Thursday, January 01, 2009

"It Happened One Night," by Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'Alessandro, and Candice Hern

Alternate Title: Holy Crap, A LOT Can Happen in One Night

This is my first review of a romance anthology, so hurrah! Every story gets their own little entry and review! Mary Balogh explains in an introduction that the four authors of this anthology decided to trash the myth that romance novels "all have the same story so they're boring" - by each writing a story based around the same idea to show how they are all different! Technically, the basic plot of each story is the same: a man and a woman who shared a romantic relationship but haven't seen each other for ten years meet up again at the same inn. For the most part, I really enjoyed this anthology - the romance in the shorter format generally meant the stories had to keep to the good stuff, and eliminate the petty drama derails that can often cripple a full novel.

The Fall of Rogue Gerrard, by Stephanie Laurens
The Chick:
Lydia Makepeace. When her radical feminist sister's radical feminist career is threatened by an incriminating letter, Lydia's determined to retrieve the letter by any means necessary - even if it means enlisting the help of her childhood sweetheart, Rogue.
The Rub: The incriminating letter is to be found at the house of a rakehell notorious for his orgies - what's a virgin spinster to do?
Dream Casting: Yvonne Strahovski.

The Dude: Robert "Rogue" Gerrard. He fell for Lydia ten years ago, but was frightened by the intensity of his emotions and ran away to become the greatest rake the ton has ever seen. Even as a libertine, however, he can't deny a request from an old flame.
The Rub: For the last six years, his terrible reputation has been a smokescreen to hide his philanthropic exploits.
Dream Casting: Joseph Fiennes.

The Plot:
Lydia: Hurry up and help me retrieve my sister's letter!

Rogue: Okay.

Lydia: Hurry up and make love to me on this notorious rakehell's heirloom desk!

Rogue: Okay.

Lydia: Hurry up and forget this ever happened!

Rogue: How whipped do you think I am? My turn: marry me.

Lydia: Okay.

Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Virgin Spinster

1 Fake Rake

1 Incriminating Letter

1 Naughtily-Designed Dress

The Word: My first foray into the magical world that is the Stephanie Laurens romance. I've been told if I like this one she has a few other books in print, so I should give them a try. Robert "Rogue" Gerrard arrives at an inn in the middle of a February rainstorm, soaked to the skin. Conveniently, in the parlour he runs into Lydia Makepeace after he's (conveeeeniently) stripped himself half naked to dry off.

Lydia Makepeace's sister Tabitha made a name for herself as a marriage-rejecting feminist bluestocking, but not before she wrote a dithering, gushy, and detailed love letter to an idiot when she was seventeen. If the letter becomes public, her feminist career will be ruined, and it just so happens that the letter's made its way into the hands of a kinky libertine who hates Tabitha but conveniently holds orgies in a manor just down the block.

Rogue knows an orgy's no place for a virgin spinster like Lydia and agrees to accompany her, claiming that his own rake rep serves as a permanent all-access pass to sex-parties like this.

This story has a funny topsy-turvy element to it - we have a rakehell who really wants to settle down and get married (preferably to Lydia) versus a virgin spinster who's just looking for an opportunity for consequence-free sex (preferably with Rogue), which results in a delightfully backward virgin's seduction followed by the rake's proposal. Rogue and Lydia have nice chemistry, and the writing is lush and detailed, but with such a short-format story I could have done with maybe one fewer sex scene. B+.

Spellbound, by Mary Balogh
The Chick: Nora Ryder. Penniless after quitting her position as a lady's maid, she finds herself stranded in a nearby village when the stagecoach she paid for crashes into a gentleman's curricle.
The Rub: With no money, she has no hope of getting a room for the night - until she's offered one by the owner of the curricle, who just so happens to be the very man she unsuccessfully eloped with ten years ago!
Dream Casting: Pride and Prejudice's Susannah Harker.

The Dude: Richard Kemp, Lord Bourne. When he runs into Nora at the inn, he tells the innkeeper she'll be sharing his room since she's his wife. Funny thing is, this could very well be true, even though Nora's relatives went to extreme lengths to hide the circumstances of their quickie marriage.
The Rub: His half-lie takes on a life of its own when he and Nora find themselves in the midst of May Day celebrations, so to spare her reputation he plays the part of the doting husband - and finds himself enjoying the role more than he expected.
Dream Casting: Jim Caviezel.

The Plot:
Curricle and Stagecoach: *tremendous crash!*

Nora: How am I going to get a room for the night?

Richard: How about as my wife?

Nora: Are we really married?

Richard: Damned if I know!

Nora and Richard: *May Day Partying*

Richard: Nora ... you might as well stay with me, since you're my wife and all.

Nora: Really?

Richard: Yes! ......but let's get married again, just to be safe.

