Dove's Way

Nightingale's Gate

Swan's Grace

The Ways of Grace

The Wedding Diaries
by Linda Francis Lee
(Ballantine, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-8041-1997-X
Apparently Linda Francis Lee inspires strong reactions, because I’ve read both enthusiastic raves and excoriating pans of her books. The Wedding Diaries was my first encounter with this author of both historical and contemporary romance novels, but it will probably also be my last. There was a certain campy enjoyment to be found in the book’s clichéd characters and purple prose, but objectively speaking, it was an unwelcome reminder of the over-the-top romance novels from 20 years ago.  

Poor little rich girl Vivienne Stansfield is not the pampered princess that she appears to be from the media coverage in her hometown of El Paso, Texas. She’s actually shy, lonely, and quite generous. She even pays for salon makeovers for the less fortunate women she meets. When Daddy and his money suddenly disappear into thin air, Vivi is dumped by her boring fiancé and forced to find a job. Fortunately, before her dramatic change in circumstances, she had a brief but memorable encounter with Maxwell Landry, millionaire real estate mogul. Max needs a nanny for his two youngest sisters, ages 11 and 14. For some unfathomable reason, even though Vivi has no experience with kids, Max decides to hire her. Maybe it has something to do with Vivi’s “long black-lacquer hair trailing down her back” or her “rosebud lips painted a provocative shade of pink that match her perfectly manicured nails.”  

Unlike Vivi, Max was born poor. After his parents died, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps while single-handedly raising his seven younger siblings. He’s rich, ladies throw themselves at him and his family respects him, but he doesn’t know how to love. Of course, with his “dark hair, blue eyes and chiseled features,” as well as “a raw sensuality rippling through his broad shoulders,” who needs to talk? Vivi, that’s who. She cheerfully and effusively sets about organizing his household and taking care of his sisters, even though the 14 year old, Nicki, resents her presence. Before you can whistle “My Favorite Things,” Vivi has charmed everyone, even Max. But although “he wants her with a driving need that pulses through his body like a flame he can’t douse,” Max doesn’t want to need Vivi because need makes men weak. And Vivi is afraid that Max only wants her for the money and success that she symbolizes, not for the real person she is inside.  

Linda Francis Lee is known for her dramatic, emotional romances, but The Wedding Diaries is supposed to be lighthearted as well as romantic. The humor, however, is largely unintentional, as the uber-alpha male Max acts like a refugee from an 80s soap opera and Vivi acts like a demented, mini-skirted Maria Von Trapp. The love scenes are explicit, but it’s hard to enjoy them when Max is uttering lines like this one: “I fill you, Vivienne. I fill your soul, just as tonight I am going to fill your body. I am going to spread your legs and make you come as I show you that we are meant to be together.”  

As my adolescent daughter would say, Ewwww.  

There’s another ick factor in the novel caused by Vivi’s Oedipal complex, which is embarrassingly unresolved. She wants her Daddy’s love so badly that she doesn’t even get angry when he drops out of sight and leaves her in the lurch, and in one scene she commits lovemaking interruptus when she hears her Daddy’s voice on the answering machine. If I were Max, I would have stayed far away until Vivi got some therapy to resolve her issues.  

Despite all of the book’s weaknesses, it does move along quickly. Lee could be a force to be reckoned with if her characters were more than clichéd throwbacks and her plots were a little less predictable. If the quotes I’ve liberally sprinkled throughout this review don’t make you giggle, you might enjoy The Wedding Diaries, but if the thought of encountering 350 pages of similar language makes your head spin, give this one a pass.  

--Susan Scribner

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