by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2009)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-6082-1
Maybe Wed Him Before You Bed Him is meant to be an ironic title, I don't know, since heaven knows, like every other romance heroine in this kind of stories, Charlotte Harris is definitely bedding away while insisting that she's not into being wedded.
At last, after three years, Sabrina Jeffries finally offers the romance story of Charlotte Harris, the headmistress of the School for Young Ladies. Naturally, she's paired up with the mysterious Cousin Michael. This is the grand conclusion to the School For Heiresses series. You can try to read this as a standalone story, but I'd advise against it as you will miss out on all of the build up to this story and as a result you may end up wondering what the fuss is all about.
While the hype for this book suggested that there would be a... love square, I guess, with three men vying for Charlotte's attention, I can tell you after reading this book that the story is actually quite straightforward. You can tell right away who Cousin Michael is and Charlotte spends a lot of time with him. The other two men, hyped as rivals, never really had any chance. And since you can tell who this Cousin Michael is if you read the synopsis on the back cover and have followed the School For Heiresses series up to this point, I will just go ahead and mention the hero's name. If you want to remain in the dark about his identity, though, you better stop reading here.
Okay, the story. When Wed Him Before You Bed Him opens, Charlotte Harris has lost contact with Cousin Michael when the man decided to retreat after she pressed too hard for his real identity. Her School is in trouble, but help arrives in the form of a large sum of money left for the School by a recently deceased former student. Charlotte is surprised by this since Sarah never thought much of the School when she was alive, but I'm sure you won't be surprised by this turn of events when you learn that Sarah's widower is David Masters, Viscount Kirkwood and barrister, heh. This book also makes no secret of the fact that David, who shared a past with Charlotte, is Cousin Michael. Now that his wife is dead and therefore out of the way, he can come out to play with Charlotte, hurrah.
Of course he can play - Sarah's will insisted that Charlotte build a new wing in the School and dedicate it to her name, with the construction process supervised by David (who is also conveniently enough also an architect, or at least someone with keen knowledge in that field). Charlotte and David will be spending a lot of time together.
The story also offers a lengthy flashback moment back 18 years ago to the time when Charlotte and David met for the last time in Berkshire. The story is awfully familiar. Charlotte was that "outspoken" type who thinks she knows everything when in reality she was just a sheltered child. David was naturally the debauched brat. They were childhood enemies. Charlotte's father wanted her to marry David however because of David's pedigree and the political connections that such a marriage will give her father. Charlotte and David eventually fall in love over the duration, but Charlotte managed to pull off a stupid stunt that started a long chain of misunderstanding, wrong assumptions, and some mistaken identities. She ended up marrying Colonel Harris and eventually starting the School for Young Ladies.
The flashback scenes take up a big chunk of the story, therefore readers new to the series will end up feeling that this romance is underdeveloped and rushed. This is why I suggested earlier in this review that if you intend to follow the series one day in the future, you wait until you're done with the previous books before picking up this one. There are details and build-up in this story, but they are present in the previous five full-length books in this series (you can skip the novellas if you wish).
Wed Him Before You Bed Him is a rather tough to evaluate because my opinion of it keeps changing throughout the book. I keep waffling between "just okay" and "pretty good". Sometimes there are moments that have me thinking that this book is pretty good. Then I come across scenes that are so clichéd that I cringe.
Charlotte is Ms Jeffries's oldest historical romance heroine to date, as she is 36. She is also my biggest disappointment in this story because apart from being slightly more mature than she was at 18, Charlotte doesn't behave in any way that makes her stand out. Her recipe in having an affair is similar - as long as the hero doesn't tell her that he loves her, she will not marry him, even if all signs point to the fact that he does. Whether they are 18 or 36, these darned heroines sure love to put their heroes through the Avon Romantic Boyfriend Test, I tell you. She and David are mature enough to realize that they have both made mistakes in the past, but while David is actively trying to make things right the second time around, Charlotte instead remains disappointingly passive and silent when a conversation or two could have cleared things up considerably between them.
Charlotte also does and thinks a few things that have me doubting her sanity. On page 117, for example, she decides that it will be a great time to have an affair with David because the School is in trouble and she doesn't have to play the proper and virtuous school mistress anymore. I'd think that with the School in trouble, she'd need to present a more virtuous front than ever to convince sponsors, et cetera, to invest in her venture and fight for her cause. She could have rallied her former students, many who adore her and are now married to Earls and Dukes, to support her. Then again, without Cousin Michael around, Charlotte doesn't know what to do anymore.
This brings me to another point. I'm very disappointed that for all of Charlotte's talk about women being independent and self-sufficient, she is very dependent on her Cousin Michael for everything, advice and more. Without Cousin Michael, she's lost. Therefore, for all her talk, Charlotte is a hypocrite because her problems are solved, not by her own actions, but by her association and eventual marriage to Cousin Michael, the man to whom she runs to in the past at the first sign of trouble.
David is a better character, since he's a flawed guy who is actively trying to make things right for the two of them, but like Charlotte, he's a very familiar hero despite everything. He doesn't believe in love because he thinks love is transient, blah blah blah. It's hard for me to warm up to such an obvious stereotype.
From a technical point of view, Wed Him Before You Bed Him is a polished and easy read. But the presence of stereotypical characters and situations dampens my mood considerably. Ultimately, though, my disappointment stems from the fact that the author could have done something different, unique, or memorable with her characters and their situation, only to instead soup up this story full of conflicting messages about female independence.
This book at Amazon.com
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