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REVIEW: That Man Must Marry by Janet Chapman

Dear Ms. Chapman:

Maybe in my salad days a story about an innocent, vulnerable, walking mess of a woman, and all the men that love her (only bad guys want to harm her) might have appealed to me. However, now that I am a hardened cynic, I can only respond with eye rolls, groans and sighs, along with a few WTFs.

“That Man Must Marry” started out inauspiciously with a contrived and likely illegal conditional will bequest. “Either get married to one of three people and have child within a certain amount of time or my entire estate is given over to the man I hated most when I was alive”. Willa, the heroine, protests this and instead of giving actual sound advice, the lawyer in the book says “Oh no, this will stand up to a challenge.” Um, no and no. Conditional will plots seem a very lazy way to go about setting up conflict and tension particularly when they are accompanied by bad lawyering. As someone I know once said, there is a resource out there called “Wills for Dummies.” (This is a WTF moment, if you are keeping score).

Willa is one of those “precious” heroines. She’s not traditionally pretty. She’s not thin (she thinks of herself as fat but the hero thinks she just curvaceous). She’s not very feminine. Isn’t very well put together. At one point, her packing is so haphazard that the hero, Sam, takes off his belt and wraps it around the suitcase. (Sam must be super big around the waist or Willa’s suitcase must be childsized. It was an overnight bag/suitcase. Who knows). This is Sam’s first glimpse of Willa:

Though she couldn’t be a day older than thirty, the shapeless brown suit she was wearing was more appropriate for someone twice her age. Half of her blouse hung out below the jacket. Both of her stockings had runs, the overnight bag at her feet the likely culprit. The woman truly resembled a partridge, her plain brown feathers rumpled and sadly outdated.

Despite, or maybe because of, her brown wren looks, Sam is immediately entranced. Who wouldn’t be? She is beloved by a rich old man, Bram, who sends her down to his billion dollar industry to pick out his successor from one of his three grandsons and the three grandsons proceed to fall in love with her (this is not an erotic romance so it’s all brotherly love except from Sam. That’s the eros love). Only Bram dies and the conditional will bequest plot line takes over. Willa has to marry one of the brothers and have a baby but Willa doesn’t want to have a baby because she believes that she is too clumsy to have one and that her clumsiness will bring about harm to the child.

Willa is such a good girl that she says things like

“Holy smokes! She couldn’t take much more of this roller coaster. Since she’d arrived in New York, she’d laughed and cried and given Sam an obscene gesture. Her mother in heaven must be hiding in shame. “

The three grandsons, Sam, Ben, and Jesse, are all handsome and kind. All of them want to be CEO of the multi billion dollar business but according to them “Willamina, you should understand something,” Ben said. “It doesn’t matter to any of us which one becomes CEO. We’re not in competition. Any one of us can lead, and the others will follow. No hard feelings, no jealousy.” So, if they don’t care about being the CEO and Willa doesn’t want to get married and have kids, why doesn’t she just walk away?

It’s like Disney, without the villains. Actually, I read these books about Happy the Horse to my daughter and in each book there is conflict, but the conflict ends up not being negative. I.e., when Happy first arrives at the new horse farm, a horse gives him bad advice, but in the end Happy knows that it is not because the horse meant to give bad advice, but that the horse’s advice just didn’t work for Happy. This book is on the same level. While I am not for making any one out to be a skeevy villain, I think I could handle some nuanced characters here who might have feelings that are genuine instead of contrivedly Happy and Good and Pure all the time. Even Snow White had disgruntled dwarves.

There are actually villains. First, there are the stick skinny “dates” that Ben and Jesse take out to dinner who don’t eat anything and talk about nonsense. Then there is Willa’s evil brother in law who tries to manhandle her which gives the brothers the opportunity to show off their manliness to her.

It seemed littered with ridiculous scenes like the post burial one where all four of them end upon in Abram’s bed:

She was falling in love with the Sinclairs, every damn last one of them.

Finally finding the courage to open her eyes, Willa lifted her head to see Jesse on the far side of the bed, his mouth open and one arm thrown over his eyes. Ben was snoring beside him.

Which meant it was Sam’s chest she was snuggled against.

Figures. He volunteered to be the one to marry me. That’s what they’d told her last night. For the good of Tidewater, Sam Sinclair would sacrifice himself to a dead man. He was even up to the task of getting her pregnant, too.

For a minute there . . . no, it’s clearly not one of those books. But three men and one chick? That must be one king sized bed.

Willa reminded me of those Garwood and Quick heroines of the past, but I just don’t think the bumbling, charming, naive innocence translates well into contemporaries. Further Willa isn’t shown as being capable of really anything and everyone treats her like a child making me wonder if she really was. Coupled with the fact that the hero is such a bland guy makes this book a drag. I longed for some genuine believable emotion.

A silly suspense plot is thrown in to heighten up the conflict since there is little internal conflict between the hero and heroine. It’s an agnst free sugar ride that can be appealing if you don’t mind the over the top ridiculousness of intermittent scenes. C-

Best regards

Jane

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells. Ebook format coming soon.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

13 Comments

  1. Ann Bruce
    Oct 22, 2008 @ 17:51:54

    Willa reminded me of those Garwood and Quick heroines of the past, but I just don't think the bumbling, charming, naive innocence translates well into contemporaries.