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Head-On Collision Between Two Horse-Drawn Vehicles

1 May Pole

1 Very Bad Parent

1 Big Misunderstanding

The Word: I wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy this story - I loved the two Mary Balogh novels I read, but they were long and pretty wordy. I wasn't sure how her particularly charming style would work with a short format, but any doubts I might have had quickly vanished once I started reading. Like her novels, this book was profound and beautiful, but rather like a tiny, perfect jewel box of spectacularly intricate design - small, yes, but dazzling.

Nora Ryder has recently quit her job as a lady's companion to a crone who never bothered to pay her during her six-month employment. But Nora's a survivor, and she uses the majority of her remaining savings to purchase a stagecoach ticket to London to find more employment. Unfortunately, she arrives in the nearby village to discover the stagecoach has been delayed, thanks to a disastrous collision with a curricle. She barely has change enough for a cup of tea, much less a room at the inn, but she receives the surprise of her life when she runs into Richard Kemp, who tersely informs the innkeeper Nora will be sleeping in his room ... as his wife.

This is not a lie, not exactly. A decade ago, Nora was a pampered aristocrat's daughter and Richard her father's secretary, who together eloped to Scotland only to be caught by Nora's father and forcibly separated, the evidence of their nuptials obscured and destroyed. Now, of course, their positions have been humiliatingly reversed: not long after their botched elopement, Nora's fortune was beggared by her father's gambling addiction, and Richard came into a wealthy title.

While Richard does Nora this favour out of pity, he's not prepared to trust Nora, and the feeling is mutual. Each blames the other for the failure of their elopement, for the ten long years of hardship and loneliness each experienced believing the other had abandoned them. However, they both agree to celebrate the village's May Day celebrations together in order to support Richard's falsehood, and as the innocent joy of the day slowly thaws the walls they've built around themselves, they begin to truly communicate for the first time in ten years and finally discover what actually happened all those years ago to drive them apart. Mary Balogh demonstrates her particular gift for turning her readers into emotional taffy pulls - creating an exquisitely painful tug-of-war between reawakening love and insurmountable (?) tragedy. A.

Only You, by Jacquie D'Alessandro
The Chick:
Cassandra "Cassie" Heywood. Raised by cold and uncaring aristocrat parents, she formed one true lasting friendship with stable boy Ethan Baxter - a friendship that ended when he abruptly left right before she was to marry an Earl.
The Rub: Ten years and one horribly abusive marriage later, the now-widowed Cassie decides to stop at the inn Ethan now owns, before she returns to her parents' estate.
Dream Casting: Katherine Heigl.

The Dude: Ethan Baxter. He carried a torch for Cassandra for years, until he forced himself to leave because he couldn't bear to watch her marry another man. He joined the army, no longer caring whether he lived or died, and eventually bought an inn.
The Rub: He's overjoyed when Cassie arrives at his inn, still beautiful and no longer married to boot, but even the last ten years can't erase the fact that she is a Countess, and he only a commoner.
Dream Casting: Eric Bana.

The Plot:

Cassie: Hi, Ethan! How ya been!

Ethan: *blatantly lying* AWESOME! Yourself?

Cassie: *lying through her teeth* SPECTACULAR! So how have you been, really?

Ethan: I tried to kill myself by joining the army - but they gave me medals instead. You?

Cassie: My husband cheated on me and slapped me silly when I couldn't have children. But now he's dead!

Ethan: HAWT.

Ethan and Cassie: *sexx0r*

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Very Bad Husband (deceased)

2 Very Bad Parents (still alive, unfortunately)

1 Noticeable but Still Sexy Facial Scar

1 Orgasmless Widow

1 Interclass Romance

The Word: Cassandra Heyworth, traveling back to her parents' estate to live with them after her husband has died, decides to make a pit stop by the Blue Seas Inn, an establishment owned by Ethan Baxter, an old childhood friend Cassie had a crush on. Unfortunately, she was the daughter of peers and he was the son of the stable master, and to top it all off he left with barely a note right before she was set to marry an Earl.

Ethan, when he sees her, is both overjoyed and appalled. He's loved with her a consuming passion for all these years, and her appearance in the inn he now owns brings back all the good (and bad) memories. He tries to keep his cool, and although he suspects she's hiding a private misery he assumes it's grief over her deceased husband. Through all the years he put himself through hardship to forget her, he kept himself sane with the assumption that while he was fighting the Napoleonic wars and working his fingers to the bone, she was living the high life with the wealthy, titled husband she deserved. Not long into their visit, however, Cassie explains the truth: her husband was a monster who, when she never conceived after three years of marriage, beat her and kept her a prisoner on his country estate while he shacked up with hordes of other women.

