Book Review

Tempting The Bride by Sherry Thomas

A-

Title: Tempting the Bride
Author: Sherry Thomas
Publication Info: Berkeley Sensation October 2012
ISBN: 978-0-425-25102-7
Genre: Historical: European

Sherry Thomas - Tempting the Bride Well, I just don't know what to say.  Sherry Thomas took a generous handful of my very least favorite tropes and said, “Carrie, my book has an asshole hero and a selfish heroine and several plot devices that you loathe.  Go on, read it.  I DARE YOU”, and I loved it.

How does she do that?   The lush writing and the layered, complex characters who are always far more complicated than they first appear, the attention to history, and the fun and lovely details of life help, but I'm also convinced that there must be some sort of magical influence at work.

Tempting is the third book in the Victorian Era Fitzhugh trilogy, but I think it would be fine to read this as a stand-alone novel.  There are a lot of descriptions of the other Fitzhughs being lovey dovey, and of course that's more emotionally satisfying if you know who these people are, but it's not necessary in terms of following the story.  Helena is the Fitzhugh sister who is a book publisher.  She has been teased and pestered and harassed all her life by the obnoxious David Hillsborough.  She also is madly in love with a married man, Andrew Martin.  When David has to save Helena from scandal due to her affair with Andrew, romance, angst, and plot devices ensue including a forced, sham marriage between Helen and David and…AMNESIA!

What amazed me about the book was the fact that the author managed to make me care – a lot – about two rather obnoxious and cruel people and made me willing to overlook all the irritating plot devices.  Helena shows an utter disregard for Andrew's marriage.  However, she ultimately shows compassion and grudging respect for Andrew's wife, in a subtle yet enormous moment of character growth and redemption.  She also earns the reader's respect as a professional woman.  Her ability to pursue a goal with determination and disregard for the opinions of society serves her poorly with regard to Andrew but also makes it possible for her to have a thriving professional career in a repressive era.   I realize this sounds like a version of the contemporary romantic comedy trope of the woman who is successful at her career but terrible at love, but the Victorian setting and the nature of Helena's obsession with Andrew make the situation a little different.  I loved reading about Helena reading, and I loved watching her stand up to David – one reason he can't resist teasing her is that she always has a witty comeback.  Helena is also loyal and devoted to her family and is able to set aside her own problems to share in their happiness and sorrows.

As for David, he gets as much, if not more, point of view time as Helena, and boy does he need it.  David's charm lies in the fact that he is perfectly aware of how awful his behavior is, but he's set himself in such a pattern that he can't change it, and every time he says something awful he does a metaphorical head/desk bang – and then he does it again.  He sets this pattern as a young teen as a way to capture Helena's attention and save his pride from her rejection.  Every time he feels he is losing her attention, he says something horrible to her with an instinct that it is better to be hated than ignored.  The older he gets, the more he understands how bad and self-defeating his behavior is, but the firmer the pattern is set.  I ended up loving David and if you had asked me at the beginning of the book if I thought I'd ever like him I would have laughed in derision.  He's just so human, so flawed, and sort of adorable once you see inside his mixed-up head.  He also has hidden literary depths that gave his character a fun and intriguing layer.

There are three main hurdles to this romance and each has a plot device to match. 

  1. Helena hates David and will not voluntarily be in the same room with him.  Plot device:  David has to marry her to save her from shame.  This provides forced proximity.
     
  2. Helena and David have never seen any kind of kindness from or to each other.  Plot device:  David is raising his illegitimate daughter who has some sort of disorder (autism?) and both David and Helena are touched by how kind the other is to the daughter. 
     
  3. Helena and David see each other in rigid and unforgiving way based on years of past frustration.  Plot device:  Amnesia – Helena loses her memories of knowing David so she gets to know him with no preconceptions, and he is able to change his patterns towards her and behave with kindness because his pride is not being threatened.

I have to tell you that if I were reading this review so far, I would not buy the book – and yet, I urge you to buy it because it was incredibly engrossing and moving.  I'm just in awe of how Sherry Thomas was able to make this work.  Ok – I always thought the amnesia was dumb, but it is used to great effect.  The characters are flawed, but they are complex and interesting.  They have funny and infuriating and moving things to say.   You want them to be happy.  The language is lush and beautiful, the discussions of publishing and literature are timely and interesting and in one case very erotic, the sense of place is vivid and I got a little teary at the end – all the little touches are poignant and effective.  Not much happens in the story other than two people trying to connect, but it was unbelievably engrossing.

Sherry Thomas should teach a master class in the concept that any trope, no matter how bizarre or repugnant, can be made to serve a higher purpose.  Both lead characters sound horrid when summed up and yet both are deeply sympathetic as the book unfolds.  Even the ending works.  Sherry's one weakness in most of her books is that she sets up such a compelling conflict that she can't really fix it, so she has to come up with some sort of quick fix and it often feels rushed.  If anything, this one dragged a little, but although it was aggravating to see Helena say, “I love you, no I don't, yes I do, no I don't” it did make sense given the story.  Really, truly, give this book a chance – it was amazing.  I expect a lively and divided discussion on the comments thread about this – at least, I'm hoping for one, because I'm dying to hear if this story worked for anyone else.  If you are curious about the erotic novel within a novel that this story contains, it is also for sale under the title The Bride of Larkspear ( A | BN | K | S | ARe | iBooks ). 

I'm giving Tempting a grade of A- on the strength of the layered, complicated characters and the overall beautiful writing and emotional punch.  It does waver on the brink of a B+ because the plot devices are quite obvious but the emotional impact of the story swings it over the edge to a A-.


