The Inconvenient

Rhyme & Reason

A Christmas Bride by Jo Ann Ferguson
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-821-76760-7
I’m starting to get used to holiday-theme movies where every dysfunctional family dynamic falls apart. What better time of the year to let it all hang out? “Mom always loved you best!” “Dad never paid attention to me!” “You won’t accept me for what I am!” That being said, it still comes as something of a surprise to me that having to make good on lies you tell your family should be tied in with Christmas.

Nevertheless, this is the second romance I’ve reviewed recently (the first was Brighter Than Gold by Linda Madl) where the hero has lied to his nearest and dearest relative about having a fiancée/wife. (Does this kind of behavior strike you as heroic?) Then he has to find a suitable someone to fill the role when said relative insists on meeting her at Christmas. And, of course, the heroine is always in some kind of dilemma that persuades her into going along with the Big Lie. In the happily ever after, everyone ends up ho-ho-hoing and eating figgy pudding.

In A Christmas Bride there’s a second too-familiar fictional theme: the heroine has amnesia.

Timothy Crawford, Viscount Cheyney, has been asked to bring his fiancée Serenity Adams to the seventieth birthday celebration of his grandfather, the Earl of Brookindale, on Christmas Eve and to Christmas festivities at the earl’s seat. The problem is Timothy has concocted this fictional fiancée because he was too busy attending to his grandfather’s business interests and had no time for socializing to meet potential brides. His cousin Felix Wayne recommends that he find a fiancée, but Timothy knows there is no time. He will have to confess the deception, and the earl will be so furious he will disinherit him.

On the trip to Cheyney Park, they come across a carriage accident. All the passengers have been killed but one, a lovely young woman who remarkably resembles the description of the fictitious Serenity. When she regains consciousness, however, she remembers nothing, not even her name. Felix suggests that she pretend to be Timothy’s fiancée. A letter in her pocket indicates that she has been in service as a lady’s maid and has a brother and sister are dependent upon her for their schooling that will save them from the almshouse.

Felix convinces a reluctant Timothy that this is the solution to his dilemma. Bewildered by her loss of memory, the young woman agrees to be Serenity. She will soon be introduced to Timothy’s family and its various problems, and she and Timothy will find an unexpected mutual attraction. But will their deception lead to love or disaster?

This regency tale is plot-driven with little attention to character development. The plot depends on a great many coincidences, some of which strain credulity to the breaking point. The injured young woman just happens to resemble the fictional Serenity, and so on. The ending ties up a lot of loose ends so neatly and so quickly that I found it less than satisfactory.

None of the characters - and there are a bunch - has much depth. The faux Serenity turns out to be charity and understanding personified bringing hope and joy to a little crippled girl, a lonely old man, and the hero. As she embarks on one good deed after another, it’s pretty easy to forget that she’s suffering from amnesia. Since she so easily slips into her role as a lady, it seems odd that Timothy doesn’t start to doubt her supposed station. For an astute businessman (an unlikely capacity for an aristocrat in Regency-era England), Timothy is surprisingly oblivious to what’s been going on around him. He does little more than admire Serenity in her various gowns and try to steal kisses.

Theodora, the little crippled girl, is clearly this novel’s version of Tiny Tim. Such spirit and goodness in the face of adversity! The character of Aunt Ilse is completely superfluous. Her sole function appears to be a way of introducing a Christmas tree into this pre-Victorian-era English household.

A Christmas Bride is the equivalent of dollop of whipped cream on a Christmas dessert. Sweet and frothy with little substance. Some readers may enjoy it, but it’s not one I can recommend.

The Inconvenient Arrangement Rhyme & Reason

--Lesley Dunlap

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