The Husband List
by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly, historical (2013, reissue)
St Martin's Press, $8.99, ISBN 978-0-312-65134-3


Caroline Maxwell, an American heiress, is not a happy person. She loves, in that order, Jack Culhane and cake, both of which are denied to her by her mother. That harpy insists that Caroline marries a titled English bloke, after all, while Jack is half-Irish. The list in the title refers to the one Caroline's mother created for her, and Caroline is determined to ensure that she scares away everyone on that list.

Of course, Jack is always nearby, but oh, Caroline is determined to marry for love and she's not sure whether Jack can love her back, even if she really, really, really loves him and doesn't want anyone but him, so oh! This is simply the most complicated problem in the world and the poor dear must be feeling truly distraught by the whole thing.

On the bright side, this is a historical romance set in the 1890s, so it's a groundbreaking effort of sorts by two authors whose previous works are set in contemporary times. Having said that, The Husband List is such a crudely unsophisticated effort that it is best used as an elementary reading material for people who are new to the romance genre. This book is practically a cliché list, with each cliché exaggerated to cartoon-like proportions that it is almost charming in its bumbling shambling.

There's the obligatory "rich people are all SNOBS, except for our fabulously loaded main characters of course, and that's only because, despite our snobbery against rich people, we all acknowledge that romance is a hundred times less amazing if it isn't consummated on the promise of a huge bank account" nose-up-in-the-air attitude displayed by Jack and Caroline.

Caroline hates her lot! She wants to run wild and free with Jack! She hates dressing up and she hates being nice to people who aren't Jack! But that's okay, her anti-social nature, because those people she snubs deserve it for being caricatures of self-important rich tossers or English (those two are interchangeable here). The good secondary characters are usually middle or lower class folks, the better to preen beside our main characters to tell us, "See? Caroline and Jack lower themselves to be nice to us, AREN'T THEY WONDERFUL?"

Jack detests the snobs too, although he doesn't mind Caroline because she shares his blanket attitude that money is ghastly if it doesn't belong to him. After a while, I really wish someone can just pauper these two and make them bag cabbages for a living. Let's see how happy they will be after a few days of being "free from the gilded cage".

Honestly, I may be less irritated by the constant reminder of how unworthy everyone that doesn't agree with our hero and heroine is, if the authors had portrayed these characters' snobbery in a more realistic, or at the very least, somewhat mature manner. As it is, these two basically stomp their feet and say that everyone else sucks because they say so, so there.

The other elements of the story are exaggerated to an obnoxious degree too. Caroline's mother is a cartoon character, and not once does anybody acknowledge that she may be right to want her daughter to marry into security and financial stability. No, it's either you root for true love or you kiss the main characters' boot. The villain is so over the top that, coupled to Caroline's annoying passive nature in this story despite her various temper tantrums, make that whole subplot look like a Looney Tunes cartoon. Jack and Caroline have an equally shallow romantic conflict that is mostly based on wrong assumptions.

If I was reading romance novels for the first time, I may find this one more palatable. With me being who and what I am, however, I find the exaggerated one-dimensional over the top portrayal of practically everything in this story more perplexing than anything else. The Husband List is like a very young adult story with some sex scenes thrown in to let readers imagine that they are reading grown-up material.

Rating: 55


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