Cupboard Kisses

A Debt to Delia

The Diamond Key

Lord Heartless

Miss Lockhart's Letters

Miss Treadwell's Talent

Miss Westlake's Windfall

The Painted Lady

Saved by Scandal

Wedded Bliss

A Worthy Wife

Love, Louisa by Barbara Metzger
(Five Star, $26.95, PG) ISBN 0-4104-0198-7
Barbara Metzger has made a name for herself writing high-quality Regencies, and one can scarcely begrudge her the chance to try her hand in another subgenre. Unfortunately, Ms. Metzger’s foray into contemporary romance falls flat with Love, Louisa. If there is a more self-righteous, dimwit, doormat heroine than Louisa Walton dragging her tail around in contemporary romance these days, I’ve had the good fortune to miss her.

The story opens with Louisa wrapping up the final details of her wedding to Howard Silver. Actually, Louisa is marrying Howard and his mother, as Mrs. Silver rules her son with an iron fist and expects her new daughter-in-law to kowtow to her every wish as well. Mother has decreed every detail of the wedding, including ridiculously expensive items that Louisa cannot afford, and Louisa is meekly going along with it. Howard, as one might guess, is a grade-A jackass and petulant mama’s boy, and when the chips are down, he simply stands Louisa up at the altar.

Okay, right away we have a setup that’s nearly impossible to get past, and Love, Louisa doesn’t even come close. Why should any reader root for a woman so spineless that she’d put up with this garbage for one minute, let alone get herself engaged to it? At any rate, Louisa goes to her reception, gets drunk, and decides to go on her honeymoon alone, which she manages by breaking into tears at the airport. When she returns, she’s got a bad sunburn and no job – because she worked in the same office as Howard, and of course she can’t go back there now that he’s dumped her. She also has no money, because even though Howard sent her a fat check and told her to keep the ring, she wrapped it around the diamond and sent it back to him. She is virtuous! She’s a better person than he will ever be! She won’t take his money or his ring!

What a sap.

At this point, my mind wandered to the late Olivia Goldsmith’s The First Wives’ Club and the wonderfully satisfying scene where a betrayed film actress takes her philandering husband’s office – and antique porcelain collection - apart with a golf club. Not a good sign when you’re in the middle of one book and thinking about a better scene in another. At any rate, spineless Louisa decides to retreat to her mother’s seaside cottage. The place turns out to be a wreck, not that Louisa would have a clue, and when Louisa meets Dante, a hunky handyman, she has a lot for him to do.

Dante recognizes Louisa because he’s not really a handyman; he was at the reception and saw her getting plastered. He instantly assumes she’s an alcoholic mess. They strike sparks, but end up getting to know one another. Dante already has plenty of responsibilities on his shoulders, including an ex-wife who’s a catty bitch (of course). Neither of them seems to be much of a judge of character. But they are attracted to one another, or so we’re told.

Frankly, this book irritated and bored me. Louisa has nothing to recommend her; she’s in her predicament because she can’t say no or stand up for herself, and she can’t make a practical decision when opportunity knocks. Yeah, yeah, over the course of the story she finds a little spine, but it’s far too little and far too late to satisfy. Dante spends the book jumping to the wrong conclusions about Louisa, over and over, even as he thinks of getting her in the sack. It takes them forever to get there, too. And the conflict keeping them apart is paper-thin. There isn’t any reason they can’t explore a relationship other than it would make this book into a novella, which is probably what it should have been in the first place

What sometimes works in a Regency – imperious in-laws, arrogant fiancé ordering the heroine about, heroine making high-minded, silly decisions that only deepen her troubles – doesn’t translate well in contemporary romance. Louisa Walton starts out as a brainless doormat, and by the end of the story, she’s only worked her way up to twit level. Dante spends the book glowering and lusting. I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

At $26.95, Love, Louisa is no bargain. Loyal Barbara Metzger fans would do better to check it out of the local library. I just hope Ms Metzger hasn’t abandoned the Regency for good.

--Cathy Sova

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