Dear Ms Henderson,
I love Georgian books and if they’re set in “the Colonies” I’m already predisposed to like them. Which makes it all the worse when one so totally fails for me. I think it was Dee’s blog where I read that she tries to find at least three things she liked about every book. I tried, I really did try but I can’t even find that many things I liked about this book.
Iris McDonnell arrives in Portsmouth expecting to find the man of her dreams. Though she’s never met him, she knows Riley West is everything she wants in a husband. Charming, witty, well-to-do, good dancer, nice house, the man’s got it all. Only when she steps off the boat from England, there’s no one to meet her.
Riley West just got out of prison for murder and has only been home for one month. In that amount of time, he’s realized that no one there has forgiven him for what he did 6 years ago, no one will talk to him much less hire him. He doesn’t know why his sister wants him to go pick up a friend of hers but when he finally remembers it and does it, he finds a woman who’s as confused as he is.
Slowly the truth comes out. His sister Gwen was the one who sent a “Bride Wanted” notice to a London paper then, pretending to be Riley, exchanged many letters with Iris. Now Iris is stuck in New Hampshire with no passage money back to England (not that she wants to go back in shame to her brother who really doesn’t want her either), and Riley feels responsible for paying his brother-in-law back for the loan that his sister got on their land to pay to bring Iris over. Can these two find any common ground after such a rocky start?
There are just so many things wrong with this book that I almost don’t know where to start. OK, let’s start with the period feel and anachronisms. Honestly, I felt that this was a contemporary that had been reworked into an historical. It felt that off. Riley mutters something about vampires (remember this is 1746 and I think the concept had just barely come to England by then), someone’s ego (Freud, right? Late 19th century?), then asks Iris if the guy in her letters was a good kisser. When his three year old nephew “shoots” Riley with his toy, carved gun, Riley, “handed her Matt’s toy gun. “You shouldn’t let him play with stuff like this. Guns aren’t toys. They kill people.” And after he got drunk, he complained that his head hurt like a bitch. At one point Iris tells Riley she’s already grabbed a bite (to eat). Later in the book, Gwen throws her husband out of their house. Excuse me but didn’t men own all the property in this age? Then he thanks her for letting him see their son (children were the property of the husband). Gwen then doesn’t bother to worry about who’s going to be the breadwinner of the family because she’s too busy tacking linen all over their interior walls to redecorate it. I believe that at that time, cloth was very dear since it was either bought at exorbitant expense from England or was loomed by women at home. I really doubt anyone had the money to waste fabric like this.
Iris causally says she’ll find a job in Portsmouth and consign some of her paintings (she went to art school in London and paints early Impressionistic style about 130 years before it was developed). She wanders into a shop (not mentioned what kind but I have visions of a “Ye Olde Colonial Giftshoppe” sign on it) and the lady at first says she’ll take a dozen then recants when she discovers Iris is living with Riley out of wedlock. Yes folks, they aren’t married and Iris stays with him for about three weeks then is shocked when people in town call her a harlot. So she moves to an “apartment” in a wretched area of town then worries about inviting Riley up to her room. What? is she worried that the drunks and whores will think badly of her? She gets a job in a restaurant and mentions something about the noon rush hour. Like at Denny’s? And at one point Riley buys her a new lock for her door which she finds on the floor outside her room. Did the instructions to install it not come with the package from Lowes?
What is a sterling? Did you mean pound sterling? And is Iris’s rent really two pounds a month? That would end up to be about twice what an average laborer’s yearly income was.
Then there’s the problems with timing. Up until one month before the book starts, Riley was in prison. He was unexpectedly pardoned and released. Now, for Gwen to have sent the bride request then each woman have had time to write eight letters before Iris finally comes over, I would guess that at least a year and a half would go by. So, how did Gwen know to get the ball rolling if she didn’t know Riley would be released? Was Iris supposed to have conjugal visits with her inmate husband? Then on the day Iris moves from Riley’s house into town, she sees some scars on his back. Two days are described as passing then she has a day off (nice benefits package from the restaurant) and spends it with Gwen where she says something about seeing Riley’s scars yesterday when she moved. I think you lost a few days there.
Then there’s the fact that aside from the three year old nephew, I didn’t care for a single character in the book. Gwen is nut job who admits that she brought Iris over under false pretenses, is sorry Iris and Riley didn’t immediately hit it off, wonders what Iris will do to support herself then insists on continuing to matchmake them. Both Iris and Riley lose their tempers with her more than once over this little issue. Iris and Riley together are like two children in a sandbox having screaming fits. They feel sorry for the other then one page later are screaming at each other, rinse and repeat throughout the whole book. Iris gets mad and sulks because in the letters (in which Gwen lied to her!), “Riley” said he was a good dancer but when Iris asks him, he says he can’t dance. Iris screams at Riley that “he’s not the man she thought he was” but then he never was that made up person. These two go from sympathy to raging anger in 6.8 seconds. They constantly misjudge each other and jump to conclusions. Iris says to herself several times that “the Riley West of her dreams wouldn’t do/say this” but can’t seem to get it through her head that those letters were lies! While Riley gets mad at Iris for not telling him she’s a virgin (which was one time where I was happy to see her lose her temper with him). Oh and then there’s the dance at which a drunk Riley gropes Iris in front of the whole town after which she defends him. WTF? Iris demands to know what Riley’s crime was and gets in a righteous snit when he tells her it’s none of her business then later she gets mad when he finally reads the letters that she wrote to him. Well Iris, you did write them to him.
This book just never got better. Ever. At all. Which is sad when I think about the promising arranged marriage plot and the era which I love. I rarely give out F grades because usually I’ll ditch a book long before that but this one just sucked me in like a train wreck in progress. I kept hoping the collision would be avoided but in the end, it was a mess.