Scottish Brides
by Christina Dodd, Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn, and Karen Ranney; historical (1999)
Avon, $6.50, ISBN 0-380-80451-4


I will always have a fond spot for the anthology Scottish Brides in my heart because this anthology introduces me to Karen Ranney. Okay, I've read one previous book by Ms Ranney before this, her Avon debut My Wicked Fantasy which actually leaves me feeling downbeat thanks to the high body count and a truly disgusting villain, but her novella in this anthology convinces me to give the author one more chance.

Christina Dodd starts off the anthology with Under The Kilt. Hadden Fairchild, who plays secondary roles in the author's A Well Pleasured Lady and A Well Favored Gentleman, gets his story here. Now grown up into another of this author's arrogant, cocky, know-it-all alpha hero, Hadden is a collector of folklores and cultures of the Highland folks. His last excursion sees him getting intimately acquainted with Andra MacNachtan, the only surviving member of a once great clan trying to keep her people together. He wants her really badly but Andra isn't willing to marry him.

And to be honest, I have no idea what Hadden sees in Andra and it's not even that she's especially skilled in bed or anything, her being the typical virginal hoyden stereotype that she is. Here we have a rich man who is willing to marry her, but Andra, who doesn't eat or smile or laugh or have fun in this story, refuses to even consider it. Oh, she wants that Special One Night, but she's bent on being the hapless martyr of Castle MacNachtan until Hadden and her people play dirty and he literally pokes her out of her delusions into marrying him. Maybe Hadden has a great time shagging what little left of the brainy daylights out of Andra, but I'm just exhausted following the vigorious boinkings in this novella. I can't help wondering whether Andra is just plain dumb or she's just dumb due to the lack of nourishment, what with her not eating and all that. Since she's not eating, won't that make her skeletal? Her ribs sticking out will make a lovely sight to behold in those love scenes. Okay, so now my enjoyment of those love scenes are ruined as well. I'll have to work hard to figure out a reason why I should care about this novella.

Stephanie Laurens' Rose In Bloom is 98 pages long but it feels interminable and dull because it is exactly the same old formulaic story the author writes in pretty much every one of her book. Duncan Roderick Macintyre, a rake of course, decides that he wants to marry Rose Mackenzie-Craddock, his childhood nemesis turned megababe, but she doesn't want to because of some silly reason, but she isn't above having that One Special Night or Three Hundred Of Them to cherish for the rest of her self-imposed barren life. He seduces her, proposes, she says no, repeat, repeat, repeat. If you still love this author's repetitious overkill of her formula, this novella will delight you. If you don't or are tired of the repetitions, Rose In Bloom reads like a tedious ordeal that just goes on and on.

Julia Quinn's Gretna Green is fun. Margaret Pennypacker is on her way to Gretna Green to stop her brother who she believes is eloping with one of the many women Margaret finds undesirable. Angus Greene is on a rampage through Gretna Green to locate his missing sister. He rescues Margaret from some lowlives and they end up stuck together for the rest of the pitfall-laden day in Gretna Green. Margaret is a little too much on the silly damsel-in-distress side at first (traveling alone to Scotland and then getting into trouble - sheesh) but she and Angus have some fine chemistry and banter system going. The "let's pretend we are married as we room up in an inn" scenario is too obvious and can be seen coming a mile away and the resolution to the case of Margaret's missing brother is quite befuddling, but all that aside, Gretna Green is one enjoyable romp.

Finally, Karen Ranney closes the anthology with The Glenlyon Bride. It is tricky to pull off a mistaken identity plot without having the main characters come off as dimwitted twits, but Ms Ranney succeeds very well here. Or maybe I'm too caught up in the romance to care about any irregularities in the plot. Either way, this story is a little more somber compared to the three previous novellas but it's also one that I find most enjoyable.

Thanks to some mumbo-jumbo prophecy that his people believe in and the fact that the bride will come with a lot of much-needed money, Lachlan Sinclair will have to marry Englishwoman Harriet Hanson. He's not pleased with the bride-to-be's name and heritage, but a quick and furtive visit to the Hanson household has him bumping into a charming woman whom he falls for. Alas, this woman is not Harriet, like he believes, but Janet MacPherson, a poor relation and Harriet's long-suffering companion. The resolution is obvious, with Janet's past coming off like a convenient deus ex machina to all of Lachlan's problems, but hey, there is a prophecy involved in this story so maybe everything is in context in this case. Harriet is a nasty woman, but a realistic one, while her brother Jeremy plays the thankless role of the Nice Other Man.

What makes this novella work very well though is Ms Ranney's success in bringing to life the intellectual as well as emotional bond forming between Janet and Lachlan. While the other three novellas often push lust to the forefront, this novella instead takes the extra effort to show me why the main characters will lust for, trust, and respect the other person. In short, I can see why the main characters will fall in love. This is one reason why I enjoy reading this author's books - she always manages to create a couple who bond so well on an intellectual and emotional level that I can always say that the couple is really in love and not just in lust. Ms Ranney also excels in well-drawn character introspections, and here, Janet's homesickness and loneliness are acutely drawn to the point that I can't help but to symphatize and root for her. While Stephanie Laurens and Christina Dodd manage to make their heroines come off as unsympathetic crackpots whining about wanting One Special Night for all the wrong reasons - oh just sit on a broom handle already - Karen Ranney instead creates a sympathetic heroine facing a realistic dead-end in her life so Janet wanting a special moment with Lachlan doesn't feel as misguided as the other two heroines' impetuous antics.

Scottish Brides is a well-written and very readable anthology on the whole as the four authors involved have clean and engaging writing styles. But the quality of the stories can be uneven, with Karen Ranney and Julia Quinn delivering fine stories, Stephanie Laurens delivering something that will appeal mostly to her fans that still enjoy her formulaic sameness in all her books, and Christina Dodd delivering an underbaked story that puts too much emphasis on love scenes. I suspect however that fans of each other will find little to complain about. For me, The Glenlyon Bride alone is nearly worth the price of the anthology.

Rating: 80


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