As I've mentioned before, there are a couple of Harlequin Presents authors that I buy compulsively, and whose backlists I'm in the process of collecting; Susan Napier and Robyn Donald. I do this despite some of the clunkers. *shrugs* It's almost like rubbernecking at a car accident; I swear I won't look, and usually make it to the wreck...but then I have to look out of the corner of my eye as I edge past. I explained briefly for P.Devi what I thought of Donald's two most recent HP's here
, and I'm going to expand on that now. [Note, my grades changed a little bit on rereading for this post.]
Things to know about how I read HPs and why I like Robyn Donald: *
My grading criteria are slightly relaxed for categories, in comparison to grading for single titles; because of their brevity and format, I think it is harder to write a good category novel.*
The thing I like best about Donald's writing is her use of the New Zealand landscape, flora, geography and history in her books. NZ is on the short list of possible destinations for my next big vacation, as a result of Lord of the Rings cinematography, photos from a friend's trip, and Donald's vivid descriptions.*
Donald's heroines tend to have some backbone, and not to simply rollover for the hero.
First, The Royal Baby Bargain
Revenge-by royal command!
For three years Prince Caelan Bagaton has been searching for the woman who kidnapped his nephew. Now he has finally found her, and he is going to exact his revenge...
Abby Metcalfe will do anything for the little boy she promised to protect. But Caelan has wealth and power and the child is a royal heir. To keep her promise Abby must agree to Caelan's demands - and that means a royal marriage!
RBB was a D for me. Basically, Abby had promised her friend Gemma on Gemma's deathbed that she would take care of her son, Michael. As part of the promise, Abby promises that she won't let Michael be raised like a little prince by her dysfunctional family. Fast forward a bit, and Abby is on the run, living in rundown conditions and being hunted by Prince Caelan (the name alone makes me snicker). He takes over her lease and blackmails her into marrying him with the threat of a custody suit. They had met briefly in the past and were extremely attracted to one another, but didn't act on the attraction. Although the marriage is one of convenience due to Michael, it will have all the normal, wedded benefits including regular nookie. Abby falls in love with Caelan (or maybe it was love at first sight), but is afraid to say anything for fear of upsetting the balance of their marriage. Angst, agony, etc., until he admits that he wouldn't have sued her for custody, he blackmailed her because he loved her and wanted to be with her. Blah, blah, blah.
Royalty, secret baby, marriage of convenience, all of these are plot cliches that bother me and all are present here. The book was set partially in New Zealand, but a large chunk of the action takes place the fictional principality of Dacia, a sort of generic European country. I just kept wondering, how did Abby plan to build a stable life for Michael if she was running so hysterically? And after they were married, I wanted one or both of them to speak up long before Caelan arranged a romantic interlude in order to say The Three Words. RBB was just sort of bleh to me.
Now, on to Wolfe's Temptress
The virgin temptress...
Wolfe had been looking for Rowan Corbett for five long years to discover her secret. Now he'd found her, and she was everything he'd expected: charming, with an irresistible beauty. Yet there was also an innocence that took him by surprise. The combination was beguiling, and they fell into bed at first sight.
Afterward she fled, but Wolfe Talamantes wasn't a man to give up. He'd found Rowan once, he would find her again -- and this time he wouldn't let her go until she'd told him the truth!
Rowan is a sculptor/potter who is beginning to find some acclaim, living in the wilds of Northland, New Zealand. At a showing of her work in Auckland, she meets Wolfe Talamantes, to whom she is immediately attracted. After one passionate night, she discovers that he is the half-brother of Tony Simpson, a man who died suspiciously while in Rowan's company, so she flees him. He follow her to Kura Bay in the Northland, and more or less harasses her to tell him the truth about his brother's death. Despite an inquest, he believes that his brother's death was neither accidental nor suicidal. After a few rounds of wrangling, she admits that she lied at the inquest but won't say why. More wrangling and dramatics ensue. Eventually, after he's worn her down, she admits that she lied because Tony had been stalking her; her father had killed him when defending her. She lied to protect her father, who died shortly thereafter, and so as not to smear Tony's reputation (sort of). Wolfe begs forgiveness and then disappears, as his self-imposed punishment. Rowan decides what she wants (him) and works to get him, but does so without completely sacrificing her pride and self-respect.
I thought WT was miles better than RBB, and it earned a B grade from me. It wasn't perfect, and the knocks were: Wolfe's family history is sort of cloudy on his father's side, and that uber-masculine name is kind of ridiculous. Also, I'm not thrilled with billionaire businessman heroes, despite the fact that they are part and parcel of HP plots. The secret Rowan is keeping was a little outlandish, but not beyond the realm of belief...unless I put on my CSI hat.
But the minuses were outweighed by the pluses. Wolfe knows he is in the wrong and grovels/apologizes whole-heartedly for his behavior. Rowan is independent, has a successful career of her own that she has established and she is not in any way planning on giving it up for Wolfe in order to be a proper wife. And the clincher for me, the geography/topography plays a role in the book, and the description the Northland is excellent.
In the end, the HP cliches were more tolerable in WT than in RBB. Despite the bleh-ness of RBB, I'll still be buying Donald's next book, what ever it may be.