>> Monday, March 28, 2005
I'm not a very big Trad Regency fan, but I do like Carla Kelly's books quite a bit, so the A Wedding Bouquet anthology, which contains a new story by her, as well as stories by one author I've read before and 3 I haven't was irresistible.
The first story, Something Old, by one of those new-to-me authors, Patricia Oliver, was a very, very bad start to the book. A D-.
The story starts as wallflower Jane Sutherland, age 19, starts out her second Season. She becomes infatuated at first sight with a handsome rake, and her married friend introduces them and presses the man into writing his name on Jane's dance card for a dance he then never claims.
Fast-forward to 10 years later, when Jane is a spinster living in the country and rescues a man who's had an accident in his carriage and takes him into her house. Unbeknownst to her, the man is obviously the same rake who broke her heart all those years before.
Why so bad? Ok, where shall I start? Jane is a twit, and Martin is one of the most disgusting, hateful, MEAN heroes I've read lately. The cruel way he ignores Jane in the beginning is bad enough, but I really started hating him when he was laid up in her house and behaved like the worst kind of boor. He was rude, ungrateful and demanding to these nice women who'd saved his life and were now waiting on him hand and foot, and I wanted to strangle him every time he opened his mouth. Plus, I hated that he's the type of rake who despises the women he does his raking with ;-), which is something I truly detest.
It was all quite preposterous... why he'd behave so obnoxiously, why he'd hidden his identity when he woke up and then the way he changed from cynical rake to a man in love made no sense. The whole story was just horrendous and painful to read.
Luckily, after this first aberration of a short story, came Something New, by Carla Kelly, and it couldn't have been more different. A B+.
After Napoleon's abdication, artilleryman Major John Redpath accompanies one of his subordinates to England, having agreed to stand up as the best man in his wedding. They take with them Marie Deux, a four-year-old little girl found among the ruins of a defeated French artillery and adopted by the entire battallion (please forgive any mistakes in military terminology. I'm just not familiar with them and I forget them as soon as I read them).
John and his friend, Ed, are supposed to leave Marie Deux at an orphanage on the way, but don't have the heart for it, so they arrive at the bride's house with the child still in tow. The bride and her mother are shocked and extremely pissed off, and they demand the little girl be got rid of. The only one with an ounce of charity, who doesn't consider the girl's presence shameful or dirty, is Audrey Winkle, the bride's sister, widow of a sea captain. Major Redpath is immediately captivated by her.
This was a wonderfully sweet story, sweet in the very best sense of the word. I adored John Redpath as much as I despised the hero in the previous story. This is a kind, honourable man, whose lack of palish is tremendously appealing. At 36, he's spent the previous 20 years engaged in war all around the world, so he hasn't the slightest idea of how to go about doing something about his feelings for Audrey.
Audrey's a lovely character, too. So different from her obsessed-with-appearance mother and sister (though, I have to say, having a sister who's just started planning her wedding, I have some inkling of the amount of work organizing one takes, so I do understand their determination that nothing shall ruin their effort). She's a widow who had a good, if very short, marriage, and after eight years she's definitely ready to marry again, as she misses both companionship and sex, which she thought was a lot of fun.
She and John dance a little bit around each other, but they are so attracted that this soon shines through. It was a lovely story, and I was even fond of little Marie Deux, with her solemn, serious ways.
Something Blue, by the second of the new-to-me authors in this anthology, Patricia Rice, was pretty blah. A C-.
When Melanie's sister leaves Damien standing at the altar in their secret wedding, melanie proposes that they pretend to be married. According to her, this will solve both their problems: he needs money, and she has it. Meanwhile, she has a crippled leg and her parents have her buried in the country, and don't allow her to go to London and live!, as she wants. So off they go to London and stay at the house Melanie has inherited from her aunt, while pretending to be wed.
The huge conflict here is simply that while Damien wants to marry Melanie in truth, both because he's falling for her and because he does need the money, Melanie can't bring herself to say yes, as she wants to, because she's lame and can't saddle a man who's an earl! with a crippled wife.
I felt like a bitch for it, but I couldn't stand Melanie. She's oh-so-kind, oh-so-beautiful (while believing to be hideous, of course. Can't have a virtuous heroine who knows she's beautiful), oh-so-maternal and oh-so-determined to martyr herself to her leg. The author makes the mistake Màili describes in last month's column Beyond the Halo at Romancing the Blog: she makes her character all about her disability. Her leg was her personality.
Damien was a little more interesting, but not particularly well characterized, either. Plus, I never got why he was so desperate to marry for money that he'd take on someone like Jane, Melanie's sister. I mean, I don't mind a heroine marrying for interest in a historical, but a hero is more problematic. No, it's not because I have some kind of old-fashioned idea that the man has to be the provider. It's simply that while women had few respectable and not totally unpleasant ways to earn a living for themselves and a family, a man, especially someone with obvious connections, like an earl, would have a much better chance. I simply didn't see any evidence that Damien had even considered this. And if he had to marry for money, why was someone as unpleasant as Jane his only choice? Again, he was an earl, and not particularly disreputable either. No nice merchant's daughter he could marry?
Anyway, this wasn't an offensive story, as the first one, but not at all good, either.
The fourth story was by an author I'd tried and liked before, Edith Layton. Something Blue is a very short story, barely 50 pages long, and while nice, it was pretty forgettable, utterly average. A C.
June and Lawrence meat at a ball and were soon in love and engaged. It's a wonderful match for June, but now, barely two weeks before the wedding, the entire ton is abuzz about how the groom seems blue about something.
It's a bit of a pointless story. June and Laurie talk and after a couple of tries, he finally tells her what is bothering him, something completely unrelated to their relationship and which doesn't threaten it in the least. Both June and Laurie seem to be nice people, but we didn't get to know them much at all. All we know is that they're crazy about each other and that both are gorgeous but believe their looks inadequate compared to their family.
And that's it! Hardly enough to make a story interesting.
The last story, closing the wedding rhyme, was "... And a Sixpence for her Shoe, by Anne Barbour. Not only had I not read this author before, I can't remember ever hearing her name (of course, I'm not particularly knowledgeable about Trads, as I mentioned above). And yet, this was the best story in the anthology, after the Carla Kelly one. Given the quality of the three others, that's not much to say, but still! A C+.
Drew and Catherine had been unofficially betrothed by their families since childhoow. Right before he went off to war, Drew, who, as far as I can tell basically liked the idea of leving behind a a fiancée who'd worry about him and send him letters, decided he'd like to make the engagement official. Catherine, however, fancied herself in love with someone else, so the scene degenerated into a fight, and Catherine said some very hurtful things, including that she hoped he wouldn't return from the war.
She repented immediately, but the damage was done, and Drew wouldn't open the letters in which she apologized. So Catherine started writing pretending to be someone else, her ladies' companion, Helen, so that he'd open the letters.
The story starts three years later, when Drew returns, recovered from bad wounds received in the war, facial scars and a bad arm included. Now it's Cathierine who wants to make the engagement real, but Drew believes himself in love with the woman who wrote him all those letters, who he still thinks is Helen.
At least the story wasn't boring, but I thought it was too soap-operaish, and both Catherine and Drew felt a bit childish and shrill to me. So, for all that it was at least readable, I didn't enjoy it very much.
This wasn't really a very successful anthology, since only one of the stories was worth recommending. Most of the others were about average, though, so, with the Carla Kelly story balancing out the horrible Patricial Oliver one, I'd give the whole book a C.