Sunday, October 28, 2007

HP -- And I don't mean Harry Potter

I have quite a weakness for these little books and I wish I could tell you why. They’re like candy—super sweet and if you eat too many you’ll get sick. I find myself reading several of these all at once and then not going near them again for months at a time. They have the most awful titles and their plots are often based on communication failures. The “Big Misunderstanding” is frequently used as is the ever popular/most despised secret baby plot. There’s really a lot to hate here, yet lots of intelligent, rational romance readers go back for more time and again. I’m one of them. They’re so darn cheap on Fictionwise and if they’re awful, I can delete the electrons back into the ether. No trees have been harmed.

If I understand it right, Harlequin Presents are supposed to be strong emotional books involving ruthless, rich, gorgeous heroes who are brought to their knees by the plucky heroine who generally seems to be down on her luck, but is determined to make it on her own. The good ones get the emotion right and draw you in for that emotional payoff despite the most improbable of plots. The bad ones (and there are plenty of bad ones) just manage to tick me off. Because sometimes nobody can be that stupid. Right?

Just for kicks, here are 3 HPs that I read last week:

First up is Innocent on Her Wedding Night by Sara Craven (October 2007). Craven is one of my favorite HP authors. I have liked the 4 books by her that I’ve read. This one is the story of Laine, who runs away from her husband Daniel on her wedding night because she believes he married her for purely altruistic reasons, not because he truly cared for her. The book opens 2 years later when she runs into Daniel when she (naturally) is down on her luck and forced to share an apartment with Daniel who is subletting from Laine’s brother. This is a typical “Big Misunderstanding” book and the entire plot revolves around Laine and Daniel’s inability to communicate openly with one another. Interestingly, it’s also written entirely from Laine’s POV. Often HPs contain little of the hero’s POV, but I can think of few that never let you into the hero’s head. Anyhow, despite the fact that when I was done with the book I wanted to slap Laine and Daniel silly for not talking to each other sooner, I still have to say that I really liked this one. Craven gets the emotion right and she paces the story well so that you’re easily drawn in.

The next one I read was Wife for a Week by Kelly Hunter (August 2007). This was my first book by Hunter. First, let me say that I absolutely loved this book. Then I have to ask—how the heck did it end up as Presents? Nick is a businessman who has to go to Hong Kong and bring along his wife. Problem is he doesn’t have a wife. While shopping with his mother, he meets Hallie and eventually talks her into going to Hong Kong to pose as his wife. He’ll pay her enough money to allow her to quit her low-paying job and finish her schooling. This book was witty and had me laughing out loud a couple of times. The dialogue was great between well-adjusted people able to admit they were mightily attracted to one another. Hmm, how rare is that in an HP book? And then there’s this sub-plot involving the fact that someone’s trying to kill Nick. I saw that one coming instantly, but it was still pretty funny. Hallie has 4 older brothers and certainly they’re fodder for future books. I’ll be watching for Kelly Hunter’s name.

The third one is The Mediterranean Billionaire’s Secret Baby by Diana Hamilton (October 2007). So if you hate secret baby plots, at least the title lets you know right off to stay away. I’ve read several of Hamilton’s other HPs with mixed results. Most I’ve liked, a couple I haven’t. This one, well the emotion was there, but the basis for the misunderstanding that results in the baby being a secret was just too flimsy so it was hard for me to buy into the story. Anna and Francesco had had a brief affair. They meet again 7 months later and Anna is obviously pregnant (the baby doesn’t stay secret for long). There is anger on both sides because of the way their affair ended. Of course if they had talked about it, there would be no book. Nonetheless, the turning points in the plot seemed too manufactured (ignoring the fact that these books begin with improbable plots [grin]) and ultimately I can’t recommend this one.

I’ve got a Julia James in my PDA (I always like hers) and one or two others and then I think that’ll do me for the next few months. But I’ll be back for more. I just can’t help myself.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Scottish Companion / Karen Ranney. 2007

I don’t really have time to review as many books here as I’d like, but I think I’d be remiss if I’d let this one go by. Once again I’m in awe of an author’s ability to not just write a novel, but to carefully craft it so that each word is important and if you read it too quickly you might miss an important point. The Scottish Companion is Karen Ranney’s latest book. I have a couple of her recent books on my TBR pile, but decided to read this one out of order as I’m not aware that it’s connected to any of her previous books.

TSC is the story of Gillian and Grant—two people who’ve known tremendous loss. They are thrown together when Gillian, the paid companion of the title, accompanies her employer on a visit to Grant’s estate. Gillian’s employer, Arabella, is a very strange young woman who is obsessed with medicine to the point that she has absolutely no interest in anything that goes on around her unless it has to do with a medical ailment. Grant needs a wife and as he has no interest in finding one on his own, decides that his physician’s daughter will do and arranges a betrothal to Arabella. Arabella will come to his estate and visit for a month, giving the two of them time to become acquainted before they wed. While Arabella is a beautiful woman, Grant finds himself attracted to Gillian instead.

Gillian is a woman who has lost her good name and reputation and is a heartbeat from living on the streets. She is just as attracted to Grant as he is to her. But because of her past, Gillian is wary of any involvement with Grant. The two of them engage in a delicate dance as they begin to get to know one another while they deal with the circumstances of Gillian’s past, Arabella’s strange and unusual behavior, and Grant’s betrothal. And woven into all of this is a mystery involving the deaths of Grant’s two younger brothers.

What I think is so impressive about this novel is the way that Karen Ranney slowly and carefully reveals Gillian’s story. Gillian is, to me, a very intriguing character. It takes well over three quarters of the book to learn what happened to Gillian and why. It is revealed little by little—literally a sentence here and a sentence there. This is why I thought it so well crafted. Karen Ranney uses the tension of Gillian’s past to keep you reading and looking for the next snippet of information.

Of course eventually Grant and Gillian give in to their mutual attraction. They need to deal with their growing attachment to each other, the presence of a murderer, and the tangle of Grant’s betrothal to Arabella. I mentioned earlier that both Grant and Gillian have experienced tremendous loss. It is trite to assume that a grand love can erase that loss; Karen Ranney does not give into triteness. I appreciate that. Instead you see that love makes living with loss bearable; there is comfort to give and receive; there are still moments of great joy to be found. And isn’t that the truth? Well done, Ms. Ranney.