In Praise of Younger Men, an anthology

>> Wednesday, March 05, 2003

The first book I read during my vacation was an anthology: In Praise of Younger Men.

The first story is A Man Who Can Dance, by Cathy Maxwell.
Graham McNab is a man standing on the cusp of achieving his lifelong dream of becoming a physician. However, fate intervenes in the form of woman--a gorgeous, flaxen-haired woman. Graham will do anything to make the vision his own, even if it means entering into a bet with his nasty cousin Blair. To win the bet, Graham must rely on his best friend, governess Sarah Ambrose to teach the untutored doctor to dance, in spite of his two left feet. Close proximity and the rhythm of the dance emulate the rhythm of love for Sarah and Graham. Will they become partners for life?
This one was a C+. Nice, but nothing remarkable. And at 70 pgs., it was a bit rushed. I liked the hero very much, a honorable doctor, who has a real calling. Sara was a good character in that she wasn't the stereotype with low self-esteem. Not to be nit-picky, but this one wasn't much in the "theme" of the book. Sara could perfectly well have been younger than Graham and the story would've been the same.

The second story, Forevermore, was by Lauren Royale, a new author for me.

Clarice Bradford is devoted to raising her young daughter, Mary. Clarice is not looking for love when she is invited to attend a local wedding, but the ardent attentions of a younger man, Sir Cameron Leslie, make Clarice wonder just how thoroughly on the shelf she is or if there is a possibility of "Forevermore" in her future.
This one was a B+. A lovely story, in spite of a heroine who seems like a passive twit at first ("You should learn your place in the world", she tells her daughter). But she improves, and Cameron more than makes up for her lacks with his kindness and sexiness. This is a love at first sight story, but believable. It's a sequel, but in the end we're given enough information that it stands alone. The end of the story is delightful, with a very romantic handfasting, and a scene where Clarice loses her last fears and Cam makes her a very heroic promise.

The third story was Written in The Stars, by another new-to-me author, Jaclyn Reding.

Written in the Stars pits two lovers against an ancient prophesy. Harriet Drynan must marry a younger man to ensure the survival of her clan. But she's in love with her twin brother's best friend, Tristan Carmichael, and he loves her. Harriet fears the legend's curse that proclaims if she marries Tristan, he will die before the marriage can be consummated.
I'd grade this one a C+. It was a bit problematic for me to sympathise with a character who's willing to let her life be determined by an old curse, but Harriet finally decided to defy it, and her reasoning on why she should do it was great. But why that final nonsense about leap years, validating the stupid curse? What didn't work here, and makes me grade this low, was the "falling in love" process, much too glossed over. I don't like it when the characters were in love as children, don't see each other for years on end, and when they finally meet again they are still "in love" without bothering to find out who they are now.

The final (and best) story of this anthology was The Demon's Mistress, by Jo Beverley.

Lord Vandeimen returns home from Waterloo to ruined estates, his family all dead. His attempts to recreate something of his heritage leave him deep in debt, and he is ready to commit suicide when a woman bursts into his room with an extraordinary proposal. Mrs. Maria Celestin, widow of a wealthy foreign merchant, will pay him a small fortune to pretend to be her betrothed husband for six weeks. Van cannot refuse, but he is wary of this outrageous good fortune. He is also intent on getting into the widow's bed. He doesn't expect to be dragged back into life, and into love, or into a battle to win the woman who bought him.
Oh, what a beautiful story this one was! I graded it an A. It would have made an excellent full-length novel, but Beverley's very good at writing short stories. Both characters were complex and very well-drawn. Not a stereotype in sight here. It was one of those stories which put a knot in your stomach, and that's the best compliment I can give. It wasn't perfect, however, and I feel it would have been improved if we'd seen more of Van's POV during the story, especially midway, but that's a small detail.


My final grade for the whole anthology is B+.

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