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Anne Gracie

REVIEW: The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

REVIEW: The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

Dear Ms. Gracie,

Despite the recent flail over the “death of the historical,” I’m ever-hopeful that unique and compelling Regencies are still being published. Unfortunately, The Autumn Bride falls short of my vague-yet-demanding criteria by quite a distance, landing squarely in the “wallpaper” and “cookie-cutter” pits of romance despair.
The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

Governess Abigail Chantry will do anything to save her sister and two dearest friends from destitution, even if it means breaking into an empty mansion in the hope of finding something to sell. Instead of treasures, though, she finds the owner, Lady Beatrice Davenham, bedridden and neglected. Appalled, Abby rousts Lady Beatrice’s predatory servants and—with Lady Beatrice’s eager cooperation—the four young ladies become her “nieces,” neatly eliminating the threat of disaster for all concerned!

It’s the perfect situation, until Lady Beatrice’s dashing and arrogant nephew, Max, Lord Davenham, returns from the Orient—and discovers an impostor running his household…

A romantic entanglement was never the plan for these stubborn, passionate opponents—but falling in love may be as inevitable as the falling of autumn leaves…  

I think I was subliminally swayed into buying this because of the four — count ‘em, four (4)! — em-dashes in the description. Alas, the fun didn’t last beyond the punctuation.

The annoyances and eye-rolling started in the prologue, in which we learn the newly-titled hero has been financially ruined by his profligate late uncle. We know Max is ruined because the word “ruined” is used approximately 17 times within the first five pages. And poor Max really has lost everything, because none of the barony’s numerous properties were entailed. There’s some mumbling about a broken trust, but that’s the only explanation we get, and it’s enough for the young lord to abandon his beloved widowed aunt and scurry off to make his fortune overseas.

Fast-forward ten years, and we’re introduced to the orphaned governess heroine, Abby, as she’s drawn into rescuing her younger sister from the clutches of an Unseen Evil Villain. Of course, the abductee escapes the iniquitous brothel with her maidenhood intact. The siblings also manage to liberate two other young women, and they all swear allegiance to The Sisterhood.

So, with the heady air of freedom firing their blood like a sweet and potent wine, they vowed to be as sisters to one another, to become a family.

When their plans for husband-hunting are thwarted by poverty and illness, Abby decides to burglarize the neighboring mansion. She must (of course) wear borrowed breeches and crawl over broken glass for this adventure. Instead of piles of silver waiting to be pilfered, she finds the bedridden, nearly suicidal Lady Beatrice. Saint Abby is compelled to return a few days later, at which time the neglected noblewoman offers her home to The Sisterhood.

While this premise could have worked, the character and backstory inconsistencies were too much to overcome. We’re told that Lady Beatrice became ill and was taken advantage of by her Evil Greedy Servants — all of whom had been newly hired (of course). A few of Lady B’s friends attempted social calls, but were turned away by the Slimy Evil Butler. She’s been a virtual prisoner in her own home for months, being fed only gruel and water, never bathed, never even moved from the bed. The tragedy! The pathos!

But then….we’re asked to believe that Lady Beatrice was a leader of the ton, a “magnificent, outrageous” hostess renowned throughout the upper echelons of society. No one of her noble acquaintance had the fortitude to deal with a surly butler? No one raised questions or even gossiped about a baroness disappearing? And when The Sisterhood moves into her home, Lady Beatrice magically transforms from frail and forgotten back into fierce and feisty — all she needs is fortifying soup and some henna to restore her once-glorious red hair. I just could not reconcile the Lady B who throws a hissy fit about wearing castoff clothing and says things like “I never trust the word of people with their hands on my privates” with the pathetic elderly recluse wallowing in her own filth.

When Max the Ruined Viking Pirate (scruffy beard, longer-than-fashionable hair tied back with a leather thong) returns with fortunes restored to find four mysterious young women living in his beloved widowed aunt’s home, it’s the perfect — and predictable — setup for a Big Misunderstanding. He insists Abby is a con artist, she refuses to explain herself, etc., etc.

And, of course, our happy couple’s bickering is interspersed with extensive mental lusting.

It was all going well until Miss Chance reached for the syllabub, one of his favorites, a dish of sweet, tangy whipped cream. It matched the frothy top she was wearing.

She dipped a spoon into the creamy confection and transferred it to her mouth.

Max swallowed. His narrative faltered.

Her eyes half closed in bliss as her lips closed over the spoon and she let the sweet mixture slide over her tongue and down her throat.

Max forced himself to resume his story. There was nothing at all unusual about the way she was eating; it was all perfectly comme il faut. So why could he not take his eyes off her?

She spooned up another mouthful. This time when the spoon was slowly withdrawn a tiny, gleaming morsel of syllabub remained quivering in the corner of her upper lip. Unhurriedly she licked it off.

Max’s words dried up along with his throat.

