Each month, I’ll focus on a variety of digital romance reissues. This month readers will find a two-in-one from Mary Balogh—A Counterfeit Betrothal and The Notorious Rake—available by the start of May, two anthologies from Megan Hart (downloadable on May 1 and May 15), and the entire MacGregor series (ten novels and a short story) from Nora Roberts (available May 7).
The MacGregors Collection: Volumes One & Two: Nora Roberts
Nora Roberts’s MacGregor series encompasses just over half of the 20 digital reissues InterMix is releasing of her work in May. The series, originally published between 1985 and 1999, feature seven Silhouette Special Editions, two anthologies with three stories each, a Harlequin Historical, and a short story in a historical anthology.
Last year I helped write Publishers Weekly’s annual Romance feature, and editors at almost each publishing house mentioned the importance of small town romances, with their emphasis on community and family. Though Roberts’s MacGregor books are not set in small towns, nothing captures family and friendship like this series.
None of the individual titles in this series are particular favorites, yet this is my favorite romance series. I first wrote about patriarch Daniel MacGregor here at H&H last year, in a piece about The Interfering Relative, and as I reread the series for this article, I realized that somebody mathematically inclined could probably create a formula based on my enjoyment of each story based on the amount of word count devoted to Daniel MacGregor, the father I certainly wish I’d had, equally the man I’d loved to have called grandpa.
The MacGregor, as he is known to one and all, meddles in the love lives of his children, his children’s children, and extended family friends in order to marry them off, all the while blaming his interference on concern for his beloved wife, Anna. He explains it in this excerpted journal entry at the beginning of The MacGregor Brides:
My Anna and I made three children between us. It was necessary, at one time, to nudge these three strong individuals along, to remind them of their duty to the MacGregor name, to the MacGregor line. I regret to say that my children were a bit slow in this area, and their mother worried.
So, with a little help, they married well. By well, I mean they found the mate of their heart, and those unions gave Anna and me two more daughters and another fine son to dote on. Good stock, strong blood to match a MacGregor.
Now I have eleven grandchildren—three of them honorary MacGregors, though they be Campbells by name. Campbells, God help us, but good children they are despite it.
Like their parents, they're slow to do their duty, to understand the richness of marriage and family. It worries their grandmother day and night. I'm not a man to stand by and watch my wife fret, no indeed, I am not.
Just a little push is all I'll give them. I'm not a meddler, after all, just a concerned grandfather in the winter of his life—and I intend for it to be a very long winter. I'm going to watch my great-grandchildren grow.
And how the devil am I to do that if these girls don't marry and get me babies, I ask you? Hah. Well, we're going to see to that - so Anna won't fret, of course.
The recipients of The MacGregor’s matchmaking never realize what’s happened until it’s too late, even though by the second generation their radar is constantly on. Sometimes he sees a spark and goes with it, but most often he meddles in advance, arranging for paths to cross, using reverse psychology, or enlisting family friends. In the end, “mated” couples have nothing on The MacGregor’s matches.
I don’t think there’s a bad book among the contemporary stories, but I like Playing the Odds, All the Possibilities, The Winning Hand, and The MacGregor Brides best.
The Counterfeit Betrothal/The Notorious Rake: Mary Balogh
For many readers, The Notorious Rake is the quintessential Mary Balogh read. It’s not light, frothy, and filled with witty dialog, like most trad Regencies. Unlike most trads, sex is involved, and the sex is critical to the storyline, which is dark, and in this instance, begins quite literally on a stormy night...
Two people, a widowed bluestocking and a notorious rake, are forced into one of Vauxhall’s rustic shelters when a storm hits. The heroine suffers from astraphobia—an abnormal fear of thunder and lightning—and in her hysteria turns to the hero for comfort. Sexual comfort. When the storm ends, he takes her to the home in which he installs his mistresses, and they have sex...again.
Edmond, Lord Waite, becomes obsessed with Mary, Lady Mornington. But as so many male of the species do when interested in a woman, he displays his most boorish behavior for her to see. As for Mary, she is repelled by her attraction to Edmond, but begins to see the real, tortured man under his churlishness.
Balogh’s exploration of this complex relationship is thorough, but until the last pages, it’s hard to see a HEA for Mary and Edmond. After being governed by darkness for so many years, it takes him a long time to feel worthy of love. There’s a critical scene near the end when he realizes Mary has been left alone during a storm, and is overwhelmed in his desire to be by her side, to comfort and protect her from her fears. He comforts and protects her from her fears, but in the end it’s she who rescues him, with her faith in him.
A Counterfeit Betrothal precedes The Notorious Rake in a series. In it, a young woman during her first Season enlists a male friend in a faux engagement to force her long-estranged parents to work toward a common cause—convincing their daughter to break the betrothal—so that they may rediscover their love.
A Counterfeit Betrothal give readers two romances for the price of one. First is the counterfeit betrothal between Sophia and Francis. The second is Miles and Olivia’s reunion; the couple separated more than a dozen years earlier, after Miles went out carousing with his friends and ended up at a brothel.
Miles and Olivia's reconciliation is bittersweet, and in the hands of a lesser author might have read like just another Big Misunderstanding. The dissolution of their marriage affords Balogh the opportunity to explore infidelity, a theme she handles extremely well—and also uses in The Obedient Bride and Dancing with Clara. If, btw, you are a reader who says nyet to any romance featuring infidelity, try The Obedient Bride. I once was a nyet-sayer too; I’m nyet no more.
Megan Hart: An Erotic Collection (Volume 1)
Megan Hart’s style of writing isn’t for everyone. It’s evocative and often moody. Mostly, though, her books are unexpected and do not follow genre conventions, which this erotic romance anthology illustrates.
Unlike the other books/stories I’m profiling this month, this is not a reissue of long-ago published print material. These are short stories that appeared in ebook form perhaps a couple to several years ago. This is one of two volumes of her work to be re-published digitally this month.
Hart taps into the unexpected vulnerability and tentativeness of a woman’s erotic blossoming in “This is What I Want.” She illustrates how well she “gets” that yearning isn’t simply lust-thought and captures the emotional messiness of a threesome’s aftermath in “Everything Changes.” And in “Layover,” a woman wistfully wondering what might have been had a woman slept with a man instead of merely becoming long-distance friends, has a second chance. The intense anticipation once her mind is made up is nearly as good as the payoff itself.
My favorite of the short stories is “Indecent Experiment”—which is also the most “traditional”—in which two graduate students will each earn $1,000 by volunteering in a psychological experiment to test sexual chemistry. At first glance neither is the other’s type., but their scripted encounters alone in a room, which progress from hand-holding over a period of evenings, create a lovely, sweet intimacy between the two.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on her My Obsessions tumblr blog, Goodreads (where she spends much of her time as late), follow her on Pinterest, or on Twitter @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.