St Martin’s Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-312-37403-7
Historical Romance, 2011
Like her previous efforts, Kieran Kramer’s Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage is rich in charm, but not much of substance, depths, and even historical authenticity. The last is probably to be expected, given that the author’s stories are more like contemporary romantic comedies where the characters are dressed up in period clothing, but I’m not sure what to say about this book’s superficial treatment of its characters and plot.
Jilly Jones, our heroine, left her unpleasant husband and came to London with the funds she had saved behind his back to purchase and run a bookstore. Unfortunately, her bookstore is on Dreare Street, deemed an unlucky street by folks in the neighborhood, and she is not getting much business from the generally depressed and unhappy tenants in on that road. Her stereotypical “best friend from Camp Gay” type of accessory refuses to sell books to folks he deems unworthy of those books, while Jilly tends to give away her books more than she sells them. But I guess as long as everyone is happy, that’s all that matters, right? Jilly’s biggest annoyance at the moment is her neighbor, Captain Stephen Arrow, who insists on throwing loud drunken parties all night long. But when Stephen’s unpleasant relatives besiege his home, putting a stop to his fun and – worse – trying to get him to marry their daughter, he decides to enlist the aid of that woman he’s determined to flirt with to go along with the “pretense”. That way, he can get his relatives off his back while getting into Jill’s good graces. What’s not to love about his plan?
You really shouldn’t judge this book by your knowledge of the actual norms and culture of 19th century England, because this one plays really fast and loose with historical authenticity. Sure, there are the occasional mentions of chaperones and propriety, but they come up only when it’s convenient. Jilly, for example, doesn’t seem to consider how a fake courtship with Stephen may end up damaging her reputation, which in turn could affect her bookstore business. The scenes in this book remind me more of a romantic comedy set in present day than an actual historical romance. Therefore, when you open this book, adjust your expectations accordingly.
The comedy works, fortunately. There are many exchanges and scenes here that make me smile and even chuckle, although a part of me is aware that these scenes rely very heavily on stereotypes and clichés that have been done many times before. For a wife on the run from a terrible husband, Jill has surprisingly little angst – indeed, she is more concerned about how she can’t possibly have a fling with Stephen because she’s a married woman instead of worrying about whether her husband will ever find her. As a result, the whole husband subplot seems to be nothing more than a flimsy excuse for Stephen to throw a childish tantrum when he learns that Jill is married. In the meantime, the story has Jill cranking up her Mary Poppins charm, befriending and helping every downtrodden neighbor of hers, and generally being everyone’s favorite selfless heroine. She has cash flow problems – judging from how she manages her business, this shouldn’t be a surprise – but like everything else in this story, her problems are solved neatly and cleanly with plenty of sunshine and good cheer to go around.
Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage has plenty of charm and good natured humor, it’s very easy to like this book. However, it’s more of a delicious cotton candy rather than a hearty meal – it’s a sweet indulgence, but hardly a filling experience. It can and will entertain, as long as you don’t expect much from it in the first place.