Worth Any Price
by Lisa Kleypas, historical (2003)
Avon, $7.50, ISBN 0-380-81107-3


Did anyone catch the new TV series Miracles? It's like the love child of dearly missed Mysterious Ways crossed with The X-Files. Skeet Ulrich certainly hasn't aged well, I must say, but the show is just what I need to get my fix of the bad, jaded, cynical, or morally conflicted bad boys, especially when aliens have kidnapped my favorite The Guardian and replaced it with the Nick and Lulu Soap Show. The reason I am bringing up the show is because Lisa Kleypas seems to have lost her ability to create conflicts, much less compellingly conflicted heroes and heroines. Poor me. I have to find solace in the idiot box. I'm shamed.

Technically, there is nothing wrong with this book. But the hero's conflicts don't ring real, and don't get me started about the bleached-personality heroine. There is a plot, a conflict, maybe, but once it is set up, the author is too eager to sweep any hint of discord under the carpet so that the hero and the heroine can dazzle me forever with their perfect perfection.

Charlotte Howard has run away from her family to avoid a marriage to a lecherous control freak. For two years, she runs and runs and today she masquerades as a governess. Our hero Nick Gentry (hired by her hubby-to-be to find her) finds her, is attracted to her at first sight, marries her (she refuses to marry her husband-to-be, she can't bear to ruin the nice guy by marrying him, so she offers herself to be mistress to Nick who has lied to her - I think there's a joke in there somewhere), and there you go, two perfect people who just can't stop finding so many tiny little problems in their teacups.

So she marries Nick. Nick warns her that she'll be a wife to a commoner with "limited means". No problem, she says, she's an advocate of hard work. I look forward to see her scrubbing floors, barefoot and pregnant, but lo! Nick whips out servants and a house as big as that mansion in my dreams (the one with a naked Hugh Jackman decorating the bedroom) and all those money he made from "investments". And did I say that he is a titled guy, only he doesn't want the title? The conflict? They try to force him accept the title - how horrible! What a terrible fate! I am at the edge of my seat as these people face the traumatizing decision of whether they want to make love in the library or the bedroom.

Yeah, yeah, so as a kid he ran away and ended up in prison where they tried to force him to bend over and pick up the soap in the shower. So he is tormented. So his servants helpfully tell Lottie ("Angel of music, hide no longer!") and me in a very nice Contrived Exposition scene. But big deal. Money, title, fame, lots of groupies - what will it be, Mr Tormented Commoner Who Has Everything But Wants To Tell Me That He Doesn't Want Everything? Gee, what a tough decision. I think I broke a fingernail during the cliffhanger moment.

Lottie, oh Lottie. Sweet, loves animals, loves nature, loves children, has no unkind words for anybody, will always support her man - if I blink too hard she may just fade into the wallpaper and never be heard or seen again.

Okay, so the hero is almost a virgin when it comes to the number of bedmates he'd had. So Lottie is virtuous and sweet and sure, Lisa Kleypas wrote this book. But nice sweet characters to cause tooth decay in all my teeth aside, seriously, what happened to plot and conflict again? The characters fall in love too easy, their lives and loves come too swift and easy, and their enemies get eliminated too casually. Money, sex, love - Lottie and Nickie have it all. There is no urgency in this story, no ambiguity as to whether the characters may fail even once, just 388 pages of Beautiful People with Beautiful Morals Having Beautiful Sex and Making Beautiful Conversations, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Worth Any Price? Take some risk first or at least get some decent emotional conflict, and then we'll reevaluate. Until then, $7.50 is way overpriced for such overly sweetened candy floss.

Rating: 71


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