by Rexanne Becnel, historical (2002)
St Martin's Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-98311-5
By right, I should love this author's books. But Rexanne Becnel is a very uneven author to me, more missing the bullseye where I'm concerned than hitting it, because her heroines are always the dullest, whiniest, and stupidly virtuous types around. They don't think outside the narrow sphere of propriety and virtue, allowing the hero to run roughshod all over them. And when the hero initiates the initial conflict of this story by being unnecessarily petty and shallow, we get Pretty and Petty doing the Tedious Stoopids in Regency England. That's The Bridemaker, sequel to The Troublemaker.
Pretty - Hester "Heifer" Poitevant if you want to be nice - is a virgin masquerading as widow while running an academy to turn dowdy too-fat or too-skinny girls into marriage mart swans. I wonder if I send an obese troll-like girl with body odor problems and a giant tribal spear through her tongue to Ms Pretty Heifer here, will she turn that poor gal into a pretty like her? Her most recent charge is the too-earnest dumb brown cow Dulcie, and Dulcie has a crush on Adrian Hawke, an American bastard rich dude in England. The last six words in the previous sentence, by the way, are all the characterizations a man need to be considered a hero. Never mind that his initial flirtation to Dulcie is just a petty excuse to ruin the Heifer's track record and cheat her of a fee (and all because of a misassumption on his part that, should he check, he could have easily seen how wrong he is).
And of course, the Heifer wants to warn Petty away, but oh, he is like so hot, she has to let him kiss her. But she'll protest loudly afterwards so that we all know she is a good gal and we won't hate her and rip her uterus out from her and force her to eat it, how dare a romance heroine has lust and libido, the outrage, et cetera. She'll be letting everybody know that while she gets kissed and has sex and all, she doesn't really actually want them to happen (actually she does, but she's just channeling the usual Regency dingbat hysterics, a slave to her passion that causes her brain to shut down at most inopportune moments when conversations should have happened to clear a lot of issues), and while she enjoys them all, she's a good gal, you know. Let us all applause Miss Modestry Blaise here for the sacrifices she made (not that she won't hesitate to let the readers know just how much she has suffered, oh no).
Pretty has a sad childhood. So does Petty. Which pretty much justifies all the nonsense in this story that could have been avoided if Pretty puts her feet down and tells people to just bug off and leave her be. Or if Petty will stop acting as if the world is against him and stop being so freaking juvenile about his baggages for once. Pretty is so intent to keeping to the very rules that are making her miserable, while Petty is so intent on breaking them and making everybody unhappy just because he is unhappy himself. About Petty, he isn't any better than the people he disdains if he acts like a spoiled brat most of the time.
In short, Pretty and Petty are two childish doofus who like the idea of being Outsiders, Hurt, and Alone so much that they revel in it, not knowing how much at times they resemble the grotesque people they claim to dislike. There's nothing romantic or sexy at all about petty people who revel and wallow in their baggages. This is a story of two people who are miserable, love being miserable, and they want the whole world to know just how miserable they are, and no, like schoolyard bullies, they aren't above spreading the misery around.
Maybe I'm being too hard on this book, as I read it following Judith Ivory's Untie My Heart. But compared to that book, the so-called angst-ridden characters here are as deep as a puddle, petty as schoolyard bickerings, and that heroine has all the spinepower of barnacle despite her too-many vocal and mental protestations.
Love and peace, Pretty and Petty, and have a miserable Veteran and Remembrance Day. Don't call me, I'll call you.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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