August 2012, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $7.99, 344 pages, Amazon ASIN 006203300X Part of a series
Lessons from a Scandalous Bride is marginally more original than the copperplate title would suggest. The heroine’s very humble background affects her in ways that are believable and - at times - touching. Unfortunately, the rest of the novel relies on tired cliches.
Cleopatra Hadley was born the bastard of a wealthy man, but has been raised in desperate conditions by a mother who is always ill or pregnant and a drunk, abusive stepfather. She holds the family together, cares for her younger siblings, and - sadly - has buried eight of them. Her life changes when her father sends for her. He has decided later in life to raise his own social standing by marrying his illegitimate daughter off to a nobleman. The whys and wherefores of this are a little glossed over, but Cleo soon finds herself more or less sold to her biological father. She settles in for a coach ride while her stepfather gleefully contemplates how long his money will keep him in alcohol.
We next see Cleo after she’s acquired a little ton polish. She has an elderly beau she is trying to bring up to scratch; she wants to secure him so she can send for her younger siblings. Lord Thrumgoodie has one foot in the grave...and the other on a banana. Cleo couldn’t care less. In her mind, young and virile men are dangerous. If Lord Thrumgoodie is completely impotent, so much the better. Her notions are challenged when she meets Lord Logan McKinney. Logan is also spouse hunting. He lives in a Scottish castle that bleeds money, and he has younger siblings with futures to secure. He is in search of an English heiress, and Cleo’s friend Libba (also Lord Thrumgoodie’s granddaughter) seems like a good choice. They all meet at the theater one night so Logan can start his courtship in earnest, only of course it is Cleo who catches his eye.
Things move along about as you would expect from here. Libba is so obnoxious and annoying that Logan can’t really contemplate marriage to her. The enticing Cleo keeps crossing paths with him, but he can’t really understand why she is determined to marry Thrumgoodie. Meanwhile, Cleo’s stepfather arrives in London and starts pressuring her to secure a good match. He has run through all the ready cash in months rather than years and is pressuring her for more. Cleo agrees to pay him off if he will relinquish her siblings. Logan becomes involved here, and actually sends her stepfather packing without telling her about it. Cleo continues to worry, unaware that he is no longer a threat.
Matters come to a head when Cleo and Logan are caught in a compromising position. She knows that marriage is the best option, but she’s scared to death of everything to do with it - not just the obvious sex and pregnancy, but the finer points of trust and intimacy as well. Though she has another half sister to mentor her, it will take time and patience for her to get over her fear.
As conflicts go, this isn’t a bad one. It’s certainly believable. Cleo’s fears are real; she’s seen what getting caught up in the throes of passion can do to a woman, and she’s seen the devastating results of continuous pregnancy. That type of conditioning isn’t easily undone. Sophie Jordan treads lightly here. Cleo takes baby steps. She doesn’t jump into sex with both feet, and she doesn’t indulge in a lot of anachronistic psychobabble either. Cleo’s journey into intimacy and trust is unquestionably the best part of the book.
Unfortunately, the rest of the book doesn’t hold up as well to scrutiny. Though I liked Cleo’s birth father well enough, the rest of the characters seem rather one dimensional. Libba is evil and annoying. Lord Thrumgoodie has a scheming nephew who is of a similar ilk. And another half sister comes out of the woodwork during the course of the novel - mostly just to prepare us all for the time when she gets her own book.
Similarly, some of the plotting is just a little lazy. There is no compelling reason for Logan to keep his stepfather-banishing a secret. Telling Cleo would immediately remove a tremendous worry for her. But the author needs Cleo to vacillate between Thrumgoodie and Logan for a while longer, so the secret stays. A similar plot device brings the couple together in the end as well.
All in all, Lessons from a Scandalous Bride isn’t really a bad book. The conflict has promise, the writing is serviceable, and the hero and heroine are at least moderately interesting. The cliches and hackneyed secondary characters bog it down, though. In the end, it’s a mixed bag.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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