expect anything more. Raffaele arrogantly assumes that he knows her so well.
The good thing about knowing someone as well as he did Natasha, was that Raffaele could tell it like it really was–”and the truth was a luxury you didn’t get to use with most people.
And he proceeds to tell her she dresses and looks terribly.
‘My taste in women is well known,’ he said bluntly, wondering why she hid her bottom when it happened to be such a shapely one. ‘And, at the moment, you do not fulfill any of the criteria.’
But I gave up on this book half way through because Natasha, who secretly pines for Raffaele appeared to have no backbone and I thought Raffaele was an ass. I suppose Natasha liked him because Raffaele was good to her son, but the attraction seemed a bit forced. After all, Raffaele only liked her once she had her “makeover” and she then met all his criteria. Blergh.
The Italian Billionaire’s Christmas Miracle by Catherine Spencer
This is the ebook that Harlequin gave away on Christmas Day. I think it is a classic Presents tale but either I had read too many by this time and had tired of the trope or this one simply didn’t work for me. I’m leaning toward the latter as I read four more after this one.
Arlene inherits a vineyard in British Columbia and uses a trip to Italy to try to learn all she can about vineyards. She is introduced to Domenico Silvaggio d’Avalos who owns some of the finest vineyards in Italy. Domenico initially resists but ultimately is intrigued by Arlene.
They spend the rest of her vacation together with Domenico instructing her about the winery business. This part of the book was really interesting and lent a very authentic feel to the story. Overtime, Domenico falls for Arlene and Arlene falls for Domenico but her constant insecurities kept them apart. It is true that she was out of her element and with a very rich and handsome man but there really wasn’t anything that Domenico did to suggest that he was the superficial cad she makes him out to be. I could see what emotional strings were trying to be tugged here but it was because it was so very obvious that it failed to have the impact.
To a great degree, it became overtly predictable, tiresomely so.
His Christmas Bride by Helen Brooks
This was my favorite story in the entire collection. After reading it, I immediately emailed Jayne telling her that she should read it too. There was one bit of hokeyness at the end of the story (I think it was a play on the classic line from Miracle on 42nd Street but eh)
Blossom Winter is a fashion photographer and she fell in love with one of the male models. They got married and were seemingly happy. She introduced Dean to all her print and TV contacts and his career began to take off. One day she came home and found that Dean had left her. Not only did he leave her, but he cleaned out their joint account and the person that he left her for was someone he had lived with before Dean and Blossom got married. In effect, the entire marriage was a sham and Dean had played her for a fool. Blossom devoted herself to her career and essentially cut men out of her life. She knew that to rely on someone like that would be almost imposible for her to recover from and her career, her friendship, is something that she could control.
Blossom’s sister, Melissa, had serious stomach pains and had to be taken to the hospital. Blossom agrees to watch Melissa’s four children while Melissa and her husband are at the hospital.
Greg’s boss, Zak Hamilton, comes by to remind Greg of a meeting and finds Blossom there, harried by the four kids with chocolate cake on her face. He is intrigued by her and begins to pursue Blossom. Melissa is horrified because Zak is not the type of guy to settle down. He’s rich and he’s gorgeous and definitely not the one to turn to after Dean.
Blossom assures her it is nothing, but Zak wants to make it something and he didn’t get to be successful by not taking no for an answer.
But Blossom is not an easy nut to crack. Her defenses are strong and it would take a miracle to overcome them. Zak romances her by telling her that they will take it slow and they do. Everytime that Blossom thinks hat Zak is just like any other guy (read Dean), he proves her wrong. Blossom knows that she is falling for Zak or maybe she already has and there lies danger.
The conflict is that Blossom allows her fear to keep her from taking a chance. Despite Zak’s every effort, he cannot seem to overcome that fear. Blossom and Zak engage in real conversations about their feelings (but not in a way that I felt wasn’t authentic to Zak’s clear alpha male personality). Blossom truly believes that her life would be better off alone.
Zak is probably one of the most self actualized characters I have read in a long time. His characterization was consistent. What made him a super successful businessman was never giving up. Zak was willing to fight for Blossom and their love and he does. It is truly super romantic and I had to read the last two chapters a couple of times because it evoked such a warm feeling for me. Interestingly enough, Zak’s entire character is revealed through conversations and actions as we spend almost no time in his head.
The Greek Billionaire’s Baby Revenge by Jennie Lucas
This was another DNF for me. Anna Rostoff ran away from her lover with their infant son because she found some papers which suggested that her lover, Nikos, drove her father to suicide. For four months, Anna has been on the run, not because Nikos is dangerous to her or her son, but because of some perceived wrongdoing to her father. When Nikos runs her to ground, she is living in her run down ancestral home in St. Petersburg that has no heat. What a good mother she is, that Anna.
So Nikos drags her back to Las Vegas and Anna, desperate to get away from him, sneaks away to seek out his rival in Las Vegas and possibly offer him something like marriage if he’ll take Anna and her son away from Nikos. Even though her son is also Nikos son. And even though Nikos wants to marry Anna. And . . .well, at that point, I just gave up. Anna was too stupid to live and Niko was too for wanting Anna.
I think this is a classic presents storyline and what elevates one Presents book over another is the smart quotient of the characters because dumb is never sexy.
The one click bundle was a success for me because I found two authors I want to try again. I think that the editors do a good job of weaving different locales and themes together in one collection. HI think I’ll probably try a few more of these “one click” bundles/ Clearly there will be books in the series that I find unreadable as I did here. Two of the eight books I could not finish. One was a gem, though, that I’ll re-read.