by Sabrina Jeffries, Liz Carlyle, Julia London, and Renee Bernard; historical (2007)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-41651-611-8
The School For Heiresses is also a theme in Sabrina Jeffries' current historical romance series for Pocket, which is, of course, about this school that churns out romance heroines by the bucketloads. And, if the stories here are anything to go by, these heroine all share a similar trait: they live to annoy me. Utterly.
Sabrina Jeffries' Ten Reasons To Stay is about our heroine Eliza Crenshawe who attempts to borrow a horse from the hero Colin Hunt's stable so that she can flee an unwanted marriage by, oh, returning to the school and asking the headmistress Mrs Harris to save her from this cruel world. Of course, Eliza is adamant that she's only going to borrow the horse instead of stealing it and Colin doesn't believe her story so they end up with him and her in some kind of stalemate. This story is on thin ice with a heroine who is trying very hard to pull off all kinds of stupid stunts but the sexual tension is really sizzling and the hero has just the nice mix of naughtiness and angst. I am nearly on my way to thinking that this is the author back to the top of her game when Eliza completely goes bonkers after the love scene. You can guess what happens, I'm sure - he proposes and now she decides that she must save him from a life of being trapped in marriage with her forever by running away. That's not so bad if she doesn't run away back to the wicked guardian who is trying to marry her off for sinister reasons. Alone. And just like that, what could have been a really fun story flushes itself down the toilet, so to speak.
Martinique Neville, the heroine in Liz Carlyle's After Midnight, jumps the shark faster than Eliza - when she finds the cute hero Justin St Vrain in her bedchamber (he's on his way to his mistress' room), she ends up asking him to do it to her and when he does and they are compromised, she then blames herself for trapping him in you-know-what. This happens very early into the story. The rest of the story - and there is too much of a story if you ask me - goes on and on in this manner. Martinique must clearly be trying to win some kind of trophy in a Martyr of the Year tournament. When she's not coming up with ridiculous reasons to blame herself for all kinds of things while letting the hero off the hook - the hero, after all, can't help himself - she's moaning about how her mother was a prostitute so her stepbrother hates her, wah wah wah. Oh, and for added insult, Ms Carlyle has what seems like fifty secondary characters in this story all trying to get me to buy her previous and upcoming books. If Martinique is actually in the running for that competition, I'd love to snatch the trophy from her and brain her with it for all the pain she's caused me while I am trying to sit through this story.
Julia London is probably trying too hard to convince readers that she's Jane Austen in her contribution, The Merchant's Gift. Like the wretched creatures in the previous two short stories, heroine Grace Halcolm is also in the running for that blasted Martyr of the Year award, although Ms London allows Grace to do this without hitting my head again and again about how fabulously intelligent Grace is supposed to be. Therefore, Ms London gets some bonus goodwill points from me for not insulting my intelligence too much. This story is simple. Grace is trying to honor her family's wishes by marrying into a title (her father is a wealthy merchant) but her heart is not in it because she has her eyes on the mill owner Barrett Adlaine. This is a "I Fell In Love With My Father's Acquaintance" story, with that Barrett saying that he's always had the hankering for Grace after she's become legal. Of course.
This story is easily the best of the four because of a few things. One, the story takes place over a few months so the main characters end up in a relationship that feels more developed and solid than those relationships in the other three stories. Two, the characters actually talk instead of trying very hard to make all kinds of personal statements about how selfless they are in trying to make all kinds of grand sacrifices for the other person without asking the other person whether such sacrifices are warranted. However, Grace for a long time is bullied by her family members so she does come off as tad spineless.
Barrett is a more problematic character in that while he's the older person in this relationship, he doesn't seem to understand Grace's personal situation at all. For example, he thinks that Grace is snobby for wanting to marry into title when it's clear to all that this decision isn't Grace's to make. How can an adult be so oblivious to the workings of marriage in that time? Even more annoyingly, when he decides that he loves Grace and he knows Grace is trying very hard to attract a titled beau, he decides to tell Grace how he feels about her. I wonder what he expects her to do. Defy her parents and run off with him to Gretna Green? Barrett can be quite self-absorbed in that way but he also seems unable to comprehend for so long that Grace is expected by her family to marry a titled member of the Ton. It's not a simple matter of Grace wanting to marry him or not.
Renee Bernard probably has more personal stake invested in this anthology than the other three authors since she's fairly recently only joined the ranks of published historical romance authors and she'd love to scoop up some fans of the other three more established authors. However, Mischief's Holiday is a slapstick comedy of sorts with the determined ditsy Alyssa Martin who is like a lightning rod for accidents and social faux pas matters. Leland Yates, a guest of her family during Christmas, is charmed by her antics, naturally. Ms Bernard at least succeeds in telling me what she wants to do here. Leland is a serious guy and he finds himself laughing and seeing the lighter side of life when he's with Alyssa. That's fine. However, Alyssa's antics can be quite over-the-top and they do make her a fine contender for the Martyr Nitwit of the Year award that the other three heroines in this anthology are also trying to win.
Clearly the heroines in this anthology are the grime at the bottom of the barrel of rotten apples where the students of the School for Heiresses are concerned. What do they teach these young ladies in that school anyway? Most definitely, it's way past time that someone revokes a teaching permit or two.
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