Friday, June 30, 2006

Guilty Pleasures...

I just finished my very first Harlequin Presents title, His Royal Love Child by Lucy Monroe. The HP line first came to my attention when the Smart Bitches had a contest where you had to guess which title wasn't a real HP title. (Take a look if you haven't seen it, it's pretty funny). While you're at it, go ahead, take a look at the Harlequin Presents page. I mean, really, The Sheikh's Disobedient Bride? Wife Against Her Will? His Secretary Mistress? Sounds like all that is bad about romance: weak, stereotyped women, overpowering men, total cheese. Nuh-uh, not for me. As I delved more into the world of romance-related blogs, I read more and more about the popularity of these books with people, and my curiosity got the better of me. So I went to the Harlequin site for the first time and a funny thing happened: I must've spent a hour browsing the titles, reading the excerpts. It was compelling--why is it a "baby of shame"? Why is that Sicilian's mistress being so defiant? I really wanted to buy one, but my deeply ingrained feminist, left-leaning ways would not let me do so. I did look at the writing guidlines for the line, which I think say a lot about the appeal of HPs to readers:

Although grounded in reality and reflective of contemporary, relevant trends, these fast-paced stories are essentially escapist romantic fantasies that take the reader on an emotional roller-coaster ride. Written in the third person, they can be from the male or female point of view, or seen through the eyes of both protagonists. All are set in sophisticated, glamorous, international locations.

With its focus on strong, wealthy, breathtakingly charismatic alpha-heroes who are tamed by spirited, independent heroines, the central relationship in a Presents novel is a provocatively passionate, highly charged affair, driven by conflict, emotional intensity and overwhelming physical attraction, which may include explicit lovemaking.

These really are meant to be escapist fantasy, no more no less, and I can understand the appeal of that. Hell, I wanted to get one right away. I also read something on Squawk Radio (I have no idea when, so I'm not going to bother to try and link it) by an HP author, where she said that the titles are intended to express exactly what's in the book. You like Greeks? You like sheiks? You like virgin wives? There you go, no wondering whether it's for you. I still wasn't able to bring myself to buy one, until I decided to check out some other Harlequin lines as well. I chose His Royal Love-Child, because I had read that Lucy Monroe was pretty good. I prepared myself to be disgusted (and perhaps titillated) by the overly arrogant, aristocratic "hero" and the lame virgin "heroine," and got excited for some scathing review material. Here's the tagline for the series: "The Scorsolini Princes: Proud rulers and passionate lovers who need convenient wives!" 'Convenient Wives'? WTF? Although I'll admit, having a husband around can be convenient, when I need pictures hung, or can't get jars open.

Guess what? I liked it, I really, really liked it. Of course this is my first foray into the world of pregnant virgin mistresses (because yes, of course she was a virgin before giving it up for Signore Hottie) so I have nothing to compare it to, but it was not bad at all. The heroine, Danette Michaels, seemed like a real person. She ended up in a situation that was great at first, then became increasingly painful, and she reacted the way a real woman would react. She was strong and stuck to her guns, and even when she acted a bit bratty, you could understand why. As for Principe Marcello Scorsolini, the secret lover who knocks her up, he was arrogant, but he had reasons behind his actions. And he apologized when he was wrong, and tried to fix things. Which brings me to the really refreshing thing about this book: they spent most of their time communicating. Sometimes arguing, sometimes hurting each other, but they were trying to understand how each other felt about things and why. There were no stupid big misunderstandings, they believed each other's explanations for things that happened, and accepted each others apologies. Does that sound boring? It wasn't, although at 186 pages, it didn't have time to be boring. They always seemed to truly care about each other, and wanted to work out their issues, which made for a very satisfying romance.

So my first HP experience: quite enjoyable. I don't think I'll be buying tons of 'em, but I'd get another. But, oh no, The Scorsolini Marriage Bargain is all sold out! What's a girl to do?

PS: Anybody whose read any of these, where is their country supposed to be? They're in Sicily, and I assumed Isole Dei Rei (Islands of the King), was off the Italian coast somewhere, but then they went on some long-ass flight to get there. ???


Kristie (J) said...

I've never been able to bring myself to read one of these either because of the nutty titles. But I know they are popular. I might try one sometimes as I've learned never to say never. Maybe one of the less silly titles - maybe

Holly said...

I've enjoyed this series. I just got the newest book in the series, I'll let you know how it goes.

Noneya said...

These books are my secret pleasure. Guess not so secret because I've posted here....but my secret nonetheless.

They are fast reads and while the feminist in me screams bloody murder at the plots and the weak women, I seem to be in a happy mood at the end...

My favs seem to involve the words "mistress", "sheikh", or "baby"


Devon said...

Hi Sandie!

To be honest, the ones involving the convenient mistress getting inconveniently pregnant seem to be the ones that draw me the most.

I don't really get the sheikh thing though. It appears to be a very popular fantasy, and it's one that I find singularly unappealling. I've read too many articles about abuses against women in the Middle East, I think. Not to roll that into massive generalizations or anything. It's one of the few plots that I can't suspend my disbelief for. I always want to be like, haven't you seen "Not Without My Daughter"? What is it? Is it the power/riches thing? Does it seem very exotic or foreign? Hmm...Anyone willing to divulge the reason behind their love for sheikhs?