Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-245182-8
Historical Romance, 2018
Whoever came up with that title must have run out of ideas. That or The Bride Takes a Groom was a stand-in title while the editor consulted the marketing department for some buzzwords thrown together, but due to some communication glitch, by the time Bought and Seduced by a Captain was approved for use, the cover had already been printed. Still, the title is quite accurate in that the heroine Katherine Brooke is quite proactive in making sure that she gets married. So yes, she “takes” Hugo Penhallow – ex-military – as her groom.
Katherine is quite the spoiled chit in the beginning and the prologue, I suspect, will drive quite a number of readers to put the book down due to too much cringing. Back when she was fifteen, she was sent to one of the finest and most expensive schools people with lots of money can afford. Not that she appreciated that, since she wanted a life of passion and romance, rather than one full of rules and disapproval. She decided that she liked her music tutor so she got that man to meet her in secret for some grope and kisses. They were caught in a compromising position (don’t worry, they didn’t get past first base), and Katherine was made to stay a little longer in school as a result.
Today, at twenty-one, she’s more of less the same. She pays her maid a lot of money for that annoying woman to smuggle in chocolates and romance novels for her, and she still wants to get away from her parents. However, after meeting her parents, I feel a bit for her: her parents are self-absorbed tyrants obsessed with being the most celebrated and socially superior people in the neighborhood, and the two of them decided that they hated the other person a few weeks into their marriage. As a result, our heroine is living in a gilded cage – she is luckier than most people, true, but she’s unhappy. This doesn’t mean that she’s sitting down quickly and moping non-stop, though. She’s smart enough to realize that marriage is the quickest and perhaps the most effective solution to her problems.
Hugo and Katherine know each other – they go way back, although as adults they didn’t see much of the other person due to him being in the military and all – and he is forced to retire after sustaining an injury while on duty. His family is never loaded, and he needs money to give his siblings proper education, debuts, and such. He knows he is hot, and apparently the Penhallow name is held in so much high esteem that even dukes treat him like an equal despite the fact that he has no title or anything like that. It is this pedigree of his that has Katherine’s parents salivating, hence it makes sense that our hero and heroine embark on what is supposed to be a business-like marriage of convenience.
Okay, the plot of The Bride Takes a Groom seems like another rehash of a well-worn premise, and yes, that’s exactly what it is. The author’s treatment of her story, however, is anything but played out. I’ve compared the author’s style favorably to that of Eloisa James in the past, and this is more evident than ever here, especially in the frequent moments of subversion.
Katherine won’t be to every reader’s taste, I suspect, given that she makes few apologies for being born hot and wealthy as well as for not being a saintly martyr. Me, I find her a fascinating character. Her father was an impoverished, disowned son of a baronet while her mother was the socially ambitious daughter of a coal miner who went on to make a vast fortune – our heroine’s upbringing is fermented in extremes as a result. On one end are the extremely rigid school rules of what to do and, more often than not, what she cannot do, while on the other end are the melodramatic passions of her romance novels. Our poor dear can’t really reconcile what she likes and what she knows to be proper but not fun, so most of the people she finds herself taking on the personas of her favorite heroines to bolster her confidence. The result is an often confused and exasperated husband as well as a suitably entertained reader.
Hugo is less complicated as a character – he’s just a nice guy who is good in bed, and thus, this story is actually Katherine’s journey of self-discovery. It also helps that his family members are all nice people – the better to sell more books, of course – so Katherine will have a good degree of support as she tries to find herself.
Yes, this story is fun, fun, fun. Really, even Katherine’s parents are entertaining sorts, especially her mother who keeps dropping French phrases to sound clever and posh. The humor works very well with me, and the author tosses in letters between various characters here to break up the more conventional narrative structure here and there too. All in all, there is something about this story that makes me grin and even laugh – it’s like the child of a good Eloisa James book and a Julia Quinn book, with sweet, emotional moments that nicely balance out the humor.
If I have one quibble, it’s how the author eventually puts the more entertaining, if often ghastly, characters on the bus to drown me in the incessant sweetness that is the Penhallow family. The young ladies are appropriately pretty and quirky, while the men are hot and hunky, reminding me with the subtlety of a hammer to the nail on my forehead to buy all of their books in the future. I admit that I find the permanent warm cuddly sweetness a bit tiresome after a while, and wonder what Katherine’s parents are up to. Or whether that naughty maid of Katherine is having a fun time with the guy she ran off with.
Still, The Bride Takes a Groom is a blast to read, and it’s especially impressive when I compare it to the author’s previous two books. It takes a while, but it looks like Lisa Berne has finally arrived with style.