Cupid Calling
by Stacy Brown, Karen L King, and Patricia Waddell; historical (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7490-5


I am really tired of ridiculously flat characters in romance novels that one can easily describe in one word (for example, "bluestocking", "jerk", "martyr"). I'm fed up of unbelievably clueless asexual virgins of 1800 England and those overly-cynical older men who love them. Cupid Calling may pretend to be an anthology of unexpected love and it may quote Shakespeare all it wants, but the three stories are so painfully contrived and formulaic that I really cannot enjoy them. Maybe readers who are more amenable to these sort of stories will like this anthology better.

Stacy Brown's Only Mine is a parody. It has to be a parody, because to accept this badly written tale of unbelievably stupid characters as a model romance novella is to destroy the very concept of sanity. Roland Harwicke first encounters our innocent, innocent, innocent heroine Valentina Rutledge when she is wading into the stream to recapture her boy. Our hero leers at her while mocking her for acting like a tramp before delivering a scolding that leaves her seething. Hypocritical just doesn't cover this freak dude.

Six months later they meet again. Roland has been betrayed and he now hates all women forever, the usual. It never occurred to him that those women fled because he is such a jerk. Her parents - the shrill bitch momma and the useless gambling father - decide to arrange a Grand Plot, upon which they drug Valentina and place her in Roland's bedroom. He comes in and oh my, look whose birthday has arrived. After eating his cake, when he is forced to pay the baker, he is outraged. Slut! Whore! She's just like all women! (As opposed to a man who screws a person left in his bed without question - no, that's not a slut in action, no indeed.)

And of course, she now has to prove how pure and innocent she really is. The entire story has him cutting her down in all ways possible and she taking it all, and the story ends with him condescendingly pointing out the sins of her parents and she going all "Oh, how can I ever be a worthy wife of you now?"

It doesn't even end with a declaration of love, even from her, which is the only thing that keeps me from throwing myself at an incoming bus. "I'm think I'm half in love with you," the heroine declares instead. And in the beginning of the story, she declares that she is never going to be a virgin martyr like her namesake. Of course, this is what she eventually becomes anyway.

All these things lead me to suspect that this story has to be a parody. The hero is unbelievably moronic and the heroine unbelievably submissive. I take a deep breath, reread the story, only this time reading it as a parody, and I have a great time laughing.

This has to be a parody.

Karen L King's The Bachelor And The Bluestocking is a very readable but also very predictable tale. In fact, from the title alone, I doubt people will have problems guessing the story. Cecelia Clemmons is a bookworm, only her passion isn't animal husbandry but romantic poetry. She doesn't like going out or having fun, all she wants is to be left alone to read. She doesn't want to marry, but that's because she has a crush on her guardian, Devin Nash.

When Devin Nash proposes, she should be happy, right? But like all those nitwits who would rather fling themselves off the cliff rather than to marry the man they love because he doesn't quite say the magic three words, she refuses his suit. When he learns that she has a weakness for romantic poetry, he decides to woo her using that angle. But he gets really flabbergasted when it turns out that Cecelia seems to believe that the romantic stuff comes from another guy instead. Oh dear.

Of course, Cecelia actually believes that nobody can love her because... er, because, I guess. Those gifts must come from grateful people. Surely not Devin! Because nobody loves her. It's true. Ask Cecelia. Her grand speech during Devin's Grand Confession is "You can't possibly love me."

Finally, after several unnecessary running around the place, Devin finally says the three words and she throws herself at him in abject gratitude, "Yes, yes, yes!"

I'm sure if we keep telling these women that we love them, we can get them to rob banks for us. Hmm, now that's a thought.

I'm not sure if I should thank Patricia Waddell for not offering a braindead martyr heroine in her novella Love Letters, because both characters are childish and shrill. Viscount Sterling is a nice guy who is sure that he will never marry again after his beloved wife died. One day he receives a mistakenly delivered love note, traces the sender to Lady Rebecca Lowery, and returns it to her.

Then the heroine opens her mouth and everything starts to smell of fresh sewer.

Rebecca just keep jumping into ridiculous assumptions and act disproportionately overdramatically to them. Sterling who starts out a promising hero is soon reduced into an equally imbecilic immature brat who keeps baiting Rebecca. Bitch, snipe, moan, wail. Of course they're in love. Pass me the Prozac.

The last chapter has a striking maturity in the way it deals with the emotions of the heroine and the hero as they are about to get married. I am really surprised because this chapter is so different from the childish brickbat fest of the previous chapters, and it is hard to reconcile this Sterling and Becca with that Sterling and Becca two chapters back.

This proves that the author can really do compelling drama if she chooses. I guess she's laboring under the belief that childish is sexy. And we booted Frenchie Davis from American Idol because she posed in some slutty and nekkid cheerleader fantasy thing? Shouldn't we be letting her sing as well as writing her romance story? Oh, I'm so bitter.

Anyway, oh yeah, Cupid Calling. Cupid's calling, ladies. It's time to switch off the computer and go find a new muse before you produce any more barely-readable anthologies like this one.

Rating: 47


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