by Sharon Kendrick, contemporary (2010)
Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.30, ISBN 978-0-263-87850-9
Shameful Secret, Shotgun Wedding is not an entirely accurate title for this story, since I don't think it is a "shotgun wedding" when it is the hero who forces the pregnant heroine to marry him. The "shameful secret" thing is probably a reassurance to readers of the Modern line that, yes, this line is still right on course on being the pornography of choice for Baptist grandmothers everywhere.
There is a sensibility to this story that is more appropriate for the 1940s than the 2010s. For example, Cornwall is apparently still such a backward place that the doldrums forced our poor heroine Cassie Summers to remain in a prepubescent stasis until she finally comes to London to work as a shop assistant, selling candles to people. Wide-eyed, blinking like a Color Magic Barbie doll at the sight of our hero Giancarlo Vellutini and his big... house, she is like Jessica Simpson minus the irony. He invites her to dinner.
Ms Kendrick takes great pain to show me that Cassie wears cheap outfits and goes very sparse on the make-up - after all, Ann Temple said in the Daily Mail some time in the 1940s that only whores use a lot of make-up, and Ms Kendrick wants everyone to know that Cassie is a virgin - and then pulls a fast one on me by having Cassie put out to Ginimani Fettucini on the very first date. Is this where I high-five Cassie and say, "What a slut!" or something? We all know that Modern books always take great pains to reassure me that good girls wear little make-up, don't dress provocatively, and always let the man take control... but yo, Cassie puts out on the first date, y'all. I'm so confused.
In fact, Cassie enthusiastically and energetically makes up for lost time by lighting Govianni Macaroni's candle again and again and again. Since condoms are used only by lowlives and immoral people, you can imagine what happens soon enough to Cassie, I'm sure. In real life, she'd probably be dumped by the guy and is forced to become a single mother, holding her baby and sitting on beach while urging passers-by to listen to her rendition of Charlene's I've Never Been To Me. But since this is a Modern story for the adventurous housewife of the 1940s, the heroine is saved from her stupidity by the hero forcing her to marry him. Remember, virtuous virgins, it is okay to sleep with a handsome man who speaks like Pepe LePew, because when you get pregnant, he will marry you!
Shameful Secret, Shotgun Wedding starts out pretty readable, actually, for a story stuck in the vibe of the 1940s. Giferrero Rochenini speaks like Pepe Le Pew, but at least he and Cassie actually talk a bit, even if the talking revolves around Cassie reassuring everyone that she is a simple backwater hick. Cassie knows what she is getting into with Giametto Ferrari - a temporary thing - and she wants to live a bit now that she's in London. It's a shame that she is too stupid to know proper birth control, but then again, I guess I can't expect much from a heroine in this line of books.
But once the Gigantic Sperm of Contrivance takes seed in the story, the whole thing falls into a predictable rut. Girribirri Mofooti of course accuses the heroine of deliberately bloating up her belly to trap him into marrying her. To give Cassie credit, she does not let him get away with that accusation. But the story then turns into a tale of everyone coddling Googoombah Weeniepeepee as he acts like a big crybaby over how his heart was once broken and therefore he will just die if he loves again. He has all that money and good looks, yet he still behaves like a big whiny baby. It's pathetic. He's pathetic.
Shameful Secret, Shotgun Wedding is decent by the standards set by the average book in this line - which is usually about an inch from the line marking the bottom of the barrel - mostly because it is not toxic, the heroine is not that stupid, and the hero is not that cruel or brain-damaged. But it still follows the formula of the line, so it's still a story with characters of below average intelligence stuck in a dumbed-down by the numbers plot.
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