The Chick: Grace Marlowe. As the young widow of the revered Bishop Marlowe, she was trained from the first days of their marriage to be proper and pious in all things.
The Rub: Without her sainted husband to guide her, she fears the strange attentions she's receiving from the rakehell Rochdale will lead her down the wide, sexy path to sin.
Dream Casting: Katherine Heigl.
The Dude: John Grayston, Viscount Rochdale. The ultimate ladies' man, he can get any woman into bed with him, and is willing to stake his champion racehorse on it. Even a bishop's widow shouldn't be too hard.
The Rub: He actually starts to like this lady, but what will she do if she finds out about the wager?
Dream Casting: Patrick Dempsey.
Lord Rochdale: I can seduce any woman in England!
Random Skeezy Dude: Bet you your favourite horse you can't seduce the the bishop's widow!
Lord Rochdale: Done and done! Hey pretty lady!
Grace: *pious glare* Women's urges are sinful!
Lord Rochdale: *smoochies*
Grace: Women's urges are delightful! LET'S GET IT ON!
Lord Rochdale: *sudden guilt* Umm, why don't we go shopping for purity rings instead?
Grace: *sexy glare*
Lord Rochdale: Oh, hell, it's ON LIKE DONKEY KONG.
Lord Rochdale and Grace: *SexyTimes*
Lord Rochdale: Here, Skeezy Dude, take my horse!
Random Skeezy Dude: Awesome! I won the wager!
Grace: WAGER?! WE ARE DONE!
Lord Rochdale: Crap.
Grace: Maybe I was too hasty. Skeezy dude, bet you your awesome horse I'll marry Rochdale!
Random Skeezy Dude: Okay! I sure do love these inappropriate wagers!
Lord Rochdale: WAGER?! YOU WHORE!
Lord Rochdale: Dammit, let's just stop making wagers and get married.
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Orgasmless Widow
1 Misogynist Rake
4 Merry Widows
1 Set of Mommy Issues
2 Pretty Horsies
1 Sexy Wager
1 Inconveniently Dead Husband
1 Bitch Stepdaughter
The Word: Colour me supremely disappointed. When I read my first encounter with Candice Hern, her It Happened One Night novella "From This Moment On," I enjoyed the thoughtful, mature characters and their unusual relationship. I liked pacing and the detail. I don't think I was unreasonable for expecting the same in Lady Be Bad.
Sadly, we get a very conventional storyline, inconsistent characterization, and slack pacing. Lord Rochdale is the best lover in London (or so he thinks), and is known for being a rank degenerate - romance novels rarely have fabulous lovers who aren't also giant douchebags. Anyhow, he's also a horse aficionado and when Lord Sheane wagers a prize-winning horse that he can find a woman Rochdale can't seduce, our hero accepts. Lord Sheane goes out and promptly picks Grace Marlowe, the widow of a revered bishop, a woman so prim butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. Rochdale has three months to get her into bed, or he loses his horse, Serenity.
Thanks to Rochdale's scandalous reputation, Grace is immediately suspicious of his advances, Unfortunately, she can't help how much his presence rattles her defenses. Trained by her much-older husband to repress the feminine weaknesses of lust and desire, she gets her jollies by hanging out with her lusty widowed friends but keeps herself tightly wound. She's much too polite to tell Rochdale to piss off, however, so she sort of has to sit there and take it as Rochdale awakens all sorts of sensations she's convinced are sinful and wicked.
I think we all know where this story is going. However, romances can overcome predictable storylines with engaging characters, but this novel fails in this regard as well. Let's start with Grace - I never bought her character. She's supposedly the wife of a bishop - a very vocal and pious religious leader who had a very powerful effect on her worldview. Religion should be a very important part of her character. There are several times in the novel where she feels lost or full of self-loathing because she's been trained to believe that lustful feelings are wrong. Does she pray for guidance? Does she rant at God? Does she even think about God? Is God even mentioned in any way that isn't oblique? Nope.
I'm sorry, but I call BULLSHIT. Not only that, but it's cowardly writing. This isn't an argument about religion, it's an argument about good writing and character development. In the case of Lady Be Bad, religion is only used as a literary excuse for Grace to be sexually repressed and to make her dead husband bad in bed. Heaven forbid her religion should have any other effect on her life! You want to make your heroine the pious widow of a bishop in order to make her seduction by a rake more exciting? Fine - but you still have to follow through with her characterization. If religion is important enough to her to determine her sexual choices, it's important enough to affect other aspects of her life as well. You can have characters who are overtly religious without making your book overtly religious.
Lord Rochdale, I'm afraid, isn't much better. Yet another rake from the "My Mum Didn't Hug Me Enough So All Women Are Whores" school of thought, who used to be a kind, bookish Beta destined for the clergy until Dem Slutty Womens broke his widdle heart. He's also one of those miraculous men who's managed to make himself fabulously wealthy almost solely through gambling (because we all know how often that happens). Yes, he secretly thinks all women are schemers, liars, and sluts - but he can't even be consistent in that. I kid you not, there is a section in the book where Rochdale goes off on an internal monologue about how all women come from the same skanky mold, and not ten pages later, he admonishes Grace for supporting her husband's sermons on married relations because they're anti-women. Excuse me?
What's worse is that he doesn't really change. Yes, yes, even though Grace is kind-hearted and lovely and totally different from every other woman in existence, he continues to jump to conclusions about her character. Mild Spoilers ahead: nearing the end of the novel, Grace and Rochdale have a falling out when his wager comes to light. When Grace learns that Rochdale had forfeited the wager and given his best horse to Lord Sheane, she in turn wagers with Sheane that she can get the famous rake to marry her. The prize? The horse! However, on page 299, literally eight pages from the end, Rochdale hears gossip about her bet, makes a wild leap to the conclusion that Dem Slutty Womens have struck again - and very publicly breaks off his engagement to Grace, squealing all the while that she's such a manipulative, deceitful skank. Only when he discovers she's recovered his bestest, favouritest horsie does he go in and apologize. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
These are only small sections of the book - the rest is relatively inoffensive, but unfortunately exceedingly dull. The pacing drags on and on as Grace ponders on her feelings and her burgeoning sexuality (all without even thinking of God), and Rochdale very slowly comes to see that Grace isn't all that bad. It's not terrible, but it's not very gripping. Nothing really arises that makes this story particularly unique or poignant or emotional. I appreciated the ways in which Rochdale comes to see that, while Grace coming into her sexuality is a good thing, the reasons why he's doing it are wrong. Grace is a pretty nice person when it all comes down to it. Her late husband (while being horrible in bed thanks to the good ol' G-O-D) isn't demonized or turned into an awful abusive monster. But nothing really gripped me. The story was predictable from start to finish, the characters weren't well-drawn enough to make up for the tired plot. Around page 200 I just started skimming.