Going To The Chapel
by Sharon Sala, Dixie Browning, and Stella Bagwell; contemporary (2002)
Silhouette, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-48464-X


The blurb at the back cover is one of the worst I have read (it's there on the Amazon page below if you're curious). Every sentence seems to end with an exclamation mark or a question mark, then there is the atrocious abuse of periods and dashes - it's as if Silhouette has hired superfangirls to ghostwrite their blurbs.

The three stories in this Going To The Chapel anthology are brand new, by the way. The common theme is three women falling in love. Of the three, Sharon Sala's It Happened One Night is mildly amusing, Dixie Browning's Marrying A Millionaire is excellent, while Stella Bagwell better hope that her grandkids will never read The Bride's Big Adventure one day, unless she wants them to think of her as "the Granny that writes stoopid stories about stoopid Daddy's Girlies".

Sharon Sala's story starts out like a car after getting run over by a steamroller. Harley June Beaumont is a Southern belle whose daddy is nice but whose momma is a genealogy-obsessed bitch. One day, while attending a friend's wedding in Vegas, she gets drunk to the point that she wakes up naked and married to Sam Clay.

She shrieks in horror when she realizes that she's married to this... this... but when he kisses her, she immediately succumbs and spreads her legs, one leg at each side of the Atlantic, twice. Twice. Memo to self: romance heroines seem to be getting more and more braindead every day - commence search and mercy-destroy. After getting her jollies, she walks out on him.

Cut to a few months later. Harley June is at home, listening to her mother whine while bonding with poor long-suffering Daddy, when horrors of horrors, here comes Sam, looking for his wife. Oh no, Harley is shocked and humiliated, until Sam makes her Daddy laugh and then she realizes that she ought to give this marriage a try. Because she can't marry her Daddy, you know, so she'll settle for the poor substitute. Or something. Dang, these women have issues.

At this point I am stuffing cotton up my bleeding nostrils. But then something happens: away from the overbearing mother and the ridiculous plot, these two characters actually start to click as they try to give the marriage a second chance. I don't know why Sam wants Harley June so badly, but he's a decent sort. He's a fireman, and Ms Sala wants me to love him so bad, she makes him one of the heroes in that Oklahoma bombing incident. Harley June gets a spine and a few really good lines, and she actually makes being stuck on a tree amusing. I really begin to like this funny couple.

Then, maybe realizing that she needs a Big Bang Ending, Ms Sala puts in a big fire and has our hero running in to save Kiddies In Trouble. Good grief, Ms Sala, even bad daytime TV movies have stopped using this bad plot device. Harley June realizes what a Noble Hero her husband is, and decides to really be a good wife to this Amazing Stud Hero Guy.

Once more I am left staring at this book the way one would stare at a dead and decomposing cow left on one's doorstep. Sometimes, Ms Sala, low key melodrama is the way to go.

Dixie Browning's Marrying A Millionaire, stupid title aside, is easily the best of the three stories here. In fact, if it doesn't drag towards the end, it could have easily been one of the nicest novellas I've come across in a while.

36-year old Grace McCall and her 40-year old employer Chandler Daye find themselves at opposite ends of the battlefield when her 18-year old sister and his 21-year old brother start a wild affair that culminates in a wedding announcement.

That's basically the story, which chronicles how these two start off eyeing each other nastily, only to join forces to talk their siblings out of their marriage plans, finally to realize that the double-wedding may be in order. What I love about this story is that Grace and Chandler are actually very likeable, intelligent, and pretty real people, and their humorous repartees are one for the Snappy Hall of Fame. Grace is a wonderful surprise in that she may be a caregiver, but she's no victim, and she doesn't let Chandler win any rounds. What he dishes out, she gives back just as good. It's no wonder that Chandler stops being an insufferable donkey to start respecting her and even daydreaming about seeing her naked.

But the trouble here is that these two people begin to try their best to stay apart, and this interruptus act continues all the way until the final few pages. I'm quite frustrated by the lack of romantic moments between those two. Tension is there, yes, but I wish they act on that tension sooner.

The younger siblings are very well-done too. They aren't the one-dimensional rebellious siblings. Susie and Grace like each other despite everything, and it shows. Grace is as much a mother as sister to Susie, and it is amusing to see how each of them often try to use the other's "cool and hip" catchphrases and slangs only to fail miserably. (Susie: "old stoogey", Grace: "old foggy").

But most importantly, everybody talks to each other, and they talk to each other in the most entertaining way. There is no misunderstandings or holding back emotions, and this is like watching a well-done episode of Once And Again with an extra dose of comedy. I really like Chandler and Grace as a couple, for they feel so right together, and their story makes me feel some warm tingly-feelies inside. Nice.

Then comes Stella Bagwell's The Bride's Big Adventure, and I suddenly feel this urge to run to the bathroom and scrub the toilet bowl. Gloria Rhodes has fled a wedding party where she is to be married to a man her father handpicked for her. She heard Spencer Tate commiserating about his money troubles in a cowboy bar, and immediately proposes, offering financial incentives for him to agree. Why is she marrying this man, a stranger?

Because that way, her father can't force her to marry the man he chose!

I can't go on. The fact that Dixie Browning's story is also in this book is the only reason why I didn't take the butter knife and start slashing at this book like a lunatic serial killer out of a bad B-grade slasher movie. A quick flick through the story sees Gloria acting cute and retarded in a cowboy ranch, causing accidents and bursting into tears and other intelligent heroine stuff in the name of precious moments.

Flushing the toilet bowl has never been a more satisfying and cathartic act.

Apart from the Stella Bagwell stinkeroo, Sharon Sala's story is pretty okay in a bad, campy way, while Dixie Browning's is really wonderful. Two out of three giving me some fine reading moments ain't that bad, really.

Rating: 82


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