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Kate Hardy

Harlequin Medical Romance: The Penhally Bay Series

Harlequin Medical Romance: The Penhally Bay Series

When Mills & Boon celebrated its centennial a few years ago, it commissioned a series to mark the occasion in its Medical Romance line. The series was to be set in the fictional coastal Cornwall town of Penhally Bay and all the novels would focus on characters who came to work or already lived there. Penhally Bay was too small for a full-sized hospital, but one of the focal, continuing characters of the series had established a surgery. The doctors and nurses who worked in the surgery (including Strangers Coming To Town and Bad Boys Returning Home), the patients who came for treatment, and auxiliary members of the town medical community all played main characters in the novels. The town’s location on the coast also provided opportunities for sea disasters and rescues, and the famous cliffs and mines of Cornwall offered even more drama.

The Brides of Penhally Bay series was initially intended to comprise 12 novels, releasing one per month through 2008. It was so popular that it was extended to 16 books, and then a second  8-book series, set in the nearest larger town’s hospital, St. Piran, was begun. Readers were already familiar with St. Piran because that was where serious Penhally cases were taken for hospital care.  In addition, the St. Piran’s Hospital series finally wrapped up the long-running romance of Dr. Nick Tremayne, the head of the Penhally surgery, and his practice manager Kate Althorp. Their complicated relationship had been revealed and developed over the earlier books but never resolved.

As a faithful Medicals reader, I was thrilled to find the series, but as an American customer I was less thrilled to discover that they were unavailable for sale in the US. Luckily I am able to buy UK books, so I snapped up the omnibus volumes available from M&B (4 volumes of 4 books each) and burned through them. Finally, in 2011, the series came to Harlequin’s US bookstore. They are again releasing one per month, on Harlequin’s inexplicable schedule of print before ebook (i.e., a January print book is not released in ebook form until February).

I’m not going to review all 16 books, but with more than half released so far, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide quick summaries of the first eight individual novels and ask readers to chime in with their thoughts (and reactions if they’ve read them). A warning to non-regular Medicals readers: these books feature all the standard tropes. Big Mis, Secret Babies, reunion stories, friends to lovers, non-secret babies, other secrets, etc., plus of course lots of medical stuff. The pleasure, for me, lies in the way the authors deploy these tropes. Some work really well, others not so much. But if you’re a fan of continuity series like me, it’s worth reading them all to build the knowledge of the world.

Christmas Eve Baby by Caroline Anderson. This books introduces both the series as a whole and the first of Nick Tremayne’s children, his only daughter Lucy. Lucy and Ben Carter are doctors and former friends who were driven apart by a family tragedy for which Nick holds Ben responsible. Lucy and Ben meet again and fall into bed with predictable M&B results and have to deal with Lucy’s antagonistic father and make decisions about their futures. Anderson is a skilled writer; she does an excellent job of introducing a large cast of characters and setting the stage for future installments, and Lucy and Ben are very likable main characters.

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The Italian’s New-Year Marriage Wish by Sarah Morgan. Amy Avanti comes back to seek a divorce from her Italian doctor-husband, Marco. Amy ran out on Marco two years ago and went to practice medicine in Africa. They are still very much in love, but Amy refuses to tell Marco the real reason she left, and he refuses to give her a divorce until she explains. It’s a Big Mis meets reunion story. Marco is a gorgeous, sexy, endearing hero of the type Morgan writes so well. Some readers will find Amy sympathetic and others will want to shake her; I fell somewhere in between. The setting is further developed and we learn more about Kate and Nick, but Morgan’s attention to context doesn’t lessen her focus on the main relationship.

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The Doctor’s Bride by Sunrise by Josie Metcalfe. Adam Donnelly comes back to Penhally to rekindle his interrupted relationship with his childhood friend, paramedic Maggie Pascoe. He has some explaining to do, but before they can do much but say hello, they’re both required at a rescue operation that involves Kate Althorp’s young son Jem. Metcalfe offers an unusual setting and time-frame: most of the book takes places in the course of the rescue and Adam and Maggie only communicate by 2-way radio for a large section of the book. Nevertheless, she manages to create a sweet story of reunion and romance amidst a dangerous rescue operation, and it’s not as incongruous as it sounds. It doesn’t entirely work, but it’s fun to watch it unfold.