While there was nothing egregiously wrong or offensive with this story, I finished this tale with an overwhelming sense of "m'eh." Nothing in this story seemed original - every seemingly romantic gesture or phrase sounded identical to a million others I'd read before. Kisses that leave people wanting more, burning passions, the love that can never be, orgasmless widow, all that jazz. There was nothing particularly inspiring or unique about any of it. C+

From This Moment On, Candice Hern
The Chick: Wilhemina, Duchess of Hertford, a.k.a. Wilhemina Grant, a.k.a. Wilma Jepp. She arrives at an inn and unexpectedly runs into her first love, Captain Sam Pellow, a man she hasn't seen for ten years, and hasn't really dealt with for about twenty-five.The Rub: While they were lovers as teenagers, he vanished at sea and she, taking him for dead, embarked on a lifestyle that eventually made her one of London's premier courtesans. And then Sam came back. Awkward.
Dream Casting: Nicole Kidman.

The Dude: Captain Samuel Pellow. Years ago, he was press-ganged into Navy service, and when he returned to England to find out his childhood sweetheart was a courtesan, he reacted badly, then and on the various other brief times they crossed paths. Now, of course, he's matured and realizes he still carries a torch for his first love.
The Rub: He's only stopping at the inn for a bite to eat before he carries on to the estate of the proper young woman he's planning on proposing to. Awkward.
Dream Casting: Clive Owen.

The Plot:

Willie: Good God, Sam! How long's it been?

Sam: Why, nearly ten years, I should think! It's great to see you!

Willie: Staying the night?

Sam: Nope.

Smeaton, Willie's unscrupulous manservant: *sabotages Sam's curricle*

Sam: Guess I am, then!

Sam and Willie: *sexx0r*

Sam: Stay with me?

Willie: I don't think so.

Sam: *sabotages Willie's horse*

Willie: Guess I will, then!

Romance Convention Checklist:
3 Acts of Romantic Sabotage

1 Chequered Past

1 Roll in the Hay (and 1 Failed Attempt at a Roll in the Hay)

1 Naughty Duchess

The Word: This was quite a sweet story, by an author I'm not familiar with (whose novel covers, however, look gorgeous), so I'm thinking I'm going to have to give Candice Hern's novels a try, the next chance I get.

Navy Captain Samuel Pellow is enjoying a pint in the taproom of a local inn, and waiting out a torrential rainstorm when a grand figure arrives and demands a room. It's not just any grand figure, but Her Grace, Wilhemina, Duchess of Hertford. Sam knew her when she was simply Wilma Jepp, the girl he lost his virginity to in the small Cornish fishing village they grew up in. They greet each other cordially and settle down for a amiable chat before Sam has to continue on to his destination. Both of them on the wrong side of forty (Sam has a grown son in the Navy), twenty-five years ago they were fumbling teen lovers driven apart by fate who gravitated towards different social circles, meeting each other only intermittently, the last time about ten years ago.

Twenty-five years ago, when Sam mysteriously vanished at sea and was presumed dead, "Willie" was kicked out of her rigidly Methodist household and took up with an artist, and gradually used his influence to gain more powerful and influential protectors, until she became one of London's most exclusive courtesans. However, it turned out Sam was only press-ganged into naval service and when he found her again, her profession horrified him. They met only a few times after that, each having acquired their own lives - Sam got himself a wife and child and status in the military, and Willie eventually married the Duke of Hertford.

Now, of course, both are widowed, and mature enough to look back on their juvenile exploits with rose-tinted fondness. There's no backbiting or bitching in their conversations with each other, only memories, both pleasant and painful. Each still loves the other, but guards their heart against possible rejection: Sam fears he's too low for the likes of a duchess and famed courtesan, while Willie's convinced her scandalous (and largely unrepented) past will forever pose an obstacle. However, both are quite willing to spend the night together and see what happens. This was altogether a tender and loving story about a second chance at romance that I really enjoyed. Quite lovely and entertaining, and also a good palate cleanser for the cloying, rehashed drama of Only You. A-


  1. Great review, as usual.

    I agree with you about the first 3 stories...wasn't Mary Balogh's beautiful? That was hands down my favorite, worth getting the anthology for.

    Now, as for the last story - I hated it. It was my least favorite...*shudders* Didn't like the writing at all, the guy kept calling her "my girl" or something like that and it did my head in.

  2. I have to disagree with you there, I thought it was sweet he still loved her enough to call her "his girl" even after all the years. I dunno - I'm unused to historicals with older characters!

  3. Wow, this was a great review. I love your format and it's funny how different our opinions were on this whole book, but still I loved reading your review!

  4. Rowena --> that's why I do them. I always try to make them funny so even the people who disagree can enjoy reading them. I read your review as well. I personally wasn't a fan of D'Alessandro's story, but I guess different strokes for different folks. It all comes down to taste really.