The Maiden Bride
by Linda Needham, historical (2000)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-79636-8

My first instinct is to drop The Maiden Bride the way I would drop health food off my shopping list. The back blurb and front page synopsis all loudly proclaim that the plot seems to be about a shy innocent virgin (oh stand in line!) wanting claim her wedding night from a reluctant groom. Huh?

But this is Linda Needham, who wrote two keepers in a row for me. What can go wrong, right? Where should I start?

Lady Eleanor Bayard is homeless. Her gang of strays, a shrill annoying Shirley-Temple-on-drug lil' girl called Pippa and two less irritating children Dickons and Lisabeth, and she are given the estate of her late hubby William Bayard. When she reaches the place, it turns out hubby ain't that dead after all.

But William, not wanting to reveal his identity, calls himself Nicholas Langridge, steward extraordinaire. They all cozy up in the rundown estate Faulkhurst and... uhm, that's it. There's something about William getting sick of bloodshed and mayhem and wanting to join a monastery, and Eleanor needing to get the wedding night going ASAP to keep her lands (her marriage is unconsummated, after all), and I really wish someone would stuff a ball of rag into that shrieky, irritating Pipsqueak Pippa and tie her up to a pole.

Problem #1 is William. He's inscrutable through most of the story that I have no idea what he is doing or why he is doing the things he do. Why did he marry Eleanor by proxy anyway? And am I supposed to believe that it is lust at first sight for this man?

Problem #2 is Eleanor. There is a thin line between waifishness and just plain not there, and Eleanor has crossed it. This woman's emotional hysteria borders on ridiculousness most of the time. When she first encounters William, for instance, she sends Pipsqueak running away, wailing, "I will always love you!" like a tragic drama mama. This coming from a woman who has survived living under bridges and such? What happened to survival instincts and toughness? Throughout the book she displays little ability to plan long-term or even think without being dictated overly by her emotions. Eleanor is just plain zoned out.

Problem #3 is Pipsqueak. She screams, she runs, and she never obeys orders. Hence, she gets lost in tunnels and everybody has to go look for her. What this shrieky, juvenile harpy needs is a firm setting down, but no, our wimpy Eleanor only spoils her for it. Ugh. Some children in romance make me feel misty-eyed, but Pipsqueak makes me feel glad that my tubes are tied.

Problem #4 is the writing style. It's choppy. It goes something like this:

Short choppy sentence. Like this. He wants her.

Followed by italicized passages indicating deep thoughts. But he's her husband! He can't! But my, he sure wants her! Oh agony! Fie! Semper fi!

And conclude with a concise sentence. He wants her.

This style goes on and on and it makes me want to go Aargh. Normally I wouldn't notice writing styles, but I can't help it when the characters are vague and too insubstantial and the plot is so thin it is almost not there at all. TMB, I must say, is too full of bloated emotions. There isn't enough substance to keep it from flying like a hot air balloon up up up until I lose sight of the whole plot completely.

Rating: 50

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