by Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn, and Kinley MacGregor; historical (2003)
Avon, $7.50, ISBN 0-06-050524-9
Much of the generous grade I've given this anthology is due to Julia Quinn's very good contribution A Tale Of Two Sisters. The other two contributions, I frankly can't care less about. Where's My Hero? is supposed to be anthology about Other Men in the author's previous books, but don't expect bad boys and redemption stories. The Other Men in these books are defanged and as exciting as a puddle. The sole exception is Edward "Ned" Byldon, Julia Quinn's hero.
Lisa Kleypas may or may not be a good writer when it comes to full-length novels, but whether she's good or not, she's much better than when she's writing novellas. Against The Odds sees that silly doctor guy Jake Linley from Someone To Watch Over Me acting like a thick-headed bull because the object of his pedoaffections Lydia Craven. Lydia is the daughter of the couple in Dreaming Of You. Jake has wanted Lydia bad since she was sixteen (where's that Young Girl song when I need it?). But Lydia is going to marry a boring guy and she doesn't listen to Momma when Momma asks her whether she feels the Fire for the boring guy.
Lydia is a bluestocking. Beautiful, of course. She is not happy when Jake tells her hubby-to-be that she's not right for that man. Then she realizes that she loves him! But he only tells her that he "wants" her, so that means he doesn't love her... right? Jake isn't helping this dim-witted woman see the obvious by acting like a heavy-handed know-it-all. So in the end, it's a tedious merry-go-round just because the heroine just cannot get past the fact that the hero never said "love" to her.
Against The Odds is a waste of time and will please the most readers that for some reason just have to read "Derek Craven" one more time in print.
Kinley MacGregor takes the Cyrano de Bergerac tale and spins her own version of that one in Midsummer's Knight. Simon Ravenswood, last seen in Master Of Desire is corresponding with Kenna MacRyan in order to get his friend Stryder (is that a medieval name?) a bride. Don't ask, it's one of those silly dare thingies overgrown boys play. However, Simon falls in love with Kenna and she he as they exchange breathlessly florid prose like "the cook has banned me eternally from the kitchen". So the silly man proposes. And before he can regret it, Kenna says yes and comes down at once to marry, er, Lord Stryder. Whom, as expected, is surprised and not at all happy with his unexpected nuptials.
The cardinal rule of a good novella is to only include characters as necessary. Ms MacGregor must be following the "Novellas are my advertisement billboards" principle, because good heavens, everybody that's everybody in the author's previous book shows up to say hello. Add in the king and his courtiers and the relationship between Kenna and Simon becomes barely developed. Kenna comes off as a not-too-bright woman and the story would have been probably much shorter if that silly woman realizes that Simon's name starts with an S. But with fewer pages, probably there will be even less space for Ms MacGregor to advertise her previous books, I guess.
Midsummer's Knight is much better than the novella that comes before it, but it suffers from some typical flaws common in novellas (underbaked characters, underdeveloped romance) and some not-so typical ones (too many unnecessary characters).
Finally, the only reason - and not a good one at that, not when Man has invented the Xerox machine - to plonk down $7.50 for this anthology: Julia Quinn's A Tale Of Two Sisters. Okay, it seems to recycle some elements from Brighter Than The Sun and To Catch An Heiress, but still, Ned Blydon has a free pass to come sneak around my house at night and scold me for lugging heavy bags around anytime. You may or may not remember him from Julia Quinn's Splendid. Ned has decided to marry the very proper Lydia, the eldest daughter of his neighbor Thornton. Wedding jitters hit him hard as the Big Day arrives, and things really take the turn for the worse when he finds himself attracted to the middle Thornton daughter Charlotte.
If you're nostalgic for the author's more light-hearted style after being disappointed by Julia Quinn Goes Serious in To Sir Phillip, With Love, A Tale Of Two Sisters is like the author's peace offering. The writing is a return to the light-hearted trip the author is known for, only this time the improvements in her writing style is evident as well.
It's a novella, but damn, it's a good one. It feels like a longer book, in fact, if only because the author succeeds in showing me why Ned and Charlotte should belong together. The secondary characters have their roles in the story, Lydia is not a stereotypical bitch sister (she's not even a bitch), and there seems to be any problems in character or romantic development being shortchanged by the shorter format of the novella. I laugh out loud so often and I sigh a little mistily at Ned's getting on bended knee to propose. He doesn't have to, of course, but it's so much like him to do just that after losing his temper like that earlier in the story.
An a sidenote, it is interesting to note that so far, Julia Quinn seems to be the rare regular novella contributor to anthologies that actually can write them as well as she often writes her full-length novels. Lisa Kleypas' track record with me when it comes to novella is a big fat zero, honest, while the verdict is still uncertain for Kinley MacGregor as she hasn't written that many novellas yet.
With only one novella A Tale Of Two Sisters clearly superior to the rest of them in this anthology, Where's My Hero? is best retitled Where's The Party?
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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