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The Surgeon’s Fatherhood Surprise by Jennifer Taylor. Playboy surgeon Jack Tremayne comes back to Penhally Bay when he gains custody of his 3-year-old son, about whose existence he only learns when the mother dies and leaves him as the custodial parent. Neighbor Alison Myers, practice nurse at the Penhally surgery, friend of his sister Lucy, and single mother of her own 3-year-old, is an invaluable help as he adjusts to instant fatherhood. This is a fairly predictable story of playboy turns family man, heavy on the medical and Tremayne family subplots, but the hero and heroine are likeable and the matching 3-year-olds are not overly annoying.

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The Doctor’s Royal Love-Child by Kate Hardy. This story pairs one of the handsome foreign surgery doctors we’ve come to know and like, Dragan Lovak, with Melinda Fortesque, the town vet who turns out to be a Royal Princess. Her family is pressuring her to give up her profession and come back to assume royal duties. While I’m usually not a fan of princess stories, this one worked for me. Dragan is a wonderful, winning hero, and Melinda is down-to-earth and surprisingly believable as someone who would rather be a wife and vet in a Cornish village.  Pregnancy storyline but not a secret baby.

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Nurse Bride, Bayside Wedding by Gill Sanderson. This story introduces the third Tremayne sibling, Ed, who has returned to Penhally after a difficult tour of duty as an army doctor. He meets ship’s nurse Maddie Granger when her cruise ship is moored in Penhally Bay with an outbreak of Novovirus that puts many elderly passengers at risk. Like the other Tremayne-centered stories, this one has more of a focus on Nick and Kate, as well as on Nick’s relationship with Ed. Ed and Maddie both come with baggage from past relationships which affects their current lives, in Maggie’s case quite directly. The book is competently written but didn’t really do that much for me, in part because I found the shipboard and virus storyline less interesting than those involving village and countryside residents. The patients are mostly senior citizens and the main characters are fairly quiet personalities.

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Single Dad Seeks A Wife by Melanie Milburne. This novel moves away from the surgery staff and Tremayne family and features a relationship between visiting Australian forensic pathologist Eloise Hayden and Chief Inspector Lachlan D’Ancey. Eloise has come to investigate the drowning death of a renowned young Australian surfer, whom Lachlan’s teenaged daughter had befriended. The conflict between them is well-motivated and their growing attraction nicely handled, and the introduction of a mystery subplot makes a nice change of pace. Lachlan is a sympathetic and winning hero and his relationship with his daughter is one of the novel’s strengths. Nick and Kate are important characters and a Big Secret of their past is revealed.

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Virgin Midwife, Playboy Doctor by Margaret McDonagh. The heroine is definitely a virgin, and the doctor is something of a playboy, as advertised, but in McDonagh’s skilled hands this turns into anything but a fill-in-the-trope story. McDonagh is fast becoming one of my most reliable Medicals authors and this novel shows why. Chloe MacKinnon is the midwife at Penhally surgery and while she is attracted to fill-in doctor Oliver Fawkner, the gulf between their respective backgrounds and experience makes her shy away from getting to know him outside work. Oliver is intrigued by Chloe but she’s clearly not the type for a quick fling, and she’s shy but no doormat. For his part, Oliver is a playboy but he’s not a jerk, and his efforts to woo Chloe and win her trust are sweet to read. You can see why these opposite personalities are attracted to each other.

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Recapping these eight novels, one thing that stands out to me is that many of the main and supporting characters are not that young. Several heroes are in their late thirties or early forties, and they are often paired up with heroines in their thirties. Nick Tremayne is well into middle age, and Kate Althorp is no youngster herself. There are subplots with teenagers, and while there are lots of pregnancies and marriages, they don’t seem as overwhelming to me as they might in a group of stand-alone novels because they fit into the warp and weft of village life. Every book in the Penhally Bay series isn’t a keeper, but overall the authors have done an excellent job of creating a shared world that I’ve enjoyed returning to over and over.

How about you? Do any of these stories pique your interest? Have you read them and do you have recommendations? And if anyone wants more information on any particular title, let me know in the comments.

Series at Harlequin

Harlequin Presents 2-in-1 Review: Tabloid Heroines Edition

Harlequin Presents 2-in-1 Review: Tabloid Heroines Edition

Two of my favorite Harlequin authors published novels with somewhat similar characters, so I thought I’d write a combined review.

