Self Published, $2.99
Mixed Genre Romance, 2012
Three Weddings and a Murder is an anthology for charity… I think, as it’s been years since I bought it and promptly lost it to the mountain of unread books in my place until now. Two of the authors are new to me, so let’s get the ball rolling with…
Oh wait, in the years since, Tessa Dare’s story had been published separately by Avon Impulse, and I bought that one and reviewed it years ago. Hilariously, when I reviewed The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright, I was only halfway sure that I have this anthology too, and now I know.
Anyway, rather than redirecting you all to that review, I will just repeat myself here. The review of this story is going to be disproportionately longer than those of the other stories because remember, I reviewed that thing as a standalone, hence I had to say more things or the review would be just two paragraphs long and people would go, “What is this? Goodreads?”
This one is not related to the author’s Spindle Cove books. In fact, it feels more like a traditional Regency story in some ways, although a chapter all about the boinking is slapped on to ensure that it still qualifies as a mainstream historical romance.
Eliza Cade can’t make her Season debut until her older sisters are married first, mostly because of a big social faux pas that she made back when she was fourteen. Her father is certain that she would do something equally thoughtless when she is inflicted on London, so he decides to err on the side of caution and make sure that his other daughters are all respectably married off before Eliza drags the reputation of the whole family through the mud.
This may sound like an overreaction on her father’s part, but considering how Eliza just happens to find herself in a room with only a gentleman with a horrible reputation – our scandalous, dissolute, no-good Harry Wright, naturally – for company, her father may just be on to something there. At any rate, nothing dramatic happens during that encounter, but Harry and Eliza will bump into each other over the next two years or so, until they realize that they may just be right for one another after all.
It says a lot about the author’s way with words that Harry’s coming on to Eliza from the start – which can seem predatory and disquieting, considering that she’s a sheltered proper lady and he has no intentions of making an honest woman out of her – actually seem both amusing and brimming with sexual tension at the same time. I actually find the more PG-13 type of interactions between those two more sensual than the actual no-clothes all-boinking moments, heh. Eliza comes off as a charming young lady who is more sheltered than stupid, and Harry is a pretty appealing rogue.
I feel that the story is the strongest during its first few dozen or so pages, when the characters match wits and play one another off very well. The momentum of the story slowly peters out as months pass by for the characters, and the familiar tropes start piling on. Still, the story manages to retain its initial gloss of good-natured charm, and I finish this story with a smile. It’s pretty incredible, considering that the hero pulls the tedious “I’ll boink you but I’m not good enough for you so I’ll take my leave afterward, bye!” act that never fails to come off as a weak justification for a self-serving user.
All things considered, this is a pretty adorable read. It won’t make the world a better place, but it will do for an hour or two of vicarious fun.
Next up is The Misbehaving Marquess by Leigh LaValle. The last time Catherine Meredith Carthwick Raybourne, the Marchioness of Forster, and her husband Jamie were in the same room five years ago, there were screaming and shouting and fragile objects being flung all about. Since then, he’d been abroad, never replying to her letters, and one day, he’s back because his heir – the always convenient cousin plot device – is dead and now his erection is ready to make a new heir with Cat.
Initially, my reaction to this story is indifference. This one seems to be turning out to be every other story where the hero ditched the heroine to gallivant round the world and have fun while the wife sits primly at home waiting for him to come back to her. Fortunately, things turn out to be a little more interesting that that. The heroine has a life of her own, the hero has his own reasons to be away, and the last few chapters are sweet.
However, I feel that the author is just making a nod to conventions in a contrived manner when she has her characters first going through the motions when they meet again. He is of course insufferable and rude, acting like her reproductive function is all that matters, while she is snippy but insecure inside. It’s nice when they do finally get along, but up to that point this story has a “going through the motions, ticking off items on the checklist” feel to it. In the end, I like the later parts, but am indifferent to the early parts; the chapters never come together well to become a single, cohesive story.
Courtney Milan presents The Lady Always Wins. Ah, a story from a time when the author is far more focused on telling a story instead of checking off items on the virtue signalling list to woke up the world, so to speak.
Simon Devenant is finally back in Chester-on-Woolsey after seven years of doing his own thing, and he is going to do the right thing and make his childhood sweetheart Victoria Croswell his wife. It is the right thing because it feels like the most right, true, and correct thing to do…. except, she announces to all that he’s her old friend, and that kind of ruins the mood.
Ginny rarely let her emotions show. She simply set down her teacup and turned her saucer precisely. “Sometime in the last seven years, you might have apologized.”
