by Melinda McRae, regency (2000, 1992 reissue)
Signet, $5.50, ISBN 0-451-20268-6
It is an usual day at the Café Littéraires des Arts. The maître d'hôtel is going on his usual unctous way of pleasing the many elite readers frequenting this exclusive gourmet literary restaurant. Then the door opens and he winces when the most gaudy woman steps in. He recognizes Mme Rican, Mrs Giggles, an upstart peasant woman who would've been banned from this club did she not strike her millions by cornering the pork market. She wears a brilliant shade of red and black that makes her look like a zebra with cataracts.
Seeing him, Mrs Giggles gives a merry wave.
Mrs G: Yoo-hoo Jeannie!
Jean Baptiste, Maître d'hôtel: Mr Baptiste, please, Mme. How may I help you today?
Mrs G: (sitting on her chair with a loud fffrrrummmp!) Well, today, I've decided to know culture. It's time I learn some classy things the lecteurs de roman must know. After all, there's only so much money can do - I need some class too. Right, Jeannie?
Jeannie, er, Jean: If you say so, Mme.
Mrs G: Right. So what do you recommend?
Jean: Well, at the moment, every enlightened lecteur de roman is going ecstatic over the two-in-one reissue of Joan Wolf's splendid His Lordship's Mistress, reissued together with Melinda McRae's classic Married By Mistake. You can't go wrong with it, and it's only $5.50 for two.
Mrs G: Oh good. Go get 'em for me, Jeannie. (pinches Jean's butt as he walks away) Ooh, Tomas is one lucky fellow - does he use your butt for trampoline practice?
Jean: Mme, behave!
An hour later
Mrs G: Jeannie!
Jean: (to himself) Dieu dans le ciel, ont la pitié sur moi. (Aloud) Mme, you call?
Mrs G: These books are so, so... ordinary!
Jean: (affronted) Excuse me?
Mrs G: For heaven's sake, these books are so friggin' mundane! Hello? Look at this one: Joan Wolf's story. Hello? Fallen noble heroine playing actress, becomes the hero's mistress (I'm to think that's okay because she's his first, you know, compared to other slutty actresses, I guess - right?), but can he marry her, an actress, et cetera. Hello? First off, what's the chances for this bluestocking heroine to be a superstar talent in disguise?
Jean: May I remind Mme of Toni Braxton?
Mrs G: Ah yes. Never mind. I know this story is the 'pioneer' in the actress heroine thing, but still, I am not too fond of the writing style anyway.
Jean: Blasphemy! Everyone knows Joan Wolf is Goddess!
Mrs G: Goddess moddess schmoddess, Jeannie boy. She writes in a way that excludes me from being anything more than a disinterested spectator in the story. His Lordship's Mistress is pleasant for a safe, sanitized dipping of toes into the - oooh, so seedy - world of actresses. Besides, it's all artifice and manners - oh so boring. You look ill, Jeannie. Let me get my smelling salts from my reticule - where the heck is it?
Jean: And - and - and - I dare not ask, but how about Melinda McRae's tour de force?
Mrs G: Dull as dishwater.
Jean: (crosses himself) The manager will throw you out if she hears you.
Mrs G: It's just another standard marriage of convenience story, with the added complication of Florence Washburn fancying herself more suited with the younger brother instead of the elder. Of course the elder brother is the arrogant, dull rake whose promiscuity is justified because he only does the actresses and opera singers and they always part friends. The obligatory smuggling plot is thrown in, and of course the heroine realizes it's better to be married to a controlling domineering Mr Knightley clone (with a sex life added) than to a flaky, penniless second brother.
Jean: I feel faint...
Mrs G: I know CPR!
Jean: I mean, I feel cold.
Mrs G: This one is also full of the same old characters - the silly father, the irritatingly chirpy bluestocking heroine, the controlling arrogant husband, and oh, a smuggling plot! I am bored!
Jean: Sssh, lower your voice, Mme, people are staring.
Mrs G: You know what's sad, Jeannie? Both stories show that since 1982 at least, the regency genre is stagnant when it comes to plot, characters, and drama. No wonder it's dying if you ask me. Law of nature says that nothing that remains static for so long can endure. The regency readers must have a strong, strong stomach to take in and even demand such repetitious and predictable plot, characters, and setting.
Jean: Je suis horrifié. Je ne sais pas quoi dire à un tel blasphème indigne.
Mrs G: Pardon?
Jean: Maybe you would like something else? We have also Mary Balogh -
Mrs G: Too bloodless.
Jean: Mary Jo Putney -
Mrs G: Her recent books seem to lack the emotional zing factor, don't you think?
Jean: (deep breath, and then) Laura Kinsale?
Mrs G: Too laborious and wordy.
Jean: Bloody hell, Mme, what will it take to please you? For goodness sake, will you ever LIKE one, just one, ONE ONE ONE ONE ONE freaking book I recommend? For six months you walk in and torture me like this! How will I ever get any work done? How can I endure it? You heartless woman! You, you, you - Madame Bovary!
Mrs G: I think I'm not cut out to be a sophisticated reader of romance. Hey, look, McDoodles opposite is advertizing a Thea Devine special. Spicy hot chilli sex Devine Happy Meal for only $3.99 (iced Coke and phallic fries included). Ooh, ooh, get me my coat!
Jean lets out a wild scream of exasperation and faints dead away.
Mrs G: What did I say?
Rating: 81 for His Lordship's Mistress and 72 for Married By Mistake
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