Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5289-X
Historical Romance, 2004
Why would a preacher’s daughter, a sweet and goody-goody one, fall in love with a debauched rake who cheated incessantly on his wife? The Kissing Gate suggests that it’s because she has a teenage crush on him and he now has six kids for her to mother, oh, and he has some self-esteem issues that she can lovingly apply her TLC into healing, so it must be true love for everybody involved, amen. Young ladies, don’t try this at home with the local bad kid in town, okay?
Lionel Westfall and Sophie Bowerbank were in love, or so these teenagers always claimed. When they were caught in a compromising situation (which isn’t compromising as much as it is incriminating, to be honest, as they almost did the wazoo), Lionel is shipped off to the military. Sophie, heartbroken, decides not to marry as it will not be fair to her, Lionel, and the man she marries. How nice of her. Lionel, however, marries a woman, cheats on her with skanks all over the town, and somehow manages to get six kids from the blissful marriage. Now that the wife is dead, he needs a new nanny because the kids are terrorizing the nannies away. Our heroine, being sweet and maternal and so-so understanding, is right for the job.
He asks her to be the nanny, which we all know is a sign of True Respect and Devotion a man can give a woman. “Honey, please wash my stained boxers,” he can ask and I will be so thrilled and rush to the duty at once, because there’s nothing that symbolizes true love more than a man who wants me to clean up all the mess in his life. Sophie, that ungrateful hussy, is reluctant at first because she loves him but she must never tell him, oh no. Still, one look at the kids, especially the youngest kid who suffers from nightmares, and Sophie, who has spent her life taking care of her father, is unable to resist the calling to Nurture and Mother that have been etched into her genes.
On one hand, Lionel and Sophie are likable characters, although Ms Carr goes beyond the call of duty to justify Lionel’s debauched behaviors. But the romance is quite flimsy, because the sexual attraction is catalyzed by a book of pornographic material in Sophie’s possession. Sexual curiosity and maternal instincts are not always the same as love, if you ask me. I need to see why Sophie, an obedient preacher’s daughter, would want to sleep with a notorious rake outside the sanctity of marriage but Ms Carr fails to do a convincing job with Sophie’s motivations. Likewise with why Sophie will fall in love with Lionel all over again. This couple comes off as more in love with the idea of being in love than actually being in love. I hope I am making sense here.
The kids are okay – on the whole they come off as realistic young people. The exception is the youngest brat Simon and his nightmare thing, which Ms Carr uses as a saccharine plot device to bring up conflicts between Lionel and Sophie.
The external conflict, where the kids are blamed for all sorts of pranks and accidents around town, is nothing more than padding for conflict. It is quickly resolved when the author no longer has any use for it.
The Kissing Gate has a nice relationship dynamic going on between Sophie and Lionel, but Ms Carr doesn’t quite succeed in making the premise convincing. This is one story that comes off as pretty good at first, but closer scrutiny will reveal that it doesn’t really have a stable foundation to stand on. Draggy pacing and awkward external conflicts only make the ground it is standing on even more shaky.