Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Melanie Milburne

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.

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo |Fictionwise

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.

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo | Fictionwise

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.

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo | Fictionwise

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.

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo | Fictionwise

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.

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo | Fictionwise

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.

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo | Fictionwise

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.

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo | Fictionwise

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.

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo | Fictionwise

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

MINI REVIEWS: July Harlequin Presents

MINI REVIEWS: July Harlequin Presents

I have an 8 book subscription for Harlequin Presents. It’s about $25.00 and I enjoy the sudsy, angst laden stories. Unfortunately I got behind in my reading and reviewing of these. Here’s the July reads for me (I don’t know if everyone gets the same titles their subscriptions?)

Penny Jordan Michelle Reid

A Stormy Spanish Summer by Penny Jordan

The doormat to asshole ratio is high. The hero, Vidal, perceives the heroine, Fliss, to be promiscuous because he found her in the embrace of a drunken teenager when she was 16. Once a whore, always a whore. Vidal has so little regard for her that at the moment of their copulation:

“I might not be able to control the desire you arouse in me, Felicity,” he told her harshly. “But I am not such a fool as to take the kind of risks with my sexual health that intimacy with you would involve without this protection. You may be the sort of woman who boasts that her pleasure is increased by the danger of unprotected intercourse, but I am not a man who wants to put either my own or my future sexual partners’ health at risk by going down that road. Of course if you’d prefer not to go any further”

Alas, being insulted like this at the point of consummation only makes her more determined to give up her virginity to Vidal. She’ll show him. Oh, Fliss.

And she recognizes this “A woman would have to be bereft of all pride and self-protection to allow herself to feel any kind of desire for a man who treated her as Vidal had.”

There is plenty of angst cake here but it’s at the expense of a truly weak heroine and a, well, mean hero. D

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

A Night of Scandal by Sarah Morgan

I liked this one although not as much as Sunita. It didn’t have quite enough agnst for me and my enjoyment may have been tainted because of my overall dislike for movie star heroes. Read Sunita’s review here.

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

After Their Vows by Michelle Reid

This one labored for me. The heroine left the hero because she thought he was cheating. (In fact, this could have been a Helen Bianchin book because the plot was so similar to the Bianchin storylines). She never questioned it and ran off into hiding. A year later she files for divorce and at that point the hero decides to get her back. I never got the feeling that either of the characters loved each other. Angie, the heroine, puts her bad apple brother before her marriage and the hero, Roque, decides the best way to combat that is to lie and blackmail her. When Roque tries to convince Angie of his innocence, she refuses to believe it. After all, the tabloids said it was true as did the supposed other woman. Angie would rather take the word of unreliable sources over her husband, whom she supposedly loved. And, of course, because lust is so strong between the two, Angie can’t keep her hands off Roque or prevent him from carrying her to passionate heights. Blergh. C-

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

Melanie Milbourne Anne Oliver Helen Bianchin

The Wedding Charade by Melanie Milburne

This is a forced marriage story and it’s pretty ridiculous in the beginning. Nic and Jade have to marry or Nic loses 1/3 of the family business. Jade loses her inheritance which she has to have. The why she needs her inheritance is a secret but it’s not for the reason most romance heroines claim to need money (i.e., for a charitable cause). Jade is a fun heroine. She is a mess inside, insecure and mixed up, but she is a likeable mess. She takes people’s assumptions about her and ratchets it up. Nic thinks she is a wicked vixen and so she plays the wicked vixen for him. Everyone in the press thinks she is a man stealer and she does nothing to dissuade those opinions. Jade would rather be all those things than be known for the truth. Problematically Jade’s secret and her continued attempts to keep her secret only feed into Nic’s deep distrust toward her. B-

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

Alessandro’s Prize by Helen Bianchin

This is the dogged pursuit of one male, Alessandro, after one hurt female, Lily. Helen Bianchin, to her credit, almost always has a working woman as her heroine. These women work as hard as the men and have high powered jobs. I really appreciate that. The problem in this book is that Lily is purported to be a restauranteur non pareil. Yet she feels comfortable abandoning her restaurant in Australia and going to live with her god mother in Italy for a while after a botched engagement. Lily is described as this incredible chef but has no problem serving as an assistant chef for another chef in an Italian restaurant. Maybe I’ve watched too many Top Chef episodes, but I didn’t buy that Lily was a chef for one instant. The references to her as a chef were distracting and took me out of the story. C

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

The Ultimate Risk by Chantelle Shaw

Ah, for some reason I didn’t read this one.

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

The End of Faking it by Natalie Anderson. I recommend this book and I’ll have a full review of it tomorrow. Read less like an HP and more like a straight up contemporary (albeit in category format).

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo

Her Not So Secret Diary by Annie Oliver

This was a cute story but it lacked the emotional charge I was looking for from an HP. Yes, I know this was initially a Riva title, but I only discovered this after I read the book. Sophie accidentally sends a hot fantasy about her boss to her boss, Jared. Man, that retrieve email feature never, ever works. I give credit to Sophie for actually showing up to work after accidentally sending her boss the wrong attachment. She was a temp. I think I would have called the temp office and asked for a new assignment. Stat. B-

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo