Genre: Romance, contemporary
Series: Bride Quartet, book 1.
Year published: 2009
Setting and time: Greenwich, Connecticut, USA; contemporary.
Level of sensuality: Several flowery sex scenes.
Wedding photographer Mackensie Elliot runs a successful wedding planning company with her three best friends. She has never known a proper family life because her immature, self-centered parents divorced when she was a child and have both gone through multiple marriages and relationships since. Additionally, her mother is a master manipulatrix who can play her daughter like a finely tuned instrument to get what she wants, usually money or unreasonable favours.
As a result of all this, Mac is highly strung and insecure and doesn’t believe she is capable of maintaining a lasting relationship with a man. Along comes nerdy English teacher Carter Maguire, who is her opposite in every way: calm, rational and solid, in addition to being very sexy, so sexy that once Mac has decided to have a fling with him, she keeps coming back for more even though she doesn’t believe it can last. However, this being romance, we all know how it ends: problems are resolved and character growth happens and happily ever after with bluebirds and babies looms on the horizon.
As my regular readers know, I like to read Nora Roberts novels. Her romances are like candy or desserts to me: rich, full of calories, perhaps not very nutritional but generally satisfying. Despite this I was almost ready to give up on her after reading the overblown paranormal disaster that was the Sign of Seven Trilogy – which I thought I had reviewed here, but I must merely have written a brief (and scathing) review of for one of my reading forums – but then I found out about the Bride Quartet, which is a return to traditional romance, and decided to give her another chance.
The premise of the series is charming and has a lot of promise: love finds four female friends who have adored weddings since childhood and as adults run a successful all-inclusive wedding planning business, each friend having a specific role within the company.
Unfortunately this book fails to deliver on the promise. This is partly due to characterisations and partly due to the overuse of hoary clichés and formulas that Roberts has combined much better in other books.
The four friends are all types Roberts has written about before and Mac is unfortunately not clearly delineated enough from her predecessors in previous books to emerge as a distinctive and singular character, whereas Carter is an adorable and well-delineated hero. I must admit that I do love to see a romance hero who is clumsy, wears glasses, can quote Shakespeare and isn’t all buff muscles and alpha-dog attitude, but besides these physical characteristics the character is also a distinctive and realistic personality, which means that he much overshadows Mac whenever they have a scene together. Mac’s mother is a crude caricature of a childish, totally selfish and self-centered user, and Carter’s ex-girlfriend is a flat and typical Roberts villainess who exists only to spice up the plot with a twist as old as time, unfortunately done badly.
The gossamer thin plot revolves around Mac’s inability to understand that just because her parents are a manipulative megalomaniac mother and a charming but uncaring and mostly absent father all her romantic relationships are not doomed to fail like theirs did. It is as of she has blinkers on and can only see what her parents’ private lives have been like and not, for example, the loving and exemplary relationship of her friend Parker’s parents. Almost every climactic moment in the story (apart from the actual climaxes in the sex scenes) comes because of Mac having another fit of low-self esteem, fear of commitment – because she knows she is destined to mess it up – and gut-wrenching doubts about herself, while the catalysts for these scenes usually involve her mother (and in one case the evil bitch ex-girlfriend).
These climactic fits are followed by fairly realistic moments of character growth as Mac slowly realises she is not her mother OR her father, and comes to understand that Carter isn’t going to give up on her so easily. Carter, however, does not grow. We see his multi-faceted character unfold over the course of the story and this stands in for character growth. He is basically the same man at the beginning and end of the story, hasn’t changed, just come into sharper focus.
The whole story feels rushed, as if not enough thought was put into creating characters that come alive on the pages (because Nora can do that) and making their development and their stories realistic and interesting. While I would be among the first to admit that most romances are formula literature, I would also be among the first to argue that even the most entrenched formula can be used well and creatively. This is not the case here. The book has certain good points – there is a coherent story, however thin and cliché-ridden, the interactions between the four friends are realistic, the wedding-planning and photography aspects are well done and the descriptions of hysterical brides and averted wedding disasters are interesting and occasionally funny. It’s too bad they are actually more interesting than the patched-together, gossamer-thin main storyline concerning Mac and Carter.
At the end of the book I didn’t put it down with my customary sigh of satisfaction, but felt as if the craving for reading candy was stronger than before I started reading. For that reason and the ones enumerated above I can only give it 2 stars.