by Catherine Anderson, Connie Brockway, Casey Claybourne, and Barbara Metzger; historical (2005)
Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41199-4
There's following the formula and there's following the formula while being attached to an IV drip. In this anthology, only Connie Brockway comes up with a story that is worth reading. The other three stories are uninspired rehashes of the same old, same old. The common theme in these stories is a magical wedding dress that can fit all sizes (which makes it handy for all those heroines complaining that their buxom chest make them hideous and therefore unworthy of love) and help its wearer find true love.
Although Barbara Metzger does try a little to make her heroine a little more interesting than the usual "proper, on the shelf, responsible sister/mother" type but maybe she's too constrained by her traditional Regency style in mindset or something else because the end result is an utterly predictable story that will thrill readers who gauge how fun a story is by how willing the "virtuous" heroine is in making life really difficult on herself. Maybe you have come across heroines like Katherine Cole in A Perfect Fit before - you pick up her handkerchief and she will immediately swear that she owes you her life and all that she has and she will make sure that she will repay you for that utter kindness you showed her or die trying. Okay, that's a gross exaggeration but Katie loves to make herself come off as the most loyal and most indebted (and therefore selfless and worthy of all my love, muah muah) person. The hero Tanyon Wellforde could have run rings around her if he isn't so enamored by starch presented in a Regency-era pin-up body. Katie's daughter - who is actually illegitimate but Katie keeps that a secret (she is supposed to be a widow) - is marrying Tanyon's nephew and Tanyon of course believes at once that the Coles are mercenary people trying to better themselves instead of being content to remain peasants. Of course, Katie is selfless, responsible, et cetera and therefore she is saintly enough to convert Tanyon and make this story yet another predictable "make the rake feel whole and believe in love again by being a saintly woman" yarn. Still, like I've said, Katie has her moments of spark and I love how she scolds Tanyon the way that silly man deserves to be scolded in this story. Still, for too much of the time Katie is being that familiar heroine again while Tanyon is That Regency Historical Hero. This story, therefore is Just Another Regency Historical tale. I don't mind reading this but I won't remember this story and I certainly won't feel like I'm missing out on anything if I give this story a miss.
Connie Brockway's Glad Rags already has the historical accuracy purists foaming at the mouths, I see, but I like this story the most. The Viscount Thorpe, Alexander, returns home a war hero but the brother of the woman he is in love with ends up dragging him into trouble. Alexander jilted Lucy St James when both were too young and committed a Big Misunderstanding. You see, he was young enough to decide to head off to war first and then marry her when he got back, provided he was still whole - you know, the kind of sacrifices men love to make in order to feel so good about how generous they can be. Lucy tried to make him jealous by flirting with other men so that he would realize how much he loved her and, hopefully, he would then marry her before he headed off to fight. Alas, her scheme backfired and he dumped her for being a fickle-minded hussy. Now, Lucy's brother manages to force Alex into an outrageous bet: Alex will wear the wedding dress and walk out to the party where Lucy would see him and later walk along Pall Mall. What I really like about this story is how these two characters acknowledge freely how immature they were back then. Alex is funny and sexy, Lucy is my kind of heroine - confident and witty, and these two ooze chemistry by the truckload.
Casey Claybourne's Something Special has a classic overused use-free selfless wallpaper heroine coming over to tutor that Special, Special Magical Child That Will Make Her Feel All Womanly Inside, only to realize that the father never summoned her here. Of course, love will blossom and I have read this story so many times before and I also have killed ridiculously precious kids like Eliza in my head just as many times.
Catherine Anderson's Beautiful Gifts has a tortured woman on the run with her kid meeting the hero while trying to hide from her cartoonishly evil father. Hey, hasn't the author written this story so many times before? Yes, she has. This is a shorter version of her stale and unchanged trauma porn formula and the best thing about this is that it is short and therefore less likely to make me want to inject insulin into my body through my eyes by the time it is over.
Four stories (not counting Catherine Anderson's "I'm a woman in love willing to sacrifice all for my love by making him a magical wedding dress so that I will be so, so sad but he will be so happy with his new wife but hey, he decides that he loves me because I am always so happy to be suffering for his sake - wheee!" prologue) and only one doesn't make me feel like I should be using toothpicks to keep my eyelids open while I am reading it. While I honestly admire the fortitude of some authors at repeating the same formula again and again and I admire equally the strength of some readers who enjoy reading the same formula repeatedly, I fear that I am no longer capable of such mental willpower to read such irony-free humorless formulaic rehashes. The only thing good about this anthology is that I give thanks that these are short stories and not full-length novels.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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