by Jane Ashford, historical (2013)
Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-7672-9
Now here's one author I didn't expect to see a new book from. Jane Ashford had been missing in action for about 13 years, so I'm quite surprised to a new release from her after all these years. Once Again A Bride, like the author's previous efforts, feels more like a Regency romance than a typical historical romance in terms of style and sensibility, although there is a short love scene here.
Charlotte Wylde finds herself a widow at the start of the story when her disagreeable jackass of a husband, Henry, ends up apparently murdered by footpads. Barely twenty, Charlotte is a poster girl for how the typical neglectful intellectual father can really mess up a heroine's life. Her father decided to marry her off once he realized that he had what we today know as Alzheimer's disease, and he packed her off to a much older man who treated her like dirt, encouraged his servants to do the same, and spent all her inheritance on expanding his collection of antiques and relics. Conveniently, Henry showed more for inanimate expensive objects, so she's also ready for some schooling in the sexy stuff despite being a widow.
Sir Alexander Wylde is Henry's nephew who finds himself nominated by the dead old bastard as the executor of Henry's will. It turns out that Henry wanted to convert his house into a museum of sorts after his death and Charlotte could only stay on in the house if she would consent to being the tour guide and caretaker of sorts. Alec isn't an unreasonable man - in fact, he is a nice guy, so he points out to Charlotte a loophole in Henry's will: Charlotte doesn't have to announce the opening of Henry's museum, so she can "open" the museum and continue to live life uninterrupted in the process.
However, some people start trying to break into the house at night. It's not surprising considering that Henry stored what seemed like a large collection of valuable junk in there. Charlotte however is currently staying there with only her loyal maid, so Alec decides that these two ladies have to move in with him and his two sisters along with his cousin (who acts as the chaperone to these sisters). With everyone under one roof, it won't be long before Alec and Charlotte are smitten with one another.
This story starts out pretty intriguing. Charlotte is painfully naïve and unassertive at first, but that's because she's the only daughter of a criminally neglectful father and whose only world, until her marriage, had been her home in Hampshire. Provincial, meek, and eager to please, she was easy prey for her late husband's bullying ways and the poor dear was practically steamrollered by her late husband's staff. When she is now left to her devices, she doesn't know what to do with herself at all. As the story progresses, she slowly learns to think for herself, although she understandably needs Alec's help to fend for herself.
As for Alec, he's a man slowly losing control of his life. One sister is ill, the other is acting like a brat, and his cousin is starting to crumple under the pressure of having to run the household while Alec is off doing his manly things. Naturally, Charlotte's appearance in the household is a blessing as the darling discovers her inner Mary Poppins and starts making everything wonderful again. To Ms Ashford's credit, what could have been an otherwise stereotypical turn of events makes sense here, as Charlotte is surrounded by books since young so it's believable that she turns out to be a pretty good schoolteacher type of person.
The romance feels tad muted, but that could be because I'm a tart who prefers my romance stories to be spicy rather than polite and well-mannered. Here is where I have a problem with the story: the romance is heavily intertwined with the many little storms in the teacup present in the story, and it isn't long before I start to feel that there is one too many little storms here. The main conflict - the person or people behind Henry's death coming back to either get his stuff, kill his widow, or do both - is shoved in the background for a long time in favor of the development of the romance. Unfortunately, the development of the romance isn't very interesting, as it's made up of tedious little episodes of Charlotte and Alec jumping to odd conclusions, Charlotte making her magic on the Wylde household, and Alec doing his thing to make Charlotte's life better. There are also much space devoted to Charlotte's maid and Alec's loyal footman either falling in love with one another or telling me how awesome Alec and Charlotte are together.
The whole thing is a pleasant kind of mundane, and it just keeps going interminably. As a result, the story soon starts to drag, and it becomes far too easy to set aside when something more interesting crops up. I perk up a bit when the focus finally falls back on the dead husband mystery, but that one is resolved with the villain being a staple stereotype of the genre with an outlandish motive. Why can't we just have a killer who is motivated by a plot that is simple and straightforward for once?
The characters in Once Again A Bride could have been memorable, but the author doesn't seem to know what to do with them. She bogs their story down with plenty of tedious mundane little drama that just won't end, and throws in a lame suspense plot to boot. It's nice to see an old face back in business, but I wish Ms Ashford's comeback book had been more interesting.
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