by Julia Quinn, Suzanne Enoch, Karen Hawkins, and Mia Ryan; historical (2003)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-051150-8
Julia Quinn magnanimously invites three of her fellow lesser Avon authors to play in her Lady Whistledown playground. If you can't guess by now, this book will make a better comfort read than anything else. Four perky self-professed "marry for love only, please" women wandering the streets of London during winter while the overrated Lady Whistledown columnist pepper the beginning of each chapter with her "scandalous" observations. The only act of innovation comes in the form of the hero from the author formerly known as Malia Martin, Mia Ryan, but alas, the author falters with the other aspects of her story.
Oh, and Karen Hawkins completely blows Julia Quinn out of the water in this one. Asking her to participate in this book is like the shepherd asking the wolf to play with the sheep. Her Royal Highness Queen Quinn may want to tighten up on her plots and characters and not rest her laurels too much: Ms Hawkins is showing signs that she is not only as funny as Ms Quinn can be, but she can do emotional drama and well-fleshed characters even better than Ms Quinn. Watch your back, Ms Quinn, heh heh heh.
Suzanne Enoch's One True Love tells the story of Anne Bishop who gets Whistledowned for being seen in the company of rakish Royce Pemberley. (At this point, Austen fanatics who really should get more fresh air will squeal, "Look, she said Pemberley! Aaah! Best book ever!") Trouble is, Anne is betrothed to a man she has never seen or heard from in nineteen years: Maximillian, Lord Halfurst. In case you're wondering, it's nineteen years because the betrothal has been arranged even before Anne is born.
Guess who comes to down. Yup, Max. When he learns that he can't drag the heroine off by the hair back to the countryside with him, he decides to woo her. By "woo", I mean basically bonking her into submission, abetted by everybody in this story.
Poor Anne. She comes off as a victim forced by people into believing that Max is her one and only. Max is a catch only because other guys come off worse compared to him. She is a not-too-bright girl who mistakes sexual arousal for true love, and no doubt she will drink herself to death once the initial sexual haze fades, and her last words will be foul curses to Suzanne Enoch for not giving her a better story.
Karen Hawkins really win me over with Two Hearts, a really warm-tingly-feely story of a man who finally realizes just how much his female best friend really mean to him. This is a friends-first story, and Royce Pemberley (who makes a thankless appearence in the previous novella) is cute. Elizabeth Pritchard comes off as an intelligent yet dreamy girl thankfully devoid of any martyr/daddy complex that plagued heroines born in Regency England. They make a great match.
Liz isn't sure if she will ever fall in love. She would like to, but she also likes partying, going to theatres, and enjoying the finer aspects of entertainment London has to offer her. As an heiress, she is also the object of many men's Joe Millionaire quest. When Lord Dunlop Durham begins courting her, Liz's buddy Royce is sure that that pest is just another fortune hunter. He will protect her! He will... he will... oh dang it, she is making him all confused and he can no longer put two and two to make four even if you give him a calculator. Oh dear.
The best thing about this story is my own building amusement at following that these two are so obviously into each other even before Liz and Royce realize it themselves. Their little moments of friendship are well-fleshed out and Royce is appropriately territorial once he realizes that he feels more than friendship for Liz. As for Liz, she isn't sure what she wants, because Royce is a rake and he is very good at being charming with women. She has seen him putting the moves on women. Can she actually believe that Royce wants her, especially when he doesn't really manage to succeed at telegraphing the three words to her until the very end?
I must confess that this story really resonates with me because Ms Hawkins present this "male secret admirer all jealous over his loved one's interest in another" fantasy really well. Added lil' bonuses include a decent treatment of poor Dunlop, letting the man walk away with some dignity in the end.
Two Hearts isn't too original, but it hits all the right spots with me.
Next is Mia Ryan's A Dozen Kisses. I hope this is a brain gas thing and her upcoming debut full-length novel from Avon will be more interesting than this annoying and predictable tale. From this story, she has it right with the hero, but the heroine is strictly nitwit material.
Caroline "Linney" Starling is weeping at the theatre. She considers herself plain and unmarriageable, naturally, but paradoxically she wails that she also wants to marry for love. But she's marrying a guy soon, and she should be happy, right? Her predictably harpy marriage-mad momma is. A handsome man offers her a hankie, she blows into it, and offers the soggy hanky back to him before going "Oops!" in embarrassment.
A ditz and a stereotype all in one. This is going to be a long day.
He is Terrance, Lord Darrington. Unlike your typical glorified ex-war hero playboy earl archetype, he actually comes back from the war with a brain injury that prevents him from saying things right. He can speak, but his words come out slower than usual, thus causing other people to consider him dim-witted.
Hmmm, I like this guy. It may not be that long a day after all.
The predictable "I Want My House Back, So I Will Marry You If I Have To!" plot device throws these two together, and my patience is really put to test by Linney. If she's not acting like a childish idiot making life hell for poor patient Terrance, she's acting all ditzy and klutzy in what appears to be an attempt to win me over. Yeah, I'm won over, in fact, I'm won over so much I volunteer to kick her sorry ass down the cliff and cheer as she falls down. If she repents and grows up at the end, this story won't be so bad, but her very idiotic nature is touted as her virtues in this story. Ergo, I'm feeling pity for Terrance more than anything. I find her actions in the final scene not exactly showing that she feels any remorse or that she has grown up even a little.
The interesting hero and generic ditzy putz heroine negate each other out, leaving this novella only better than Suzanne Enoch's victimization love story.
Finally, the star of the show, Julia Quinn, makes her appearance. Thirty-six Valentines sees Susannah Ballister being jilted one year before by Clive Mann-Formsby. Today, Clive and his wife are happy, and it just kills Susannah to be forced to walk the same circles as these two. But compensation comes from David, Clive's older brother and the Earl of Renminster, who tries to make amends for his brother's wronging the gal only to fall for her.
If Ms Hawkins' entry isn't in this book, this one will easily be the best of the bunch. I really like David as the supposedly too proper, too controlled man who realizes that in the end, he too is a fool for love. Susannah, however, is more of a typical Julia Quinn heroine: she's on the passive side and her reasons for her almost marrying Clive really make her look silly. The weak heroine - again, a common problem with too many of Julia Quinn's books - and the fact that the hero and Clive - yes, Clive comes off better written than Susannah - have to do all the work here make Thirty-six Valentines a funny, light-hearted, but alas, forgettable romp, forgettable because this story doesn't resonate with me at all.
I hate grading anthologies because Karen Hawkins' entry deserves a high eighties grade while Quinn deserves a high-seventies. Mia Ryan and Suzanne Enoch's novellas really pull down the overall impression of this anthology. In the end, two good and two so-so stories cancel each other out, making The Further Observations Of Lady Whistledown a slightly better than average anthology. There are worse ways to spend $6.99, especially if one is a fan of light-hearted formulaic Regency romps, but I'm sure there are better reasons to spend the $6.99 elsewhere.
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This book at Amazon UK
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