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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

REVIEW: Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

REVIEW: Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

Dear Ms. Milan:

Toward the end of the review it is going to sound like I didn’t like this book but that would be the wrong impression. I did like this book.  I liked it but in a lot of ways I found Mark, like his older brother Ash, to be almost saintly in his capacity for understanding and forgiveness which leaves me wondering if the only way mortal and flawed women can be loved is in the hands of the most perfect of men and how the Turner boys turned out this way when their father was a monster.

Unclaimed	Courtney MilanThe hero is Mark, the youngest of the Turner brothers. You noted at the outset that you wanted to write a story about a rock story.  Mark is the embodiment of a Victorian rockstar by virtue of a book he wrote on male chastity.  He was even knighted for his efforts.  For some reason, his slim volume about how men should restrain their desires to avoid ruining women has caught fire amongst the males in society.  Companion pamphlets are being written. A club has been formed.  There are secret handshakes.  Codes of honor. Vows of celibacy.  None of which have anything to do with the original volume Mark wrote but because of his fame, Mark is being considered for a government position that no one cares to have except one George Weston.  Weston puts out the call for someone to seduce Mark, ruin his reputation, and put him out of the running for the government position.

Tired of the fame, Mark travels to Shepton Mallet, a village of his youth to find some peace.  Instead he finds Jessica Farleigh.

Jessica Farleigh, a courtesan, takes Weston up on the offer to ruin Mark.  (It’s such delicious irony that this book features a female out to use sex to ruin a man).  By seducing Mark, Jessica will free herself from the sex trade and be able to retire to the country.  Jessica has been ill used by men, the extent of her mistreatment not really unveiled until the end. She believes Mark will be easy to seduce and is flummoxed when he is not. Jessica’s deception is easy to swallow primarily because of two things: 1) she is desperate and 2) Mark does not care one whit if he is ruined. He wants to be ruined or seduced, but only by the right woman.   Jessica’s initial forays at seduction are met with Mark’s disappointment.  He initially believes that Jessica is the right woman for him but her practiced wiles are so easy for him to see through that he is entirely put out.

It was easy to set aside his arousal, after all. He was actually rather disappointed.

Mrs. Farleigh made herself sound quite stupid— as if she were the sort of forgetful female who reg- ularly traipsed about outdoors in the wet. Some men of Mark’s acquaintance might have believed the act. After all, they believed all women were stupid.

Not Mark. And most definitely not this woman. If he had to guess, he would have said that she chose every item of apparel with the same care a clockmaker employed when selecting springs.

While Mark is chaste, he is no innocent. Jessica, on the other hand, is more innocent in heart and spirit even if she is chaste because she’s not had the freedom to love or to hate. It’s all had to be suppressed for the furtherance of her own survival. There is a scene in the book in which Jessica admits to being a good shot because she had to learn to shoot badly with precision else the man she was with would sulk and be unbearable if she beat him. And the one time that Jessica took pleasure for herself, she was punished. No, banished. And left to fend for herself.

It’s easy to see how one whose whole life has been to walk carefully, step carefully because of men would have hatred toward them and to think less of them.  When Mark treats her with respect and demands respect in return, Jessica barely knows how to respond.  She is so used to shaping herself to meet the desires of someone else, she is finding it difficult to be herself.  Her seduction of Mark begins from a place of survival but dislike but as she spends more time with Mark she finds that he is seducing her in an entirely different fashion and she is beset by emotions of dislike for herself, frustration toward Mark, and wonderment of her growing desire. In some ways, Jessica is written as a character without sharp edges. Despite her time as a courtesan and her dislike of her trade, she isn’t hardened but rather sweet. While her viewpoint is cynical, she holds little animosity toward the townspeople who shun her. Both Jessica and Mark are portrayed as fairly understanding people, or at least perspicacious. They seem to intuit the foibles of others readily.

Since writing the book, Mark has lived in a state of frustration.  He believes that no one has actually read his book because it premised on the idea that men are in control of their own desires and no woman, no matter how beautiful, lively, or interesting, is leading a man to his downfall:

“There are no unchaste women, or profligate men.” He set his hands on the podium. “There are no saints. None of you men want to hear me say that. After all, if it’s not a woman who’s led you astray, you’ve gone down the wrong path all on your own. If I am just an ordinary man, it means that chastity is attainable for everyone. It means that you are all responsible for your own mistakes, that you must own up to the wrong you have done without laying the blame on anyone else’s doorstep. It means you can never hold a woman scapegoat for your shortcomings again, not even if she is pretty and lively and intelligent.”

No matter how many times he excoriates people, they simply hold him in higher regard and the book uses this for great comedic effect.

Jessica, on the other hand, is viewed as a wicked woman.  Her clothes are a little too loud. Her dresses not modest enough.  Her mannerisms too engrossing to be those of a true lady.  The men secretly fear the feelings she stirs in them and thus she is deemed immoral.  The women overtly fear the feelings she stirs in their men and thus she is a harlot.  The lessons of Sir Mark are for men and women alike: that they must be responsible for their own desires, lusts, and attractions.

This is a powerful message.  But in some ways, I wondered that Mark had to be the vehicle for this message.  In this period, perhaps, only a privileged male could have given voice to this scandalous proposition and be heard.  But Jessica (as Margaret in the previous book) appears to be redeemed through the belief by Mark that she is a person of worth.  She claims her redemption in the end through sacrifice.

Sir Mark is a little too perfect for me.  He waits to marry because he wants to find someone to whom he wants to be faithful, not just to whom he can be faithful.   He understands the plight of women, particularly that of Jessica nearly better than she understands it.   What has made the Turner men so understanding? So great a champion for the cause of women?  The Turners shared a terrible mother. He was on his own for sometime with only his brother Smite for support.  I appreciated it when Mark lost his temper, when he was hurt, but felt he appeared too good to be true. Of course, it could be said that Mark failed the basic precepts of his own book on male chastity – not to be chaste, of course, but to understand that women in his time were placed in untenuous positions and that they did not have the luxury of acting in a manner which Mark had wanted from Jessica.

I enjoyed every page in this book. I think that this book really celebrates womanhood. It’s a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend but because of the brilliance of the writing, I wanted to see more.  I loved Mark and Jessica but I felt there simply wasn’t enough challenge in the story to Mark’s character or explanation for how that character was shaped.  B

Best regards,

Jane

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