“Unfortunately, no. I could not have done.” He lifted his head. “What I said to you then… It was rude and unpardonable. And yet there has not been a moment between now and then when I could have truthfully taken it back. You see, I meant every word. I still mean it.”
She blinked at him. The long column of her throat contracted in a swallow. It was the first unguarded reaction he’d drawn from her. “Oh,” she said quietly. “That’s interesting.”
“Indeed.” He was watching her very closely. But other than that initial reaction, she betrayed no other response. Not even a twitch of her lips.
“You must be here for a good long while, then,” she said.
“Three days. I’ve urgent business back in town after that.”
“You’ve allotted three days to accomplish all your threats?” Now she did smile. “My. You’ll be working quickly. When last we spoke, you said that if I married Mr. Croswell, I’d regret it.”
“I don’t believe I used quite those words. But yes, you’ve got the general gist of my sentiment.”
She put her head to one side, looking off into the distance. “You claimed that when he passed away, you’d seduce me, and once I’d fallen in love with you, you’d stomp on my bleeding heart and leave me weeping.” She recited those words as sweetly as if she were discussing a favorite recipe for plum preserves. “Oh, don’t give me that freezing look; I’m just trying to make sure our memories are in accord.”
There was only one thing for it. He was going to have to lie.
This story is interesting in that the author has taken a pretty risky move here: in reunion romances, often one or both parties would play the self-sacrificing loon to catalyze the initial break-up. Here, however, it is Ginny who didn’t want to marry Simon when they were younger, because he was an university student with no means of self-sustenance and his parents would cut him off should he marry her. While he wanted to go all gung-ho and marry her anyway, she didn’t dare to agree because she couldn’t see how their marriage would have a happy ending. Some readers may wag a disapproving finger at Ginny – a heroine who doesn’t throw common sense to the wind for love can be quite a sacrilegious concept – but I love this. Ginny’s right, as the Simon who shows up now is a much more mellowed, grown-up man with life skills that will make him a good husband, regardless of his financial status, so this second go at romance makes perfect sense.
The romance, by the way, is such a joy to read. Courtney Milan is an author who can write poetic narrative when she’s not too busy trying to take down Donald Trump with her army of POC LGBT+ heroes and heroines, and it’s nice to be reminded of that. Mind you, I have no issue about the author’s political beliefs, it’s just that I cringe when her sentiments slowly begin to seep into her stories, turning them into woke sermons with characters who have identities substituted for personalities. This story is romantic, haunting, and so sweet to read no matter what race, skin color, or political affiliation of the main characters are, and I would love to know which deity I can burn a candle or sacrifice a chicken to in order to get that old Courtney Milan back.
Finally, Carey Baldwin presents Solomon’s Wisdom and it’s the stand-out weakest link of the lot. Can I stop at that and move on? No?
Oh, alright. This is the sole romantic suspense story in this anthology, and it’s about Anna Kincaid and Charlie Dexter reuniting after he left town twelve years or so ago. He’s back in Tangleheart, a hot pediatrician, and she’s the hot librarian in town. Before he can read her book, though, there is a mystery of a missing baby to solve, his guilt over the suicide of the plot device that drove a wedge between him and Anna.
My issue with this story is encapsulated in a particular scene in which Charlie says that Megan’s suicide affected him and caused him to spurn Anna’s advances when she showed up at his place a few hours after Megan was found. Her reaction was basically, oh, he made the wrong choice by spurning her back then, and while she understands how he must have been hurting then, hello, she was hurting too. They are no longer friends because of him! Maybe they never were friends!
Oh yes, that’s really mature of the woman, and Anna is behaving like this in the present day, mind you, not in any flashback scene when she was a brat and such nonsense would be more understandable back then. Everything is about her when it comes to our heroine, and her tendency to speak like she’s permanently on social media trying very hard to be all edgy and sarcastic doesn’t make her come off as any better.
It’s a horrible thing to say, I know, but thank god for the missing baby and bullets flying around, or else Anna would have driven me up a wall to throw myself gratefully off of it. Oh, and the mystery isn’t anything special – perhaps understandably so, as this is a short story and there’s not much that can be done about it – but really, thank god for it because it puts a temporary halt to Anna’s “Me! Me! Me!” antics.
So, Three Weddings and a Murder. Things get increasingly better until I reach the last story and feel like mass murder has been committed on my brain cells. With two decent stories, one great one, one that… somehow exists, to put it nicely, this anthology isn’t bad. However, the bad in one story nearly negates all the good in three stories, so in the end, the overall rating I can give this one is three oogies for its mixed bag nature. If you have this anthology and haven’t read it yet but plan to do so one day, I’d suggest just reading the first three and pretending that there is no fourth story.