by Jennifer Ryan, contemporary (2013)
Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-227135-8
The Right Bride may be part of the series The Hunted but there is no psychotic lunatic threatening to disembowel our heroine or anything like that. Perhaps this one should be part of the series The Haunted instead, because it's all about our hero Cameron Shaw being haunted by his inability to practice properly safe sex. No, I'm not talking about herpes or even genital warts - there is no such thing as STDs in romance novels, after all - I'm talking about Cameron knocking up two women in the same time frame.
Okay, he certainly knocked up our heroine Martina Fairchild, while the other woman, Shelly, pretends to be having Cameron's baby. Shelly got to Cameron first, so Cameron feels obliged to marry her, even when he's in love with Marti. However, his daughter Ellen just loves Marti, and the heroines from the previous books keep telling Cameron that Shelly is the biggest slut that has ever slutted out of Slutville, so it's pretty clear to everyone but Cameron that he should stick to having unprotected sex only with Marti for the rest of his life.
This is my favorite kind of story, if I am ever in the mood to experience vicariously what an angina feels like. The solution to Cameron's problem - gaining custody of Shelly's non-existent brat instead of marrying her, DNA samples to prove that he's really the father, anything - is obvious and the cheerleading heroines from previous books keep telling him these solutions, but Cameron just won't listen. Why? Because the author needs an excuse to make this story as long as it is. Therefore, the entire story is about waiting for an idiot who can't zip up his pants waffling and acting like a slow-witted mule trying to catch up with the reader.
Even better, this story is all about contrasting Marti with Shelly, so this is a textbook example of slut shaming in motion. I don't know why the author is doing this. Maybe she is trying to be a big hit with bitter divorcees unable to get over the fact that their exes have moved on while they are still stewing in negative feelings? At any rate, Ms Ryan takes the laziest way out here. Shelly is a textbook example of what romance authors consider a negative type of woman - ambitious, determined to better herself instead of accepting her place in this world, seeks financial stability without pretending that it's all for sick relatives and what not - with extra layers of cartoon villainy - Shelly is also suffering from eating disorder, she loves spending money on herself, and more. Yes, eating disorder is portrayed as a trait of an evil woman instead of a psychological disorder stemming from distorted perception of one's body and poor self esteem. It's really lovely. Shelly also loves to steal things from children and she pushes pregnant women down the stairs. I'm surprised the author manages to restrain herself from tattooing "Evil Lying Slut" on Shelly's forehead.
On the other hand, Marti loves to live in a small town, she loves children, and she spends her life making sure that everyone around her is happy. She doesn't have ambitions. Of course, it's easy for Marti to do this because, unlike Shelly who is born poor, Marti is the daughter of very wealthy people. The obvious implication here is that poor people are all nasty villains who don't know their place. How dare they aspire to better themselves!
Even lazier is how the author, instead of having her main characters work out their issues, resort to having the heroines of previous books hammer into Cameron's head how nasty and despicable Shelly is. This story is full of love for everything female, I tell you.
Here is a good woman's opinion on her fellow women with eating disorders.
"It's common enough among women who want to keep their weight off and have an unhealthy attitude about food and weight. I'll bet she was a fat kid or teen and figures that the only thing she has to offer a man like you is her body. She certainly isn't smart enough to engage your mind."
Given that Cameron is "smart" enough to take what Shelly offered, what does that make him? Since he's a man, though, he can't do wrong. Everything is that other woman's fault.
Here is more love for Shelly:
"Let me give you some insight into that woman. She orders the most expensive things on the menu at your expense, she drinks martinis like they're water, and she isn't a nice person. She gets up a few minutes after eating and goes to the restroom where she purges herself of all the food and martinis she's had so that she can keep that skinny figure of hers."
Drinking martinis too much and ordering the most expensive items on the menu - how shockingly evil!
And all this is before the true extent of Shelly's villainy comes to light. In fact, the quotes above are from page 47, where already the heroines of previous books are screeching at Cameron to ditch Shelly for saint Marti. Marti doesn't get any character development here because the author is too busy setting Shelly up to be a cartoon villain. So does this make Cameron the most stupid idiot in the universe for spending the next 300-plus pages waffling between Shelly and Marti? Oh don't be silly, men can't be stupid or at fault for anything - everything is the other woman's fault!
As I've said, this story is perfect for readers who want to wallow in negative feelings for fellow women in general. You know, someone who can't get over a breakup. Who knows, this book may be a great outlet to uncork those negative emotions and help that reader move on to someone more worthy of her affections. For everyone else, though, The Right Bride is a lazy, pointless, and horribly unpleasant exercise in full-blown misogyny that is, unfortunately, not intelligently implemented. The characters going on their high horse come off as nasty and judgmental, and there is something hypocritical about Marti being raised on a pedestal when she can certainly afford to do anything she pleases - such as spending her life in carefree philanthropy - given her privileged background.
Read this book at your own peril.
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