Where's Your Book Today?

That's what people always say to me at work, if I don't have a book or my PDA or my eBookwise Reader with me at lunch. I love to read and I guess it's obvious. So many books, so little time...and so much dust in my apartment.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

"The Ravencliff Bride" by Dawn Thompson

I decided to take a quick break from my Kelley Armstrong bookfest and try a just plain romance. I was intrigued by some sample pages I'd been emailed as a part of a "romance book club" from my local library. A quick look at Amazon.com showed it had a high rating (4.5) and the first few reviews were favorable, so I thought I'd give it a try.

I wish I hadn't. I gave this book a 2 on my rating scale.

"The Ravencliff Bride" is an historical romance, which isn't my first choice of genre when looking for a romance. It also hints at being a paranormal romance, which is what intrigued me...there may be more out there, but it was one of the first I'd come across that combined the two.

Our heroine, Sara, has been saved from a wretched existence - and likely total ruin - in a debtors prison when she receives an offer of marriage from the son of a man who was a friend of her late father. She's puzzled by the offer, but honest enough to know her future looks dim indeed if she doesn't accept. She's swept off for a "proxy marriage," never meeting the man she marries until she is taken to his home.

The hero, Baron Nicholas Walraven, is a brooding, distant - and of course, physically gorgeous - man with a secret. He offers Sara a friendly marriage of convenience - no touching or sex, thanks - as long as she agrees to one thing...she must trust him entirely and not ask questions. Not that he extends the same to her...he offers no explanations, or none that make any sense, for the odd things going on in the castle. And she - naturally - becomes determined to ferret out all the secrets and force her husband to take her into his confidence.

Sara is that quintessential TSTL heroine. Don't know what that means? It's romance-reader shorthand for "too stupid to live"! This is the heroine in the horror movie who you just know is going to die within 20 minutes of the opening credits because she does just about everything to put herself in the path of the slavering evil maniac.

Nicky tells her not to wander the castle - which is in disrepair in sections and which is riddled with dangerous secret passageways. Does she listen? No, not even on the first night. Not even after being trapped in one of those secret rooms for more than 24 hours.

Nicky tells her to stop propping her door open because there's a dangerous animal roaming free in the castle. Does she listen? No, not after being attacked by Nick's drunken steward. Not even after seeing a murdered servant who'd been attacked by said dangerous animal. And she does nothing by whine and moan about Nick's posting servants outside her door when she refuses to listen.

And when he tells her to stay away from the beach because the tides come in fast and may strand the unprepared? You don't even have to read any further, do you? You just know there's a scene where she almost drowns.

To be fair, Nick's not all that bright himself, hero-wise. Despite the fact that he's figured out he's got himself one persistent, inquisitive bride, he never gives in and just tells her what's going on. Even when he does - because she's basically already seen the thing he's feared most - he doesn't give her all the details. Nick is a man in anguish, a man fighting his nature...oh, that brooding hero at it's ultimate! He's so lonely. And he'll tell you. Over and over again. Oh, woe is Nicholas for he has a secret and he is so lonely.

Okay, I know I'm being sarcastic - I generally love tormented, wounded heroes. But this guy needed to be thumped on the head a time or two.

And despite everything - despite his boorish behavior and her flighty rebellious behavior - they both fall head over heels in love (and lust) with each other, pretty much from the get-go. I just could never figure out why.

One of the reasons I don't read a lot of historical romances is the stress on the clothes. I've come to recognize certain phrases: breeches, reticule, corset, chemise. (And thanks to Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion for the reference, because I certainly had no clue the first time I read a historical). I swear, though, if I had to read about Sara's "sprigged muslin gown" one more time, I would have screamed. Isn't the point in books like this to set the scene and then get on with the story? I don't seem to remember getting elaborate clothing descriptions in contemporary romance.

Finally, I thought the language used was very "purple." I've already mentioned purple prose in a previous post, so I won't go on about it again. But let me post a sample, just so you can see what I mean.

This is a little section right after Sara meets Nicholas for the first time:

"Good," he said. "I want this to be a pleasant association . . . for the both of us."

How he towered over her. Those riveting eyes, wreathed with dark lashes that any woman would envy, were even more alarming in close proximity. They were hooded now, devouring her in the candlelight, making her heart race. He smelled clean, of the sea, with traces of tobacco, and brandy drunk recently. Combined with his own - almost feral - essence, the effect was intoxicating. She drank him in deeply, extending her hand.

If this little construction had been used sparingly, I might have forgiven it, but this book was littered with it! "How he looked in those tight breeches!", "How his eyes burned into hers!" How this just makes me want to throw up.

I wanted to like this book. The sample pages made me think I would. And, as I said before, I usually love those tortured hero-types. But I just couldn't make myself care about these characters. The only thing that kept me reading to the end was that I was curious about how the big mystery would be resolved. And that's the main reason this book got a 2 instead of a 1 - the author did manage to snag my curiosity enough to get me to finish the book.

So, my recommendation is to pass this book by. If you absolutely must try it, I'd get it at the library before spending your hard-earned money.

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