Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7445-X
Historical Romance, 2003
148 pages. That’s how long the beautiful romantic Beauty and the Beast fantasy that is Gabriella Anderson’s utterly charming Ever Yours lasts. Then the whole story takes a turn most ugly. I start out dancing on air because this book is so good, and I end up furious enough to chew rusty nails. I feel so cheated, because the book is so fun while it lasted, and it makes me want to weep when it’s so bad that it’s, well, just horrible.
Our heroine Ivy St Clair receives an unusual bequest. The late eccentric Lord Stanhope has left her a cottage and some money, but to actually inherit these goodies, she must deliver a portrait of a handsome man to the reclusive Auburn Seaton, the unfortunately titled Earl of Tamberlake. To Ivy’s surprise, she learns that Stanhope was her mother’s ex and Stanhope, who had never gotten over Ivy’s mother marrying money out of necessity, had sort of kept an eye on his ex-sweetheart’s daughters as the grow up. In a non-“I’ve been wanting her since she was sixteen and I’m going to marry her when she comes into my study at night begging me to take her virginity so that she can escape an arranged marriage” way, of course.
Against her mother’s half-hearted protests, Ivy and her brother plus Stanhope’s old housekeeper all invade Wales and right into poor Auburn “Cry Me A River” Tamberlake’s scary old mansion. Auburn “Like I Love You” Tamberlake is scarred – he wears a mask to hide the badly disfigured portions of his face, he walks with a limp, and he’s known as the Monster Earl. However, Ivy soon learns that Auburn “I’m So Over Britney” Tamberlake is also a man that keeps a menagerie of handicapped animals. And poor dear Tamberlake, he soon realizes that he doesn’t want to let Ivy leave his scary mansion house.
More like Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast than the original darker incarnation of the folk tale, Ever Yours so far is just wonderful. Mrs Pennyfeather and the house staff only add small but wonderful little sparks to an already charming and quaint tale, and Ivy’s brother is adorable. Ivy comes close to being an annoying overly perky know-it-all, but Tamberlake really steals the show as the growly and vaguely menacing Beast that has a softie interior. The author manages to draw out Tamberlake’s growing affections for Ivy and her menagerie of housestaff and guests very well.
Then the crap happens. Ivy is engaged to some whatshisname, Wynbrooke, who’s a fortune hunter. At page 148, she decides that before she leaves, she – yes, she must have that One Special Sex Thing, One Time and Only. The author flushes Ivy’s brain down the drain for this hideous plot contrivance, because for some reason know-it-all Ivy will never consider the possibility of pregnancy. And when poor used Tamberlake brings it up, her flippant answer shows that her orgasm has no doubt completely fried her brain to a crisp. And from there, she goes back to London, Tamberlake follows, and this book never recovers even as the tidal wave of silly little miscommunication start coming.
For example, Ivy turns into an infuriatingly idiotic nitwit that will keep going on and on about duty and how it’s all for Daddy and for Mommy. Then she will lament that Tamberlake doesn’t love her even after he’s chased and wooed her all over the place because gee, he doesn’t say the “love” word. How did this woman become this stupid? Action speaks louder than words, but trust a romance heroine like this nitwit to be blind to everything but her own insufferably bloated sense of martyrhood. And as for Tamberlake, he would have done well to tell the L word to this silly nitwit, but no. For some reason that eludes me, he decides to woo her but tells everyone but her that he intends to marry her. His ex-girlfriend decides that she would like to be a Countess so she decides to cause trouble. She’s transparent, but Ivy, being the idiot that she is, bites the bait and asks for more. And on and on the book goes, in a horrifying downward spiral of imbecile behaviors, childish antics, and romance novel clichés gone grotesque.
I closed this book not just feeling annoyed beyond belief, but I’m also stumped as to how such a good book can turn into such a painful read in what seems like a blink of an eye. Still, no matter what, I do have a soft spot for dear Tamberlake, king of a menagerie of misunderstood misfit pets, who even at his most misguided moments still comes off as an endearing and romantic dear suitor. I am tempted to be overly generous and give this book an undeserving higher rating just for the great first half and the hero, but I only remember just how angry I feel when this book takes a nosedive like that.