After a moment Miss Chance stopped spooning up the syllabub. Her brows rose. She was looking at him. The entire table was looking at him, waiting for him to continue his story. Hanged if he knew what it was. He cleared his throat.

“You’re fond of syllabub, Miss Chance?” Sparkling conversation, indeed.

“Very. And you, Lord Davenham?” She took a third leisurely spoonful. His groin tightened.

“Yes.” It came out as a croak.

That passage was the high point of dramatic and sexual tension in the book. From there, the story plods through Max’s realization that he really is an asshole, Abby’s cardboard sassy saintliness, unnecessary scenes with sequel-bait secondary characters, and off-page suspense(less) shenanigans with the Unseen Evil Villain, culminating in a tacked-on and boring deflowering in the last chapter. Not to mention the endless internal monologues rehashing events we just read about.

Further evidence in support of the wallpaper/cookie-cutter classifications include:

  • The generic “~Insert Adjective Here~ Bride” title that has absolutely nothing to do with the story.
  • The generic cover, complete with obligatory and mistorical white wedding dress.
  • The absence of any meaningful Regency-era detail; the entire story could be plopped into any historical period.
  • The “nuh uh, it is SO a Regency” Jane Austen quotes as chapter epigrams.
  • A pair of footmen named Turner and Hatch, which my brain (of course) insisted on processing as Turner and Hooch. This has nothing to do with the blandness, but I felt it important to mention.

My “first impressions” grade was a C-; The Autumn Bride isn’t a painful read (hence my half-hearted snark), but there’s nothing in this story worth recommending. When the main characters’ names slid out of my brain just hours after reading, I had to downgrade, because superficial, forgettable books like this aren’t doing the maligned historical romance genre any favors.  Grade: D+

~ Kelly

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Dear Author

REVIEW: The Perfect Kiss by Anne Gracie

Dear Ms. Gracie:

Medium ImageIf you should perchance come by the blog and see your name, my suggestion would be to pass over this review. I hate to be saying the following things about your book, but I’ve got to be honest and it’s not going to be pretty. A Perfect Stranger was a book I enjoyed. I didn’t blog about it, but I would have given it a B-. I felt, at times, reading The Perfect Kiss that someone else wrote the book because it was so . . . bad.

This book represents some of the worst themes, stereotypes and caricatures in the historical romance genre. It is replete with anachronistic characters, silly mental lusting, and a wafer thin plot.

Grace Merridew, the toast of the ton, has cut her golden red locks, died her hair, marred her perfect complexion with henna freckles and embarked on a journey to “save” her best friend, Melly Pettifer, from an unwanted marriage. Seems that Melly’s father, Sir John, and Dominic wolfe’s father, the deceased Lord D’Acre made a betrothal contract when Melly and Dominic were still minors. Melly wants to have children more than anything and thus she can’t marry Dominic because after he found out he couldn’t weasel out of the betrothal contract, he declares theirs will be a “white marriage.”

Somehow Grace is going to ensure that they don’t get married by posing as Melly’s maidservant/companion. Of course, Grace takes a real shine to Dominic and doesn’t seem to be too bothered by the fact that she engages in kissing, heavy petting and then coitus interruptus (twice) with her best friend’s fiance. She does push Dominic away toward the middle of the book, thinking that perhaps her physical contact with him isn’t proper but a few pages later is back in his arms.

Grace is full of predictable anachronistic heroine traits:

  • Despite being the darling of the ton, she knows how to act as a maidservant.
  • She carries a knife in her boot because all Merridew sisters go around armed.
  • She swims in her drawers because it is so stifling in the heat (and because a village granny told her not to swim in the pond because it causes girls to lose their morality. hmmm, I can’t guess what happens next).
  • She had a bad childhood and doesn’t believe she can love anyone, but she sure can lick the skin off a hot male nearby.
  • She knows how to light a fire. Knows where the kitchen is. Is used to folding bed linens. All things a rich young lady would have in her repertoire.
  • She recognizes that leeching is bad and demands that the quack doctor refrain. Again, common knowledge amongst the young gentry.
  • Is immediately beloved by entire village and servants. She hires people to come and work at Wolfestone. Yes, a maidservant. And then offers to pay for their wages, out of her nest egg.

Dominic is not much better of a character. Embittered by the fact his mother was treated abominably by his father, Dominic is going to let his 800 year old legacy die. And ruin a young woman’s life in the meantime. He has no problem romancing a maidservant while still intending to marry another woman. Wow, a real prince of a guy.

The story is so predictable. Every scene is telegraphed which led to a complete lack of drama. The secondary romance is no less hamfisted and obvious. Within seconds of meeting, the secondary couple are in each others arms wondering at their attraction for each other. Gee, again, I wonder what happens next.

Maybe this is supposed to be a farce. I don’t know. I could barely bring myself to finish the book but I did, even in the face of Dominic’s Ottoman factocum who arrives complete with his own harem. D.

Best regards,