Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-135416-8
Historical Romance, 2008
It Happened One Night is all Mary Balogh’s fault. Not satisfied with her excellent task of meeting the world annual quota for pointlessly self-suffering heroines with her admirable output of seven hundred books a year, she had this marvelous idea come Christmas time that she and her friends Jacquie D’Alessandro and Candice Hern would come up with an anthology. They would write about the same premise, only with a different voice and style, to demonstrate to everyone that there is no new story in romance anymore. Or something like that. Because they all knew that they needed some star power behind them, they decided to enlist Stephanie Laurens to their side. Ms Laurens, after all, should be an expert in writing stories featuring the same premise in and out. Thus, this thing was born.
Stephanie Laurens begins the show with The Fall of Rogue Gerard. Meet Robert Gerrard. He’s the Viscount Gerrard. You can call him Rogue. But in this story, he’s called Ro. But does it matter? Be he Ro, Robotech, Robocop, or Barney the Purple Dinosaur, he’s a Cynster clone. He shows up in an inn one winter, stumbles upon his childhood crush Lydia Makepeace, and starts admiring her feisty nature even as he barks orders at her and treats her like a dog that should obey his orders.
Lydia is a bluestocking, convinced that she will never marry, and therefore she’d like to have sex left and right and upside down, please, because she’s now immune to social rules of her day. Oh, and she is involved in some dumb plot to retrieve some love letter a friend wrote several years ago. These two plan to be faux-lovers to crash a party, with her pretending to be a courtesan, and really, I don’t know why I bother. This story is pretty much a rehash of the author’s bestselling formula served up cold.
Mary Balogh is next with Spellbound. When Richard Kemp tells heroine Nora Ryder that she would be too headstrong to last long as a paid companion, I had a faint hope that Ms Balogh has come up with a different heroine from her usual stupid sack martyr types. But who am I kidding? Nora and Richard once eloped but the usual drama involving missing letters and the heroine passively assuming that the hero was gone from her life resulted in a separation. Until a chance meeting at an inn brings everything back.
Nora is weird. She is penniless and can’t afford to get a proper room to stay when she meets Richard, but even when he’s willing to take her in while passing her off as his wife, she will protest that she can’t go along. It’s not proper! She doesn’t want to make him spend any money on her! Really, she doesn’t want to impose! I’d respect her more if she would actually do what she keeps whining about and go sleep in a manger. But no, she sneakily lets Richard “force” her to stay in his room. Even then, she would insist on being his “servant” (she wants to pay him back, you see), making his bath and all.
And on and on the story goes. She doesn’t need those expensive things! (But she’ll take them anyway.) And even when she knows how Richard feels for her and how everything in the past was all bloody melodramatic mess, she would still insist on walking away. Of course, she doesn’t mind having sex – twice – because she loves him so much that way. If I have my way, this stupid woman would get what is coming to her and she will spend the rest of her life wasting away as a single mother in a poor house. But that wouldn’t be nice, really, since the kid would suffer for the stupidity of the mother. Finally, after Richard has patiently persuaded her to stay, she meekly accepts his proposal. In another story, I’d suspect that Nora is just a pain-in-the-rear end high-maintenance bimbo angling for compliments from her beau, but since this is a story by Mary Balogh, Nora is just a below par product from the Martyr Barbie factory line.
Jacquie D’Alessandro is next with Only You. Cassandra Hayworth is an unhappy widow who is reunited with the former stable boy she had a crush on, Ethan Baxter, when she stops at the inn that Ethan now owns. They both compare their stereotypical past, where we learn that Cassie has a much harder time than Ethan, but Ethan spends so much time whining and running away that I wish he’d just keep running, preferably over a cliff. The author knows that Ethan is a childish twit, but by the time Ethan admits that he’s a pain in the rear end male version of Nora Ryder, I’m too irritated by this story to care. Oh, and Ethan calls his dog “TC” and goes, “C’mon boy!”
Candice Hern’s From This Moment on is the only readable story of the four. We have two characters in their early forties reconnecting again when they bump into each other in an inn. Wilhelmina, the Duchess of Hertford, was a former courtesan who struck gold – literally – by winning the affections of the Duke, and now a widowed happy-go-lucky woman, she doesn’t expect to meet her first love Sam Pellow again. These two have a tumultuous past full of angst, youthful negative feelings, and such, but now that they are older and hopefully wiser, they will try to put the past behind them and start anew.
This one is everything the three other stories aren’t. This one is fresh, interesting, and entertaining. It isn’t a watered down rehash of the author’s bestselling formula. It features two well-drawn realistic characters rather than stick figure stereotypes. The characters talk and feel in a realistic manner instead of merely going through the motions following the same tedious script.
One out of four. No matter how I look at it, this is not a good thing at all. It Happened One Night would have been a complete pointless waste of my time were not for Candice Hern’s story. Borrow this book, read that story, and return this book with the rest of the stories unread, that’s my recommendation. If you feel that Candice Hern deserves something for her valiant effort to salvage this anthology, then be a dear and mail her a check for a hundred dollars.