Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-238865-0
Historical Romance, 2016
I enjoyed the last two books in the author’s Marrying the Duke series, so I’ve tampered my expectations to near zero when I begin reading A Date at the Altar, that book when the duke in question finally gets married. I do this because, from past experiences, that book in the series that feature That One Guy You Have All Been Waiting For usually disappoints as the execution rarely matches the expectations set up in previous books. And yet, despite my very low expectations, this one still manages to make me feel like I’ve stepped onto a pile of turd.
If you have read The Fairest of Them All, you will know that the author set the stage in that book for Gavin Whitridge, the Duke of Baynton, to end up with Sarah Pettijohn, the actress who wants to be a playwright. Well, this is their story, but it is best to treat this one as a standalone book completely disconnected from the previous books, or else your brain will steam and threaten to melt like mine did.
For example, Sarah could help bring home the bread when she had to care for her niece, but now that the niece had married and left for America with her husband, our heroine suddenly can’t make ends meet at all. She is evicted from one home for being unable to pay rent, and she will be evicted later in this story for once again unable to pay rent. What does she do, you may ask, to make money? Well, from what I see here, she generally feeds on her own smug self righteousness, convinced that she is morally superior to everyone, until things are desperate, and then she would do something in a one-off manner to make some money. And then, when she gets evicted, she would rant and wail that nobody cares about how hard she’s had it, so how dare they. The poor darling – if she was born in a different country in a different century, she’d be a happy welfare case who spends her days writing fanfiction on her Tumblr.
Meanwhile, Gavin is not too happy because, having lost two women to his brothers, people are wondering whether there is something wrong with his, uh, manliness. Oh, and he’s a virgin. You see, he knows that his future wife would be expected to be chaste, so he feels that it is only right if he waits for the wedding night to experience that special moment too. Furthermore, he was raised to be a very responsible eldest son, so he doesn’t have male friends that would show him to fun places and introduce him to happy ladies. He thought he might as well wait for the right lady, but now, it looks like he may never meet that lady… at least not in the foreseeable future. And, damn it, he’d really like to do happy things with a woman.
Their paths meet again when Sarah’s inability to score some cash puts her in dire straights, and also, Gavin’s friend is a predatory villain who wants Sarah as his latest conquest. Even if Sarah doesn’t want help, Gavin knows that his protection is probably her best bet when it comes to avoiding a life of starvation and worse on the streets. Even Sarah, whom I normally wouldn’t trust to correctly tell me the time, realizes that she needs Gavin’s protection, so she reluctantly goes to him after initially rejecting him. But she doesn’t make it easy. For example, she knows that the villain wants her and would do anything to have her, but no, she’s a proud and independent woman so she will not get into Gavin’s carriage – she will walk back to her home in the seediest part of town, thank you, BECAUSE SHE IS A PROUD AND INDEPENDENT WOMAN WHO DOESN’T NEED…. EEK, HELP!
I’m sure you can tell by now why I’m giving this book one oogie. The hero is actually lovely, and his complete meltdown from being a prim and proper bloke to someone who would cheerfully run his rivals through with a sword is endearing, even adorable. But the heroine, oh my god. For a long time, I keep reading and hoping that the author would subvert things and make Sarah a satirical take on, rather than the embodiment of, the stupidly proud and ridiculously stubborn heroine who can’t save herself but insists nonetheless on doing things herself, only to keep making the worst decisions for herself. Alas, that is not to be. Sarah is, straight up, that kind of heinous heroine.
Once a while, there are glimmers that her brain may not be completely broken down, but those moments are few and far in between, often arising only because the author needs Sarah to wise up and look for the hero instead of sinking straight into the proverbial quicksand. Sarah would refuse help at the most inconvenient moments, even if it means making life worse for herself, and yes, if she hasn’t come off enough as a first class imbecile, she also has to pull that the tedious “He doesn’t deserve to be saddled with nobody old me – ever!” stunt to add to the tedium. Oh, and she also acts like she’s morally superior to everyone and proclaims to everyone and anyone that she is an actress with standards and morals. That would be impressive if she can get her act in order, but alas, all the standards and morals she has crammed up her behind can’t make up for her mentally incapacitated state. Oh, and she also doesn’t trust men, has baggage related to this… you know, I’d be impressed at how the author has crammed every tedious and/or irritating trope associated with the heroine from hell into Sarah Pettijohn, if that creature hadn’t inflicted so much pain on me.
It also doesn’t help that she’s supposed to be familiar with the stage, but is at the same time clueless about so many things related to life as an actress. Or should I be surprised? Our heroine is a moron, and she probably has her head up her rear end so deep during her actressing gigs.
Anyway, A Date at the Altar is only a good thing if the altar is the devil’s and I get to sacrifice the heroine on it. If you are allergic even a little to imbecile heroines that act holier-than-thou while doing everything to irritate the hell out of you, it is best to avoid this one with extreme prejudice.