October 2012, European Historical Romance (1817 England)
Zebra, $6.99, 391 pages, Amazon ASIN 1420114840 Part of a series
His Mistletoe Bride is not really a bad book. So I had to ask myself why, then, it took me the better part of a month to read it. I concluded that despite a fun Christmas theme and an intriguing Quaker heroine, the book couldn’t quite overcome its lackluster hero.
Phoebe Linville comes to England intending to meet her grandfather, an earl who was estranged from Phoebe’s mother when she ran away to America with Phoebe’s Quaker dad. But when she arrives in England she receives the distressing news that her grandfather has died. Before she can even adjust to this blow, she reads a letter from her grandfather begging her to marry the new earl, who is her distant cousin. The new earl, Major Lucas Stanton, is a former military man. He wasn’t really expecting to marry immediately, but he does like the look of Phoebe.
Phoebe’s traveling companion begs her to return to her New Jersey home immediately, but Phoebe knows that her future there is much less promising. She decides to stay in England and at least meet her family. She is quickly embraced by her relatives and swept up in a whirlwind of activities. Meanwhile, Lucas makes his interest and intentions clear - but is also frank about love not being part of the deal. Lucas was once in love with a woman named Esme, which led to heartbreak and caused a breach with his cousin Silverton that has not yet healed.
An argument and indiscreet assignation at a ball remove Phoebe’s choice in the matter. She and Lucas wed, and head off to his estate, Mistletoe Manor. Here several other plots are introduced, most notably one featuring a smuggling ring run by Lucas’s tenants. Mistletoe Manor suffered during the years of the previous earl’s ill health, and the tenants have become desperate. Lucas and Phoebe struggle with their different approaches to the problem; she is inclined toward compassion and nonviolence, and he feels that the letter of the law must be enforced in order to protect everyone. While they struggle with this conflict, they also become physically intimate. But when Phoebe tries to talk about her feelings, Lucas distances himself. All of this is set against a backdrop of Christmas preparations and festivities, and a visit to Silverton’s home.
First the good parts. I liked that Phoebe was a Quaker. While it’s not unheard of, it’s certainly unusual. And she’s not a Quaker who throws her “thees” around for window dressing; she considers her religious philosophy and what it means to her. Because Lucas is a military man used to thinking in a different way, Phoebe’s religion is important to the plot. In general, I found that I liked Phoebe. She’s thoughtful, compassionate, and just different enough to catch my interest. While she was perhaps a bit naive (some of Lucas’s explanations about sex are borderline giggle-inducing), it wasn’t really unbelievable for her sheltered character.
I also liked the integration of Christmas in the novel. If you’re reading a Christmas book because you want to hear about Christmas and the accompanying celebrations, this is a good one to choose. It’s not one of those that just slaps some holly on the cover and calls it good.
As I said, this isn’t a bad book. And yet as the weeks wore on, I found myself unable to finish it. When catching up with my latest Scramble game always seems more pressing than reading, I have to ask myself why. Partly, I think the book is a bit padded. It’s not unusual for a series romance to read like a longer book that is cut short. This book has the opposite problem; it reads somewhat like a traditional Regency romance that was padded with extra plot to make it longer. It could easily have started at Mistletoe Manor after the wedding, and skipped the first third of the book.
But the other problem is that at the end of the day, Lucas is not all that compelling. He is consumed with his sexual relationship with Phoebe, but takes forever to admit to anything more. His confession of love is basically on the second to last page, which was too late for me. His dumb estrangement from Silverton is certainly part of the problem as well. It’s all very junior high, and as soon as I heard about their conflict I felt that they both just needed to get over themselves.
Whatever the reason, it took me the bulk of October to read His Mistletoe Bride. Sometimes you can chalk this sort of thing up to a busy month, but when a book is really compelling you can always find the time for it. Whether it’s the slightly padded plot or the not-so-fabulous hero, this book simply couldn’t hold my interest.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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