Dear Ms. Hardy,

Champagne with a Celebrity by Kate HardyI am a big fan of your Harlequin Presents Extra/Modern Heat novels, and when I saw that you had two linked books set in France I was intrigued. The second in the series, Champagne With A Celebrity, is set in the French countryside and in Grasse, home of perfumes. The hero, Guy, is a master parfumier who has attained fame and fortune by developing a sought-after line of scents. But he has recently lost his sense of smell, and if he cannot find a cure he’ll lose his business, his livelihood, and a major component of his identity. Guy meets the heroine, Amber AKA “Bambi” Wynne, at his brother’s wedding. He is attracted to her because she reminds him of his supermodel ex-wife, but he is also wary of his feelings because his marriage was so unsuccessful. For her part, Amber is the gorgeous, leggy daughter of a movie star who spends her time shoe shopping, charity fundraising, socializing with her friends, and avoiding celebrity magazine publicity and the paparazzi. Guy and Amber have a hot and satisfying one-night stand after the wedding ceremony, and they agree to limit things to that night. But as Amber stays on to sightsee and they spend more time together, they both realize that their attraction may be more than mere lust. Nevertheless, Guy holds back emotionally because he doesn’t want to repeat his mistakes, and he hides his condition from Amber as long as he can.

Amber is presented (and presents herself) as something of a ditz, but the reader quickly realizes that she is more than that. She is a generous friend, an excellent events planner, a good cook, and an indefatigable charity fundraiser. She’s not an intellectual, but she’s far from stupid, and she has a great deal of common sense. When word of Guy’s condition leaks out, she offers him solid advice and useful resources to take control of the situation. Guy is a handsome, charming hero, but he’s also a driven workaholic who can’t imagine life outside his chosen profession. His previous marriage failed because his wife couldn’t cope with his dedication, and he assumes Amber will be the same. Instead, she respects his intelligence and commitment and she looks for ways to help him succeed if a cure can’t be found. Yes, she shops for shoes and texts at the speed of a teenager, but she also takes an intelligent interest in Guy’s business. I really liked the way that you depict their everyday life together in the countryside and in Grasse, and I believed in the HEA of these two very different people. Grade: B

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Dear Ms. Morgan,

Bella and the Merciless Sheikh by Sarah MorganYou, Ms. Hardy, and Liz Fielding have shown me that Sheikh books can be intelligent and fun. So when Bella and the Merciless Sheikh showed up, I was happy to read it. Bella’s story is part of the Balfour series, which I have not read, so much of the Balfour context sailed right over my head. But it’s not necessary to know all the backstory in order to understand and enjoy this novel. When we meet Bella, she is miserable in a desert retreat, which is presumably somewhere in the Middle East. She’s been deprived of her mobile phone, her iPod, and various other necessities of a civilized life, like a mirror and hair conditioner. Bella has been exiled to this place because of something that happened in the previous Balfour book, and all she wants is to get out. She steals a horse from a nearby stable and takes off into the desert without a hat. She is rescued in the nick of time by the titular Sheikh, Zafiq, who is on a voluntary and much sought-after weeklong retreat of his own from the stressful responsibilities he shoulders as the ruler of a small country.

Zafiq takes Bella, who unknowingly stole his prize mare, back to his camp and refuses to return her to the retreat or to the city because he wants his week away, dammit! Bella tries to use whatever feminine wiles she has left and is at a loss when they don’t work. Despite their opposite personalities and interests, Zafiq and Bella develop a mutual case of lust-at-first-sight and enjoy each other’s company until Zafiq is forced to return to his responsibilities. When they get back to Al-Rafid Bella surprises Zafiq and herself by begging him to let her stay. She’s not ready to go back to her paparazzi-filled life. Zafiq, who is stunned to find out that she is that Bella Balfour, wants her out of his life, but he agrees to let her stay if she takes on a job and keeps out of trouble. At this point the fairy-tale elements of the book spin it into the stratosphere. I won’t give away the rest of the story, but let’s just say it’s sort of a cross between  Hidalgo and National Velvet. Since the title had already clued me in to the realization that this story was not going to play out as a slice-of-life dramedy, I went with it and had a good time. Grade: B-

I can see why some readers might write off the heroines of these two books as clueless or TSTL, but I think they’d be wrong to do so. Neither Bella nor Amber is dumb, but they’re both so used to being famous for their looks and their partying ways that they have little belief in their own intelligence (and why should they, when no one else gives them credit for any). In their heroes, they find men who see beyond the superficial celebrity to the interesting women they really are, but the heroes don’t turn them into something they’re not. Instead, these two heroines find their own paths to greater confidence in themselves, and I really enjoyed traveling those paths with them. And the heroes were pretty hot too.

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