Wish List
by Lisa Kleypas, Lisa Cach, Claudia Dain, and Lynsay Sands; historical (2001)
Leisure, $16.00, ISBN 0-8439-4931-7


Look, Dorchester launches its first hardcover! Does that mean that a hardcover Connie Mason may very well be in the works? Are you all excited, people? Me too. I better go buy a tin hat and dig a war bunker now. Anyway, for Wish List, Leisure probably gets down on its knees and begs Lisa Kleypas to fish out some rejects from her trash bin to give this anthology some "oomph" factor. Which is a pity, because Misses Cach and Dain have created two really great stories here, and Ms Kleypas' throwaway novella only ruins the mood. Ms Sands' novella? Well, it's really short - good thing - too short, actually, to be memorable - oops.

Let's start with Ms Kleypas' "I Will". It's been a while since I read about a Regency-era heroine faking it up with a rake for the sake of brother, the house, the cat, the dog, and the world, and I almost thought that silly plot is out of fashion for a while. Glad to see Ms Kleypas bringing back those memories, ah yes.

Prim and proper self-righteous prune-faced Caroline Hargreaves - only she's not prune-faced, according to Ms Kleypas, only flat-chested and plain looking, which in romance novel-speak, makes Caroline a dead replica of a supermodel - is approached by rake Andrew, Lord Drake (shut up, people, don't make fun of people's names). Rake Drake here needs a fake girlfriend to make dying daddy happy. In return, Rake Drake will stop corrupting her younger brother and pay off brother buffoon's debts. Caroline couldn't say yes soon enough. If Rake Drake is smart, he'll toss in a check to a charity and she'll rip the clothes off her body before you can say "Martyrs, aye? DIE!"

Only, of course, Caroline will soon learn that the Rake Drake, who have no doubt led her brother to Ruin and Decadence, isn't so bad after all. Her mother, too, will egg her on - go marry that rake and restore the family honor! (Wait a minute... oh forget it.) And best of all, Brother will also tell Caro to go for it. Never mind that Brother Dear here have seen Rake Drake in action and probably joined in the party, he wants the Rake Drake to quack his sister.

Caro says "I will!" and we all have a happy ending. The end.

Then again, Ms Kleypas probably didn't need the money that bad.

Lisa Cach's Puddings, Pastries, And Thou is a charm. Unlike Ms Kleypas who follows blindly the Rules Of Regency Mediocrity to the point of no-brainer, Ms Cach cheerfully bends them to her best advantage.

Vivian Ambrose is a poor relative who is tossed around her wealthier relatives like an unwanted bag of turnips. And guess what - she resents her lot. No martyred air for Miz Viv here, oh no, although no sulky tantrums either. She'll make do, thanks, but in the meantime, give her a husband, even an old one, to deliver her from this life of drudgery.

So when "unacceptable" Richard Brent comes into her life, wow-ee. And no, he's not old, he just refuses to follow the rules and as a result, gets the finger of most of the collective Ton. His Secret, by the way, conforms to his nice guy character and his anti-hypocrasy rants. Let's just say Richard is not those selfish, misogynistic rakes who rant about how they are screwing women in the name of Showing the Ton What Hypocrites They Are or other nonsense of that sort. Richard's just nice.

This story is sweet because Miz Viv and Richard have the perfect chemistry. I especially adore how Richard loves Miz Viv's appetite. If she balloons up to three hundred pounds, he'll probably buy her an extra ton of Godiva chocolates just to admire the way she eats. That's love, I tell you.

Claudia Dain goes one better than Lisa Cach. She positively breaks the rules of the formula in Union. I, for one, am delighted with this one.

Clarisa Walingford is as much a bitch as the rules of society will allow her to be. She needs a husband, and she'll go hunt for one, but to her family's collective shock, she goes about doing it just like a man would in hunting for a wife. It's not... proper, is it?

Too fat, too old, he'll probably give her fragile and sickly kids, body odor, no, no, no... Clarisa can't find the right guy. All she wants is a guy with lots of money and an estate in Ireland, where she would then rule while the husband can play in London. Like she said, she'll love and cherish, as long as it's from afar.

What she doesn't want is Henry "Beau" Wakefield. That man is too arrogant and too alpha to the point that he puts Stephanie Laurens' Cynster clones to shame. Their first meeting sees them exchanging poisonous barbs coated in honey, and it's hard to say who walks away with more wounds. But like it or not, both of them just love this duelling of wits, and Beau, on the spot, decides that she's the one he will marry.

Clarisa is a match for Beau, barb for barb, rapier for rapier. That's why this story is such fun. Both main players are on equal levels in the playing field, and both are equally mulish and spirited. Best of all, they adore each other for the very same traits other perceive as faults. In the end, Clarisa is the one who is playing the "let's be professional, and keep this thing business" while Beau plays the visceral one. It's a refreshing change of roles for both the hero and the heroine.

But the convenient and unexpected resolution to the reason why Clarisa needs to live in Ireland (she actually has a good reason to do so, by the way) in the last chapter almost ruins everything. Almost, that is. Union is so far my favorite novella of the year and one of the best romance stories I've read this year.

Lynsay Sands ends the show with All I Want. This novella carries her trademarked slapstick humor and impetuous heroines - heroine Prudence Prescott dresses up as a boy to sneak into a gambling den, all to tell off Papa for gambling away their money. She ends up falling in love with the gambling den owner, Stephen, in, oh, a day? Two?

I do wonder how a woman who has seen the deletorious effects of gambling on a family will marry a gambling den guy without much hesitation, but hey, this novella is so short, I don't think I should care. Ms Sands probably just wants me to laugh and then forget about the whole deal.

It's pretty funny. But Papa is forgiven after he mumbles one sentence of contritement, and basically, yeah, that's it. Quickly read, quickly forgotten. It's still miles better than Ms Kleypas' novella though.

Whatever damage Ms Kleypas inflicted on Wish List though, Ms Cach and Ms Dain more than make up for it. Leisure has two valuable assets in these authors, and I hope that it knows that and will do something to keep these two authors in the business. In the meantime, hey, I'm nuts to pay $16.00 for this book, but with Lisa Cach and Claudia Dain's stories, I don't think I'll be regretting the money spent. A very good two out of four is very good indeed.

Rating: 88


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