by Corey McFadden, historical (2003)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5217-2
With Eyes Of Love is a nice title for a romance novel. Unfortunately, Corey McFadden's Regency-era romance sees the author taking the lazy way out in her characters, and the story really suffers as a result. Instead of showing me why the heroine Elspeth Quinn is good, the author ramps up the horrifically shrill and vile antics of Elspeth's foil, her prettier and nasty cousin Caroline. And since Caroline is everywhere and she plays a major role in the plot, there's just no escape from earbleed and nosebleed.
Elspeth is the usual bookish, quiet "I'm not pretty, step on me, I'm a bluestocking named doormat" sorts ubiquitous in this subgenre. She is invited by Caroline to London for a season, and this is only because Caroline and her mother want a dowdy cousin around to show off Caroline's beauty better. Personally, I'd recommend a healthy dose of mercury and arsenic facial powder instead of annoying cousins tagging along, but then again, I don't do the bluestocking thing so what do I know, eh? Anyway, so Elspeth tags along at the insistence of her mother to go and marry well. She also brings her naughty brother along. Frankly, I still think Caroline should've stuck with mercury facial wash. It's less painful.
Meanwhile, our hero Julian Thorpe wants a wife. His father is dying and Julian wishes to impregnate a woman and present the dying man some grandchild before granpa croaks for good. He's a guy who'd rather stay in the country and raise his pigs and all. He falls for Elspeth - and who wouldn't? - but Caroline also sets her cap on Julian.
Caroline and her mother dominate this story and they are really, really loud and irritating caricatures. Elspeth lets them walk all over her and little does the author realize that when she lets her heroine be silent and the villainess be so loud, the heroine ends up fading completely into the wall. The hero also ends up like some lily-livered spineless twit as both he and Elspeth allow themselves to be manipulated through their twisted ideas of morality and obligation.
It's a pity, because on their own, Elspeth and Julian may be decent if familiar characters. But the author relies too much on Caroline and Mom to carry the story, and carry it they do, right down to the ground.
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