Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7525-1
Historical Romance, 2004
Cheryl Bolen’s conclusion to her The Brides of Bath series is not too much of a same thing, although it is more or less the same thing, because the author is smart enough not to go all-out in using every overused plot device she can get hold of. She fails to address some pertinent issues in her story though and that is where the book can be on shaky grounds.
Sally Spenser becomes a schoolteacher because she doesn’t want to marry for anything but love. But she’s willing to marry for the kids though, and in this case, she’s been secretly in love with George Pembroke for years and when he proposes to her so that she can move in and take care of his kids (whom he neglects after the death of his wife Diana – he blames the kid Sam for Diana’s death). She puts up some lip service about love, but who is she kidding? We all know these kind of heroines. They won’t steal a piece of cake to stop themselves for starving but they will sit on nails for the children and the useless man they decide they will love forever and ever. Besides, the children, Sam and his older sister Georgette, adore her and they want her to be their mommy. So Sally sweeps into George’s life with a determination to get George to stop blaming Sam for Diana’s death and to, of course, make sure that George loves her before she does the diddy-squat with him. So this will be a marriage in name only, the usual.
Oh gosh, George. What a miserable twit, spending his life drinking and womanizing and criminally neglecting his two-year old kid because the wife died giving birth to Sam. And Sally of course manages to keep her beacon of love shining bright for him all these years because she is such a sucker for a pretty face masking her shallowness under the pretense of endless feminine sensitivity and understanding. While it’s nice that George loves Diana, I don’t think I can be as understanding of his pain as Sally here. Still, the way he falls in love with Sally is actually very well-done and this is where the book brings a smile to my face.
Sally isn’t a complete one-dimensional Selfless Woman with a Mission (“To mother! To clean! To use my maidenhead to heal the hero with hot virgin sex!”). When she calls herself plain, she’s actually plain. None of that silly supermodel-claiming-to-be-plain nonsense here. On the other hand, she exhibits an annoying tendency to take too much crap from the hero under any circumstances and while she’s described as opiniated, she doesn’t always speak out when she should have. Sure, she isn’t afraid to tell the hero to stop being an ass but she never puts her foot down as hard as she should have at times.
I really wish that the subplot about the ridiculous and skanky antics of the Evil Woman isn’t in this book. There is nothing lazier when it comes to characterization to demonize the heroine’s rival just to make the heroine look good by comparison. In the case of An Improper Proposal, I am actually close to liking the main characters, even George, because the author creates some good chemistry between those two and beyond the contrived “she has always loved him” beginning of their relationship, those two fall in love in a satisfyingly convincing and entertaining manner. Ms Bolen uses tired and often hackneyed secondary characters to play villains and matchmakers as if she doesn’t trust her characters to do a good job in entertaining the reader by themselves. Maybe it’s time the author puts some faith in herself or, at least, use those stereotypical plot elements in a less obvious manner.