In Praise Of Younger Men
by Jo Beverley, Cathy Maxwell, Jaclyn Reding, and Lauren Royal; historical (2001)
Signet, $6.50, ISBN 0-451-20380-1


Don't let the title of this anthology fool you into expecting DH Lawrence-esque tales of corruption of young male innocence by experienced older women. In fact, you won't even find roles that, should this anthology be made into a movie, can be filled by Faye Dunaway. Because the oldest woman in this story is probably in her mid-thirties.

Despite its lip service of having older women paired with younger men (frankly, a reader wouldn't know the difference), In Praise Of Younger Men is actually a tame, safe anthology featuring the usual heroes and the usual widowed but chaste or sexually unawakened heroines. However gimmicky this anthology may be, however, it's very readable.

Cathy Maxwell starts the show with my favorite, A Man Who Can Dance: A Scottish Tale. A title like that is half way to winning me over already, and the rest of the story doesn't actually disappoint. Graham McNab is an overworked, underappreciated apprentice of his singularly nasty uncle, and he just wants to be a doctor. When he falls for lust for a beautiful woman, he asks the governess of his uncle's kids, Sarah Ambrose, to teach him to dance.

There's a side plot involving Graham's singularly nasty cousin dispatching the other rivals for the woman both he and Graham are fighting for, and this is the element that weakens the story considerably. The baddies in this novella can teach Yomesty Sams Redneck Ethics 101.

Still, Sarah and Graham fall in love and they live happily ever after. Cathy Maxwell is one author who always take an overdone premise, be it Regency London or Scotland, and somehow adds enough refreshing quirks in her characters to make her stories feel new. Sarah and Graham are nice people stuck in an age-old plot, but their friendship blossoming into love has me hooked. I love this story.

Lauren Royal follows with her Forevermore. I hate to think that this story is stuck in this anthology with a mere rewrite (adding ten years or more to the heroine's age) because I have never seen a whinier, more passive, and more emotionally immature widow like Clarice Bradford. She has an adopted daughter, which is an excuse for some instant sexual healing at highlander Sir Cameron Leslie. Leslie is 23, and I think Clarice is 33 or 34.

And the story is like this: Leslie drops the hint that he wants to show Clarice the Scottish lambada, she wrings her hands and runs away, he pursues, she runs some more, and finally, that adopted daughter dons the Sickeningly Sweet Matchmaking Angel suit and nauseates me some more. This story is already on shaky, deja vu grounds, carried on the premise that she has a lousy marriage and oh, she doesn't trust men ever, never again, et cetera. The characters never come to life or even try to stand out in my mind.

Forevermore is a nondescript bore.

Jaclyn Reding's Written In The Stars is much, much better. It's about how this family curse forces Harriet Drynan to go find a younger man to marry. Alas, her heart belongs to Tristan Carmichael, war hero (what's a highland Regency romance without one of those too, eh?), which is just a few seconds younger than she.

This is a nice, leisurely tale, although sometimes Harriet's belief in the curse makes her a bit dim at times. But frankly, this story is out of place in this anthology. See the title? In Praise Of Younger Men. I don't think a few seconds counts. Still, this is a fun story, although Harriet can be a bit slow in seeing the light.

Jo Beverley's The Demon's Mistress - I don't know. For some reason, this author's heroines always rub me the wrong way. Their feminine insecurities seem exaggerated and most of the times, they seem at the verge of breaking into tears. Maria Celestin of this novella is no different, a pity, as I have so much hopes for her after the gripping opening chapter.

She interrupts dissipated rakehell Lord Vandeimen's attempt at suicide (he lost a lot of money at gambling) and offer him lots of money in return for his posing as her bethrothed as she runs around playing some some-the-world scheme of hers.

After the bargain is set between those two, I sit back, eagerly anticipating the story that has, so far, set itself completely different from the previous three by-the-formula novellas. The hero sounds very promising too as a rogue of first order.

Then Maria releases her breath and things go downhill. Will this woman ever STOP psychoanalyzing everything and every bloody BLOODY detail about she and Van? Oh, she's too wicked... she shouldn't... she wants to... she is so afraid... be strong... I snore. I love the hero Van, who is as roguish and mesmerizing as they come, but really, Maria displays enough mental churning and rechurning to start her own TV talk show.

All four stories of In Praise Of Younger Men are very readable in one way or two. In fact, I love the novellas by Cathy Maxwell and Jaclyn Reding and I am sure, after a few strong drinks, I can appreciate the sexy, hunky Van while blocking out Maria's incessant mind chatter. Lauren Royal's story... well, it's readable. I'm kind after two above average novellas and one almost-there novella.

Sure, this anthology is too chicken-*smelly stuff* to break even 19th century conventions. Ooh... a woman marrying a man six years younger than she, isn't that daring? Get real. Until they actually put in sexually adventurous widows that match the hero's sexual prowess no matter how old he is (Susan Johnson's Brazen comes to mind), anthologies like this will probably remain just gimmicks. It's a great gimmick though.

Rating: 82


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