Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29798-6
Historical Romance, 2014
A romance set during World War 1, especially one with a cover that lovely? I’m sold. Unfortunately, Marguerite Kaye’s Never Forget Me is a collection of three short stories. Considering the length of a Harlequin Historical book, the author needs to be really hitting her stride or this collection is going to three times the mediocrity… which is exactly what I end up having in my hands, sigh.
In A Kiss Goodbye, Flora Carmichael’s home Glen Massan House is being taken over by the military for war purposes. She assists her father in getting the officers settled in, and in the process falls for Corporal Geraint Cassell. Geraint has a huge chip, maybe bigger than Poland, about “privileged” people – he disdains fancy education and immediately assumes that Flora must be a spoiled brat when he has no idea who she is and what she’s like in the first place. When they first meet, he treats like complete crap due to all these personal demons clogging his poop chute, even as he finds her beauty “stimulating” (yes, he uses this word, and he uses it in exactly the context you are thinking).
He soon changes his mind about Flora’s spoiled nature, especially when she seems receptive of his sexual attentions – not a good indication about his alleged patriotism if some honey pot can make him go a complete 180 in his opinions and beliefs in such a short time, if you ask me. Geraint still has issues about the perceived disparity between their stations, however, so he’s all about the sexing and the whining afterwards. Flora falls for him anyway because he’s apparently the first man that thinks of her as beautiful and smart… which is quite a sad indication of her self-esteem issues, I feel.
This is a problematic story because the hero has some issues that would certainly get in the way of their happily ever after – if he’s this high maintenance even before he is ordered to the front lines, can you imagine what he’d be like when he comes back from shooting scummy Germans? – and the heroine’s self-esteem issues would not help things at all. Because of the length, perhaps, the author can’t do much here, so Geraint just swings from one extreme to another, coming up with another reason to keep her away after the previous reason is debunked. He’s not likable enough to pull off such a stunt, so this story never works as a result.
Flora’s brother Robbie enlists and he soon gets his story in Dearest Sylvie, where he meets and sleeps with Sylvie Renaud in Paris just before he is due to play the hero out there. Sylvie goes, “No! I’m now a slut! I regret this! No!” the morning after, and this is apparently charming behavior enough for Robbie to continue corresponding with her as he does his thing and she does hers. This is a half-epistolary, half-conventional narrative story, and I scratch my head at how these two become far less trite and stereotypical when they are away writing letters to one another. Maybe they should be forced to live apart forever? Because when they get back together, things get boring again. Fortunately, this is a short story, so the boring party doesn’t drag on for too long.
Just like the previous story, this one is too short to make much of an impact. At least the hero isn’t as immediately repulsive as the hero of the previous story, if that’s any consolation.
Finally, it’s Armistice Day in Forever With Me. Four years have passed since the first story, and Sheila Fraser, previously a maid in the Carmichael household as well as Flora’s best friend (romance heroines are always democratic like that), is with the VAD, serving at the local hospital. She falls for surgeon Dr Luc Durand. He’s from France, if case you overlook his gratuitous slips into French during romantic moments. Is this a good time to announce that the only French phrase I can speak with some degree of proficiency is: Mets-toi tout nu, si t’es un homme? It’s very useful when meeting cute French guys, not that I have habit of using it, honest. I’m now trying to learn to say properly: Quand toi Tarzan. Moi j’aime.
What? This story? Oh yes, like the previous two stories, this one’s defining feature is that it’s short. Both characters are inoffensive and quite bland. She’s impulsive, he’s more of a by-the-book sort, and they both have a tendency to give up and martyr themselves when the going gets tough. The last few pages before the happy ending see them trying to outdo one another in who gets to play the martyr in what they perceive to be a doomed relationship. The thing about this story is that there are people around them, suffering and dying, and these two are playing a silly game of finding excuses to assume that he or she is not good enough for the other person. Armistice Day is here, there’s no need to have frantic sex in case one dies tomorrow, so if they really want to break it off, hey, what’s stopping them? These two are just so silly.
Never Forget Me may take place during World War 1, a rarely used setting, but the three stories just make me shrug and say, “Well, whatever.”