Love Match by Maggie MacKeever
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7565-0
****
With some books, it’s easy to know the number of hearts to assign. Other books present more of a challenge. Maggie MacKeever’s Love Match is one of the latter. While the plot is unique, the romance tends to take a backseat. In the end, I can’t help but recommend a story that amuses me as much as this one.

The story starts with Justin, Lord Charnwood, bringing his new bride, Elizabeth Chavers, home. Their marriage is no love match: “She had married for social advancement — or rather, Maman had — and St. Clair had married for wealth.” Their conversation during the journey makes it clear that they know little about each other and their emotions are not involved.

Things become complicated, however, when Justin and Elizabeth arrive to find that Justin’s cousin Augusta has arrived and plans to stay for some time. And she’s brought Magda, Justin’s former wife, with her. Needless to say, the honeymoon isn’t getting off to a great start.

The rest of the book consists of Elizabeth and Justin getting to know each other as the house slowly fills with people. Love Match features a large supporting cast of characters. There’s Magda, a sophisticated women who has run through a number of husbands. (I’m somewhat skeptical about the ease of obtaining a divorce at this time, even if one party — Magda — elopes with someone else. But that’s another matter.) There’s Augusta, a sour woman who is addicted to gambling. And Conor Melchers, a rake who initially pursues Magda and is eventually, if reluctantly, charmed by Elizabeth. Eventually Elizabeth’s parents and other members of Justin’s family join the rest.

Although there are several fun moments with these characters, their adventures often remove the spotlight from Elizabeth and Justin. On the one hand, circumstances force them to deal with and learn things about each other they would not otherwise have done. On the other hand, I found myself wanting to see them spend more time together.

MacKeever’s subtle humor is the main strength of the book. Each chapter begins with a quote from Elizabeth’s prudish and domineering mother, Lady Ratchett, such as, “Few men expect to carry the elaborate homage and tedious forms of courtship into marriage.” And, “It is our duty as gentlewomen to make sure we never succumb to desire and suffer its disastrous consequences.” The events in the chapter play off of the quotes nicely.

Love Match also provides humorous glimpses into the minds of several characters. In one scene Justin helps Elizabeth out of a dress that Magda selected for her, and says, “I dislike you making a display of yourself.” Elizabeth thinks, “If he did not wish her to make a display of herself, why was he taking off her dress? There was no doubt about it. He was taking off her dress.” Moments such as this one, especially when in context, make the reading enjoyable. Much of the couple’s conflict and humor is of the Comedy of Errors variety — Justin and Elizabeth are never quite in the same place at the same time, though theirs is a metaphorical gap rather than a literal one. Once they finally bridge the gap, they realize that their initial emotionless union is a love match after all.

I finished the story feeling that the time I spent reading it was worthwhile. Love Match may not match everyone’s taste, but it’s a sweet and humorous story nonetheless.

--Alyssa Hurzeler


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