Pandora's Box

The Engagement

Kate Bridges
May 2004, Frontier/Western Hist Romance (1890s Alberta, Canada)
Harl Historical #704, $5.25, 300 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373293046
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

Dr. Virginia Waters was sure she was marrying the wrong brother! She wanted quiet, safe Andrew, but he had jilted her after a 6 year engagement. Andrew's brother, Inspector Zack Bullock, was a Mountie looking for a wife. A wife who would be busy with her own life and leave him alone to pursue his career. Add together mismatched goals, a criminal gang bent on revenge and a spy among the Mounties and you get a very bumpy ride to the altar for this odd couple.

Linda:   I really liked the opening of The Engagement, but then the author used one of my least favorite plot devices - the 'lie' told 'for someone else's 'good'. I was worried that this would be followed by two other equally dreaded plot lines - the Big Misunderstanding and the Long Separation. Thankfully the author did not use those hated plot lines and I heaved a big sigh of relief.

Blythe:   Well, I admit to tremendous disappointment. Several of our colleagues loved The Surgeon, Bridge's last book, so I had high hopes for this one. But I thought the hero started out a jerk and stayed a jerk. I never could like him, and I was annoyed that the heroine did

Linda:   Yes, that was pretty much my opinion also. In fact, the only thing that saved the book for me was the heroine, Virginia. I really liked her. When Zack confessed that he humiliated her to protect her, I just loved her reaction. She gave him hell and she was sooooo right. He could have told her in advance what he planned to do and let her have a role in the deception.

Blythe:   That was really what got the book off on the wrong foot for me. Like you, I hate, and I mean hate, characters who feel they must lie in order to drive their lover away. It's always "for their own good." I always think that the spurned lover ought to just stay away; the nerve of him, humiliating her like that, and for such a stupid reason. There was nothing to be gained by not discussing it with her beforehand. I guess where I part ways with you is that I don't think she was ever forceful enough with him.

Linda:   Well, I guess I cut him a little slack as it was obvious that he was worried about her safety. In fact, what made Zack a bearable hero for me was his treatment of the widow and children of one of his fellow Mounties. I also liked the unusual setting and detail about pioneer life in Alberta - not an era or area I have read about before.

Blythe:   The setting was what interested me in the book in the first place, and I did like that. I have read very few books set in Canada, and I'm pretty sure I've never read a historical romance set there. I think it was an interesting setting, and the author made an effort to include a lot of detail about it. I also liked that the heroine was a doctor.

My problems with Zack went way beyond his initial behavior. I generally felt that he was up to no good and did not truly have Virginia's best interest in mind. Granted, I was irritated with him to begin with, but I became more irritated when he slept with Virginia - twice - with no concern for her reputation or feelings. He made it clear that he wanted to act on their feelings of lust, but she wasn't to expect anything from him. That's not something I can tolerate in a historical hero. I think the nicest word for him is "cad," but I can think of some other ones that are less nice and equally apt. Toward the end of the book, Virginia thinks about how selfish it was of her to be so critical of Zack and to always ask him to change. I think it should have dawned on her that she wanted him to change because his behavior was so unacceptable. She even thinks, "He's never asked me to change at all." Well, no kidding. That's because she's already perfect.

Linda:   LOL, I think the term alpha jerk can easily be applied to Zack and in the right hands this type of hero can work. If Diana Palmer had been writing Zack, he would have been groveling and changing his behavior for at least the last third of the book. DP writes great grovel and I think if Zack had done more then casually order Virginia to show up at the church, I would have liked the book more. It also dragged in spots, especially Zack's constant inner talks about keeping his heart to himself. Also, as a doctor I would have expected Virginia to think about the consequences of sleeping with Zack - like pregnancy maybe? Since she was so aware of her reputation being ruined from her abandonment by both brothers, just think what an unwed pregnancy would have done to further blacken her name.

Blythe:   Yes, I guess in order to redeem himself in my eyes, he would have had to grovel for most of the book. Instead he orders Virginia around and pressures her to have sex, even knowing she's a virtuous woman. I thought initially that I'd like the book more because of the opening line: "She was marrying the wrong brother." I love a good love triangle, but the potential of this one was wasted. Andrew (Zach's brother who was engaged to Virginia for six years) seemed like a really interesting character to me, but we don't see him much. I would have liked to see him have a greater impact on the plot. At the end I didn't feel that either of the brothers was the "right" brother.

Linda:   I loved the first line also. I thought Andrew would play a bigger part too - in fact, I was guessing he was in cahoots with the Stiller gang. But, Andrew and Grace were just "furniture" to pad the book a bit. Although I did like Grace's reaction when she found out that Andrew had been engaged to Virginia and never told her.

Blythe:   I liked that too. And it sounded like Grace froze Andrew out for a while after she found out. Good for her! Too bad we couldn't have seen more of this part of the story. The stuff with the Stiller gang was not all that interesting to me, and the end part when Zack is putting two and two together sounded like the end of a Scooby Doo episode ("So all along the villain was smuggling diamonds in the abandoned glove factory! He would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for those snooping kids.")

Linda:   LOL, my daughter always joked that the Scooby shows always ended with friendly Farmer Brown as the villain. I really wanted to like this book because I liked the setting and the heroine, especially her being a doctor in a time that wasn't easy for a woman. But, in the end I would give it a C if I was grading this one.

Blythe:   Well, Farmer Brown or Old Man Withers who ran the haunted amusement park. <g> I also liked the setting and the idea of a doctor heroine (and a realistic one too). But I disliked the hero so much that I would have graded it even lower than you did. Like I said, a big disappointment. I'll have to hope for better next month . . . what are we reading?

Linda:   We are reading The Spy Who Loves Me by Julie Kenner. This one is in the same vein as Nobody But You which I loved last year. Kenner is an autoby for me and I love her sly sense of humor, so it will be interesting to see if you enjoy her writing too. For me Kenner falls in with Susan Grant and Lisa Cach as writers who are doing some new and fun things within the romance genre.

Blythe:   I've read one Kenner book before . . . something about a hero with super powers? That one didn't quite work for me, but this one sounds different. Here's hoping it will be more my speed.

Linda:   Actually I loved that one - the hero was a romance cover hero who could become invisible and I just kept picturing John DeSalvo as I read it . Of course about half the books I read I picture John as the hero. I mentioned to Jo Beverley once that I pictured John as Rothgar when I was reading the Malloren books. Jo informed me that she did not picture John when she was writing Rothgar. <g>

Nobody But You was a detective story with a great couple, and each chapter started with an excerpt from a hard-boiled detective story that the hero was writing. The book reflected what was going on in the hero's "real" life. A nifty and fun plot device.

Blythe:   That sounds promising. Well, see you next month, and happy reading.

Linda:   Yes, I might even be in my house by then, with any luck and if the creek doesn't rise. <g>

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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