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The Bad Luck Wedding Cake
by Geralyn Dawson
(Pocket, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-671-01517-6
***
Authors often create characters they simply can't bear to give up. I think it is pretty clear that western historical author Geralyn Dawson had so much fun with the McBride Menaces in The Bad Luck Wedding Dress that she simply had to do a sequel. Moreover, she had a hero waiting for his own story and his own happy ending. Hence The Bad Luck Wedding Cake.

Readers who read and enjoyed The Bad Luck Wedding Dress may well want to read The Bad Luck Wedding Cake. The uninitiated may want to hesitate a bit. Unfortunately, this is one instance where a reader without prior knowledge of the characters and situation could be somewhat at sea. I say this because I, who had read TBLWD when it was published, found it sometimes hard to understand the behavior and motivations of the hero.

The hero is Tye McBride who also happens to have inherited the title Viscount Wexford (not "of Wexford" please.) His inheritance had been a salient factor in the tragedy that precipitated the action in The Wedding Dress. But Dawson never really explains how it came about or what it entailed (other than a few statements that there was money involved for Tye's first born child.) And, thanks to encroaching age, I simply couldn't remember many details. One time that I felt at sea.

The heroine is Claire Donovan. She has come to Fort Worth (still a frontier town in 1880) to flee an unwanted marriage that was being forced on her by her family. The daughter of a successful baker, she has decided to open up a bakery/confectionery shop and has rented a storefront owned by Tye's brother, Trace. Trace and his relatively new although already pregnant wife Jenny have gone on a belated honeymoon (folks did not take Caribbean cruises for pleasure in 1880) and have left his three daughters in their uncle's care. Tye and his nieces are residing in the quarters above the store since the appearance of ripe tomatoes led to a fight which has necessitated extensive painting work in their house.

Which brings us to the McBride Menaces, the three girls so named because their actions are likely to bring disaster in their trail. Emma, Maribeth and Katrina mostly mean well; but somehow their good intentions combined with their daring lead to trouble on a frighteningly regular basis. But Tye adores his nieces and insists on calling them his Blessings rather than the Menaces. If you like precocious and somewhat bratty kid characters, the Menaces will be just your cup of tea.

Tye meets Claire when he is awakened one morning by a horrible smell. His first thought is that "the Blessings" have cooked the puppy he just gave them. But when he explores, he finds that the smell emanates from Claire's kitchen. She is making up a batch of "Magic," that ingredient which has led to the Donovans' success as bakers. Tye is immediately smitten by the beauteous Claire and becomes convinced that the "Magic" is in some way an aphrodisiac.

The plot is both complex and simple; simple in that the hero believes his past actions have precluded him from love and marriage, is attracted to Claire, and then finds himself forced by circumstances to marry her. (I don't feel that this is spoiler material despite the fact that this development occurs two-thirds into the book; the blurb emphasizes this plot element.) There was little character consistency here. At the beginning Tye is simply charming and then he turns into an angst-filled jerk at the end.

But the plot is also convoluted, including as it does the attempts of the Menaces to fix up their uncle with the doctor's daughter, to both their dismay; the doctor's wife's matchmaking attempts when Tye's title is discovered; the efforts of all the eligible women in Fort Worth to woo the local lord; the arrival of Claire's family from Galveston where her decamping on her wedding day destroyed the "magical" reputation of the Donovan's cakes and led to bankruptcy; the appearance of the rejected fiancÚ who tries to force Claire into marriage, and much more as well.

Geralyn Dawson has garnered a reputation for writing humorous western historicals and there are certainly plenty of funny scenes here. But, for this reader at least, the humor seems forced whereas in her other books, it seemed to flow from the story. Or maybe I just didn't find "the Menaces" funny this time around.

And finally, there were just too many anachronisms and errors for me. I know I am probably super-sensitive to such problems, but I am convinced there are many other readers who want their historical romances to be at least minimally accurate.

Sequels can be fun and lord knows they are popular. But this is one instance where I think an author should not have tried to keep her characters alive. Dawson is a talented writer who, with The Bad Luck Wedding Cake, has produced a romance that is no more than acceptable.

--Jean Mason


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