At the Bride Hunt Ball
by Olivia Parker
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-06-135544-8
A word of advice to would-be romance writers: don't underestimate your readers. It's bad enough the general public thinks we are feather-brained nitwits who don't know we have been reading the same dull plot, featuring the same boring stereotypes over and over again. There is absolutely no reason why we have to put up with these assumptions and insults from the very people whose living we finance. We may be compulsive readers, but we are not sitting ducks for poor-writing target practice. Which is exactly how I felt when I finished Olivia Parker's debut novel for Avon.

The bride hunt ball of the title is, in the author's own words, loosely inspired from reality shows. Instead of having untalented wannabe stars compete for three seconds in the limelight, it features debutants vying for the position of the future Duchess of Wolverest. The current duke, Gabriel Devine, has devised this method to ensure his younger brother will marry the right woman. Gabriel, you see, does not want to do his ducal duty: he is never going to get married, never going to beget a heir, never going to make a woman suffer the way his mother did. That privilege will be his brother's. This is why he has invited seven of the most eligible young women to spend two weeks at his castle.

Madelyn Haywood is one of the lucky girls, or would be if she actually wanted the position. She would rather have her independence, but she decides to go anyway. Madelyn, you see, is not just a feisty and intelligent young girl. She also has a heart of gold. When she realizes her best friend is madly in love with the future groom, she decides to tag along to protect the besotted female. And of course, independent as Madelyn may be, she cannot quite stand up to her money-grubbing, social-climbing stepmother.

At the ducal estates, Madelyn lands in a series of scrapes. A bee crawls up her skirts and stings her bottom. The Duke is standing by with good advice. Then, she gets locked in her room. Determined not to lose out on all the fun, she ties her sheets together and climbs down. The Duke is standing by with a helpful hand. Other mishaps ensue as do the authorial winks and nudges. Time and time again Madelyn pulls through. Eventually, her childish pranks cure the duke's marriage-allergic heart.

It is not the glaring familiarity of the story and the shallowness of the characters, both main and supporting, that I find most annoying. It is not even all the slapstick humor which tries to pass for wit and comedy. What is truly unbearable is the pervasive sickly sentiment. It will take a long time for me to get over the heartburn caused by all this indigestible material. And an even longer time before I pick up another book by this author.  

--Mary Benn

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