My Favorite Bride
by Christina Dodd, historical (2002)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-009264-5

I have to say this: no one can crowbar an arrogant jackass hero's knees like Christina Dodd can. This book is "inspired" by the vilest of all movies (other than Barney's Great Adventure), The Sound Of Music (if you are one of five romance readers unaware of this movie, count yourself blessed), and isn't My Favorite Bride the stupidest title ever? What, does Colonel William Gregory here have ten brides to choose from or something?

I'm definitely in a bad mood when I opened the first page, preparing to pour kerosene and torch this baby if Samantha Prendregast runs onto the first page among green hills to sing about evil hills that are alive. Incidentally, if I'm a nanny named Samantha Prendregast, I'll think about changing my last name. Don't want parents of potential clients to misread that last name and mistake me for Paula Poundstone now, do we?

Instead, I am charmed. I'm completely charmed by this evil, testicle-crunching-after-they've-been-frozen story. Don't like anyone with penis at the moment? Read this book then. In My Favorite Bride, crunching up testes and munching them like M&M's is never this fun. Guys, steel your nerves and other more dangly bits before you dive into this one.

The main reason is because while William Gregory, like his name, is a dickhead, Samantha on the most part is equally dickheaded. This is one couple who can match each other when it comes to pride and thickheadedness, only, being a woman, Samantha's the smarter one. The two other females in this story are equally smarter than their male counterparts. Heck, William's daughters, all six of them, are shaping up to just like their stepmother. The only docile woman in this story, William's late wife, is dead. You can't get more subtle than that, can you?

Samantha is sent to govern William's kids, and that's when the discordant sound of music begins. Christina Dodd is never a softie when it comes to sexual tension, so ouch, this one can burn, baby. The best part, of course, is the duel of wits and mule-headed pride. I'm willing to overlook how an ex-pickpocket can be a super perfect mummy at the same time without any obvious role models or books or anything, because dang it, watching two donkeys bashing their heads and trying to crack each other's skulls is never this good, especially when Dick Gregory is going to be one doing a major groveling in the end.

Dick here is also a spy, and the spy plot is the weakest as well as the strongest element in this book. Let me explain. Weakest is because this subplot overwhelms the entire middle of this story, reducing the interaction between Samantha and Dick. Strongest because it allows a very charming woman named Teresa, Lady Marchant, to prove her razor-sharp mettle, so much so that she completely overwhelms Samantha and Dick and makes me wish that this is actually Teresa and her prey's story. I still do, actually.

The last few chapters, however, have a marvelous blow-up that has Samantha raking Dick over hot coals for every one of his nonsense that he dumped on her. And best of all, she actually says that she is too good for him. In a sea of martyrs and unbelievably clueless dingbats, Samantha is truly the shining beacon of sanity or something. I love it. I love it!

Let's just say that readers looking for "nice" won't find it here. But My Favorite Bride isn't strictly testes-crunching escapist fantasy, even if the women resemble velociraptors diving in for the kill at times - most of the arguments here are necessary arguments. Dickhead is a dickhead, and he has been unfair to Sam, and good for her for letting him know loudly and clearly that she will not tolerate it. An applause too for Teresa, the Other Woman Who Isn't A Caricature, for telling Sam not were she (Teresa) to marry Dick, she will not let Dickhead take her for granted the way Dickhead took his late wife for granted. And yes, Dickhead is never allowed to get away with any of his nonsense.

Sure, this book is lacking in "sweetness", if sweetness is what you mean by martyr-tinged air of resignation and forgiveness offered freely by womenkind just because the man tells them "I love you" (or have impregnated them with ten kids, whichever comes first). My Favorite Bride, however, blows apart the entire saccharine-tinged premise of the original movie that inspired it, yet at the same time provides some much-needed depths for its love story. It ends up even sweeter than the original - emotional enough and sweet enough without becoming all fluff and saccharine like that piece of, er, movie.

In the movie, I always imagined the last scene where the Von Crappos are walking up green hills as all as some nice way of saying that the nuns may have flattened the Nazi's tires, but they have also rigged a bomb in Von Crappos' car, and the Crappos never made it. But you know what? This book is alright. Even Julie "For the love of God, don't mention that movie, please!" Andrews may give this one her seal of approval.

Rating: 88

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