    I’ll give you Garwood, but I don’t recall any bumbling heroines in Quick’s historical romances.

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  2. Elly Soar
    Oct 22, 2008 @ 18:19:11

    Based on this description (I can feel my stress levels rising just reading it!) how on earth did the book rate a C-? This is exactly the sort of plot that gives contemporaries a bad name – everyone must find love in contrived situations, get married and have babies in order to be truly happy.

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  3. rebyj
    Oct 22, 2008 @ 18:20:20

    I’m a Janet Chapman fan…all the above said makes it sound like a harlequin from the 80s.The plot sounds familiar anyway. Does it hold any of the charm that her Highander books had at all? I’m still gonna buy and read because her books have a nice spot on my bookshelves and I’m a sucker to have EVERY book an author I like writes.

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  4. loonigrrl
    Oct 22, 2008 @ 18:32:16

    “Holy smokes! She couldn't take much more of this roller coaster. Since she'd arrived in New York, she'd laughed and cried and given Sam an obscene gesture. Her mother in heaven must be hiding in shame. “

    Uh . . . what? This is a contemporary, right? Weird.

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  5. Kristie(J)
    Oct 22, 2008 @ 18:40:58

    Huh! I’ll have the author know that while I’m not twice the age of the heroine I’m closer to that age then the heroines – and I’ve never worn a shapeless brown suit in my life!!! And one minute she’s thinking holy smokes and the next damn??? What a naughty wholesome girl she sounds like.

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  6. Jane
    Oct 22, 2008 @ 19:44:17

    @Ann Bruce – there is one favorite Quick book where the heroine is kind of a fashion disaster and the hero thinks this is endearing and soon all the other women in the ton are slightly disheveled. It was an entertaining quirk. Or there is the heroine in Perfect Partners by Krentz that is constantly rumpling her suits within five seconds of putting it on.

    Yeah, the “Holy Smokes” was a little . . . old fashioned?

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  7. Ann Bruce
    Oct 22, 2008 @ 19:54:08

    there is one favorite Quick book where the heroine is kind of a fashion disaster and the hero thinks this is endearing and soon all the other women in the ton are slightly disheveled

    Oh…faintest glimmer of recollection… Damn, light winked out. It’s going to bother me until I remember the title. Maybe this is a job for the SB’s HaBO.

    BTW, is Chapman’s book a contemporary? Reading the review, I thought it was an anachronistic historical romance.

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  8. Jane
    Oct 22, 2008 @ 19:55:23

    @Ann Bruce – It’s an old one. Maybe Desire? I can’t remember the name. and yes! Chapman’s book is a contemporary.

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  9. SonomaLass
    Oct 22, 2008 @ 23:58:42

    I was reading your review thinking, “oh, it doesn’t sound THAT bad,” until I realized this was a contemporary. WTF?!?! Thanks for the “it would make me crazy” warning.

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  10. Mrs Giggles
    Oct 23, 2008 @ 00:50:16

    there is one favorite Quick book where the heroine is kind of a fashion disaster and the hero thinks this is endearing and soon all the other women in the ton are slightly disheveled

    Seduction, I believe. Not my favorite book by Amanda Quick, but often one that is a favorite of readers preferring the author’s more alpha heroes of yore.

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  11. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 23, 2008 @ 03:31:11

    Why is it okay for females in the past to be sweet and rumpled, and let’s face it, stupid and not females of today?
    It irritates me that people nowadays tend to think of people in the past as somehow more innocent and naive, just because they didn’t have computers and the news on TV every hour. If they were that bright, they would have invented, them, right?
    No of course not. So I’d love to see more examples of women like Bess of Hardwick, Elizabeth I, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (the real one, not the one in the film), Mrs Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley Montague or Ninon de L’Enclos. Women who wouldn’t know naive in themselves if it smacked them in the face.
    Not the fluffy, bumbling heroines who skirt so close to the stupid that it’s easy to slip over. Quick’s heroines, as I recall, were too busy thinking about intellectual pursuits to bother about personal appearance, and I do tend to go for the strong heroine, whether in the past or now. Not the anachronistic “votes for women” kind of heroine, but the heroine who is strong in her time, like the women I mentioned above. Give me that, and I’m in heaven.
    At the recent 100 years of Mills and Boon exhibition, there was a book, written in the 1930′s or 1940′s called “Waif into Wife.” I remember thinking when I saw it that M and B wouldn’t put that kind of book out these days, but it seems that someone has.

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  12. Mrs Giggles
    Oct 23, 2008 @ 04:55:20

    So I'd love to see more examples of women like Bess of Hardwick, Elizabeth I, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (the real one, not the one in the film), Mrs Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley Montague or Ninon de L'Enclos. Women who wouldn't know naive in themselves if it smacked them in the face.

    Unfortunately, many authors who tended to write such heroines – those that I have read, anyway – do not have book contracts today, sigh. It seems that the majority of romance readers do not respond well to such heroines. The sweet, selfless, sexually unaware, and “bookwormish” heroine is still in favor with many readers. Given how competitive the romance genre can be, sometimes authors have to go with what sells to keep being published.

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  13. Jana Oliver
    Oct 24, 2008 @ 10:22:07

    Bookwormish is okay. I just want that same heroine to be able to curse in five languages, handle a rapier with ease and know when to kick a guy to the curb.

    Yeah, I’m a hopeless romantic. (snigger)

    ReplyReply

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