by Darlene Marshall, historical (2005)
Amber Quill Press, $5.00, ISBN 1-59279-532-3
Darlene Marshall's Smuggler's Bride has something really good going for it: the heroine, Julia Cooper, is spirited but intelligent and level-headed with a rare self-awareness about herself and her surroundings. Kinda like a typical Julia Quinn heroine, come to think of it, with Julia Cooper intelligent and humorous without being a scatterbrained in the process. Unfortunately, the hero is straight out of central casting.
Julia Cooper is actually Lady Julia Anne Sanders Delerue from England who is currently disguised as an old tavern maid in order to listen to gossips of the customers of Ganymede's Cup. No, despite its name, Ganymede's Cup is not some mid-19th century American gay club, but an inn owned by the family friend Uncle Robin and Robin's buddy Richard Cooper. Julia's mission is to find clues from the riff-raffs that patronize Ganymede's Cup as to who is using her late uncle's ships to smuggle contraband into Florida. If she wants to help her late uncle's shipping company emerge from its financial crisis, this smuggling problem has to be stopped.
Unfortunately, she is kidnapped one day by two idiotic goofs who think that an old and hopefully dim-witted woman is what our hero Rand Washburn needs as a housekeeper and nurse. When Julia meets Rand, she is hoping that he will be sensible and return her to Ganymede's Cup. Unfortunately, Rand isn't so sensible and just as unfortunately, sometimes neither is Julia.
Rand really rubs me off the wrong way the moment he appears in the story, with him tossing terms like "sweetheart" and "darling" in a manner that makes them seem as endearing as "you are my bitch now, toots!" Throughout the story, he is either too flippant, abrasive, argumentative for no good reason, or too preoccupied with having sex to the point that he steamrollers over Julia and just heads straight for the bosom. He is a typical hero with secrets (I'm sure you can guess what it is, what with this book being called Smuggler's Bride and all) and a very familiar character to anyone who has read a number of romance novels. The added bonus of him coming off like some sex-obsessed creep who doesn't seem to respect Julia at the end of the day is just tasteless icing on the stale cake.
I like Julia because she is sensible and smart without coming off like some modern-day American woman transplanted to the mid-19th century, so much so that I often wonder what she sees in Rand, who comes off like an annoying football jock with a stash of Rophynol in his back pocket transplanted to the mid-19th century. The humor is borderline modern but really, since Julia Quinn is so beloved (a fact which I honestly can't disagree with), I don't see why anyone will give Darlene Marshall a hard time for it. Ms Marshall has a nice breezy style with wit, after all.
I enjoy reading Smuggler's Bride but I suspect that I will have loved this book if the hero is a little less of an off-putting typical jock type who comes off so much like some creepy and oily Romeo-wannabe.
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