Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-265576-9
Historical Romance, 2018
Soren York, the new Earl of Dewsburry, and his good friend the new Duke of Camberly both need money ASAP as they are left with bankrupt estates. This is Soren’s story, so let’s focus on him. He has his eye on the heiress Cassandra Holwell. It doesn’t matter that she is unfashionably tall or that she is a bookish young lady who keeps speaking her mind. Her height is just right for him, and he has always admired that brain and attitude of hers. Plus, he’s always thought of her as the hottest woman in the room. The fact that his family and hers are at loggerheads – the fact that his grandfather lost a prime piece of property to her grandfather may have something to do with that – doesn’t faze him. She has money, she is hot, he likes her, and when they marry, he’ll get back what has been lost to his family. So… what’s the problem?
Well, she knows that he wants her money, and she isn’t keen on marrying him for that reason. Plus, he hurt her feelings and wounded her self-esteem in front of his friends when they were teenagers, and she still holds that against him. Also, she has her cap set on Camberly – she dreams of being his wife and finally being able to hold literary salons that will be taken seriously by the creative types that she admires. She wants to be a mother, and she intends to be more hands-on in raising her children because she finds children to be adorable and fascinating. Oh, and she also wants a life that is far different from the one she has now – one in which she will not feel embarrassed by her father or feel like a social outcast because of the way people look down on her due to her not-so-glowing pedigree, one in which she will be free to be as bluestocking-y and intellectual as she wishes without being made to feel like she is weird for doing so. Once she is a duchess, she can do anything she wants, no? Plus, Camberly is hot, scholarly (which is just her thing), and seems like an all-out nice guy too, unlike Soren who keeps getting on her nerves.
Unfortunately, she happens to be in the wrong place one night while attending Camberly’s house party, when Camberly and his mistress stumble into the library where she is trying to read and begin doing you know what. There goes her admittedly naïve belief that Camberly is a noble and chivalrous gentleman – he’s getting busy with a married woman, ugh. But crossing him off her list of potential husband material is the least of her worries. The mistress’s husband begins loudly looking for his wife and her lover in the hallway outside, and in panic, Cassandra sneaks out of the room. Unfortunately, that husband catches her and, thinking that she is his wife, gives chase as she flees blindly into the next room… which is Soren’s room. And he is sleeping naked. He answers the door, still naked, when the husband pounds on it. Soren tries to act like he’s alone, but the other man gets loud and our heroine feels that she has no choice but to show her face before the situation escalates further.
As you can imagine, Cassandra is completely ruined. Soren is more than willing to marry her, of course, but still…
Now, A Match Made in Bed is going to be a fun or disappointing read depending on your expectations. Cathy Maxwell is one of those few romance authors who seem to find great joy in subverting romance tropes. Her plot may seem familiar on paper, but more often than not, the author will put her own fun spin on many of these tropes to come up with a story that feels familiar but still fresh and even surprising. This one is one of the author’s more subversive romance, and my enjoyment of it stems mostly from such entertaining subversion. However, as a romance, this one may be disappointing to some readers because it’s more of the heroine’s journey. The hero already adores her from the get go, and thus, the story is more about the heroine finding reasons to love the hero as well as to find herself in the process. If a reader prefers a story which revolves around the hero opening up to love instead, well, how fortunate that nine out of ten romance novels available in the market are just that kind of story.
Let’s get Soren out of the way first. Right out of the gate, he’s a tall glass of water in that he resembles a hardworking nice guy hero who must have taken a wrong turn in an Americana romance and ends up in this one instead. Wait, he has spent some time in Canada setting up a trade outpost and he even married a native woman, so he is such a guy. Our hero is not a cynical or jaded rake, he doesn’t have a passel of mistresses, he doesn’t run a gambling den. No, he’s trying his best to restore his properties so that he can leave behind a lasting legacy for his kids. Soren also has a wicked sense of humor, he doesn’t belabor over or hold petty grudges against small things in his past, and he’s great in bed. That’s basically this guy from the first page. He doesn’t change much throughout the story, but that’s okay, because I’ll take six of him, thanks.
As I’ve said, this is Cassandra’s story. A Match Made in Bed – god, what a terrible title – will see her going from a book smart but still somewhat naïve young lady to a confident woman who blossoms under the newfound sense of purpose she finds as a wife of an earl and with the support of a husband who views her “eccentricities” as a plus rather than a minus. If I tell you what she does, I’d be spoiling the story, so let me just say that our heroine is the kind who does things rather than just sitting around waiting for things to happen to her, and I like that a lot. Also, I adore how the author portrays Cassandra in a way that goes against the grain so often. Our darling here is completely aware of how men generally pursue her because of her money, but instead of letting that sour her against the idea of marriage, she instead cherishes the possibility of turning such a marriage of convenience into her advantage. I also love that the author allows her heroine to have her own dreams and desires outside of simply wanting a husband to marry and have babies with – our heroine also wants things for herself, her own pleasures.
You can only imagine how thrilled I am to come across Cassandra after having to sit through so many selfless, noble, self-sacrificing heroines who only want Daddy to love them more. Cassandra is certainly aware of her father’s many flaws, and she doesn’t allow him to turn her into a doormat. Oh, she still wants to think the best of him, but that’s only natural because he is, after all, her father. But once her illusions are shattered, sure, she grieves, but she never once blames herself or her husband for somehow “failing” that man.
A Match Made in Bed does have some issues where I am concerned. I feel that the author has introduced too many plot threads here. Some of them, especially those that pop up abruptly in the late third or so of the story, are clearly designed to catalyze the heroine’s self discovery, but there is no room for these plot elements to be fleshed out properly. Hence, they feel superfluous at best and annoying padding at worst. Also, this late third or so of the story feel very rushed compared to the rest of the story up to that point. The narrative begins to feel more perfunctory, as if the author had gone tired of the story by that point and just wanted it to be over and done with.
Therefore, this one ends up hovering between the three- and four-oogie territory. The heroine is certainly the MVP here – I adore her and the author has, I feel, had everything about Cassandra’s journey of self discovery done right. But the hero, while adorable, ends up being just another prop for the heroine’s journey, and the late third or so of the story has a “I’m checking off things in a list” feel to it. Still, it’s not every day I come across a story that has this much love given to the heroine by the author, so what the heck. Four oogies it is.