Love and Mayhem by Nicole Cody
(Signet, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-21810-8
The authors* of this book clearly believe in recycling. Not surprisingly, like a plastic grocery bag made from used milk jugs, the result is flimsy and full of holes.

Following her father’s death at the battle of Flodden Field, Marion McCall is taken by her betrothed to an isolated convent on the Isle of Skye for her own protection. Marion objects to going, but at age six she doesn’t have a lot of choice.

Twelve years later, Iain Armstrong decides that it’s time for them to finally marry, as their fathers intended. When repeated summonses for Marion to return are ignored, however, Iain goes to the convent to fetch her himself.

Marion has decided she doesn’t want to marry Iain and seems to believe that if she can just avoid him for a few days, on one flimsy pretext after the next, he’ll go away and leave her alone. When Iain shows up in the convent kitchen where she’s working (on her supposed day of seclusion), Marion ‘disguises’ herself by upending a bowl of flour over her head.

Fortunately for the authors, Marion’s intended sees through this clever ruse and insists that the marriage go forward. But afterward, when he tells her that he will take nothing from her that is not freely offered, she triumphantly informs him that she will neither kiss him nor perform “the other…uh, duties that go along with being a wife.”

Iain thinks this petulant juvenile is quite the little hottie, though, so he looks forward to persuading her otherwise. And, of course, because ‘I hate you’ has never stood in the way of ‘I want you’ in romance novels, readers will not be surprised to find that Marion is soon boinking happily away in spite of the fact that Iain is such a big meany.

Marion spends the first half of the book complaining incessantly about Iain’s big meany-ness. She shrilly informs him, and anyone else within five miles, that he can’t possibly care about her because he left her alone in the convent for twelve years without so much as a visit or a letter, he doesn’t respect her family, he’s an arrogant bully, he doesn’t care about her feelings or explain himself to her. She airs this litany of grievances every time she opens her mouth, but because it’s clear to the reader that Iain is not the big meany that Marion paints him, it’s also clear that Marion is an idiot.

Finally, on page 178, Marion and Iain arrive at her home and the record changes, although the relief doesn’t last long. It becomes immediately apparent that the plot of the second half has been lifted quite blatantly from a well-known stage play. This doesn’t exactly enhance the suspense. Or the ‘humor.’

If the humor in the first half of the book was based on hearing over and over that Marion is an immature twit, the humor in the second half consists almost entirely of hearing over and over that her relatives are nuts. For example, one of Marion’s aunts repeats everything the other says. While this certainly extends the whole recycling theme into a new realm, it doesn’t actually make the joke any funnier.

I began to feel as though I was inside the Liberty Bell (cracks and all) while someone beat on the outside with a hammer.

In fact, the funniest thing about this book is the idea that it’s an ‘historical’ romance. These authors can demonstrate as much knowledge of this time period as I can about nuclear physics (which is to say that on a good day I can usually pronounce it). This isn’t history, it’s a fantasy set in an alternate universe where a 16th century teenager raised in an isolated convent believes she has the right to have everything explained to her so she can decide her own course of action, and her laird fiancé patiently tolerates this nonsense.

I do have one good thing to say about this book – there’s no Scottish dialect. It’s one of the few clichés the authors didn’t recycle, and I’m suitably grateful.

*Jim and Nikoo McGoldrick, writing under yet another pseudonym.

-- Judi McKee

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