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Beccah W. says:

    You actually make a good case for the book, but I must say that I’m kinda turned off by the other lover thing. Maybe this reflects my jealousy issues, but I don’t really enjoy romance novels that include scenes with other lovers (and it’s usually the hero indulging), or complications in the H/H relationship due to other love interests. I prefer stories where the H and H have other reasons to struggle against their attractions to each other.

    So then – and I feel bad saying this – I really dislike when children are involved in the plot. Though I did enjoy “In Bed With a Highlander” by Maya Banks, I really disliked that Ewan had a son from his first marriage. Though his past relationship was rarely, and only briefly, discussed, it was still a big concern in my head. I think its great when romance novels are more real, and modern people with complicated lives can connect with the characters. And its this honest belief that makes me feel kinda guilty when I say that I prefer my stories to describe relationships that do not have to deal with the issues of past loves, and children from past lovers.

  2. 2
    Beccah W. says:

    I meant to include that while it’s great that romance novels with more complicated relationships exist, I don’t like to read them myself.

  3. 3

    I stopped reading your review at, “What amazed me about the book was the fact that the author managed to make me care – a lot – about two rather obnoxious and cruel people and made me willing to overlook all the irritating plot devices.” Why? Because you’ve convinced me I have to read this book, and don’t want to know any more.

  4. 4

    I’m sort of stunned. From the summary I should hate this book. I mean throw it across the room hate this book and yet, somehow I’m sort of intrigued. Not enough to buy right away but enough to borrow from the library and put on the possibly buy later list.

  5. 5
    Liz Talley says:

    I’ll make you a little jealous and tell you I sat beside Sherry Thomas several times this weekend at the Buns and Roses Reader’s tea in Dallas. She’s such an interesting person and a fabulous writer, actually one of my favorites, so I loved being seated next to her and able to talk about books, writing and the writer life.

    This is book three in a series I’ve loved, and so I just started this book last night :) Unpacked and grabbed this book, but I fell asleep before I could crack it.

    One of the things we talked about is pulling the reader along for the ride, and I think she’s a master at this particular technique. You can’t not read Sherry Thomas books. Her books are ones I stay up until the wee hours to finish. I don’t want to read about perfect characters, I don’t want to read about plots that make absolute sense. I want to be sucked in and pulled to the fulfilling end of a book in a way that makes sleep not such a necessity…and this woman does that with her writing.

    So I ‘m really glad I didn’t start reading it last night….

     

  6. 6
    rudi_bee says:

    There’s few things I love more than a redeemed hero (especially one who still has the occasional head/desk moment) so I was convinced and then you reminded me there was an amnesia trope. I might eventually read it but I won’t be rushing out to buy a copy.

  7. 7
    lorelai says:

    FYI – I just went to Amazon to check the price of this book and I found four of Sherry Thomas’s books were $3.99 for the Kindle – Private Arrangements, His At Night, Not Quite A Husband, and Delicious.

  8. 8
    rayvyn2k says:

    I really loved this book. I read it in one day because I had to find out how these people worked out their issues and reached their HEA. Wonderful writing, fantastic, layered characters and the way she wrote all three books in the series happening at nearly the same time…I have her on my list of favorite authors from now on.

  9. 9
    MissB2U says:

    “Buns and Roses”!  I love it!

  10. 10
    Barb in Maryland says:

    CarrieS—
    I inhaled this book the day it came out.  One sitting! And I quite enjoyed it. I already did like David more than Helena—so it was fun watching Helena reveal her her better side.  Ms Thomas did a great job in revealing that Helena’s best business assents(single-mindedness, determination to do what she wanted to do), were her downfall in her personal life.
    By the end of the book I loved David and I had come to really like Helena. 

    My only problem with the three books in the series is that each was too short and therefore the ending to each felt rushed.  I prefer her longer books.  hmmm, maybe if I look on this as one very long book……

    Can’t wait to see how she does in her foray into YA!

     

  11. 11
    SonomaLass says:

    Thomas is one of my favorite historical romance authors. I loved this book and have been raving about it all over the place. I’m not normally a big fan of the amnesia plot, but this is one time where I thought it was used to good effect.

    I had read the earlier books in the trilogy, so I went in knowing about Helena and Andrew Martin. I wanted to shake her for being so stupid about him, so needy of him, when she’s so smart and accomplished and deserves better, but I’m not surprised that it took a kick to the head to get her over it. Completely believable—I have known two women like that IRL, and I wish I could have given them both amnesia. The personal growth of these characters was incredible, and although I was annoyed with both of them at the start, they are obviously right together, as is evident from their witty exchanges as much as their sexual sparks.

    Speaking of sexual sparks, I highly recommend the erotic novella that goes with this novel. It’s called The Bride of Larkspear, and it’s the book Hastings wrote for Helena. I think it reads well as a stand-alone, but for me it complimented this book beautifully.

  12. 12
    Erin says:

    I literally picked this up on the weekend, read the back, and made a ptooey! noise and put it back on the shelf.  Thanks for the review, you’ve encouraged me to put aside my avoid-amnesia-plots bias and give ‘er a try!

  13. 13
    kkw says:

    I can’t wait to read this, but I love Thomas’s writing, and I’d read her books even if they contained all my least favorite plot points…whatever those are. Children in romance novels are definitely up there, but the plot tends to be beside the point to me. I’m shallow, what can I say, I’m in it for the style. Good characters can get me past bad style in a pinch, but plot? Whatevs. In as much as I care about plot, I adore it when a writer can make every ridiculous thing work. I love the frisson of wtfery that goes along with words like amnesia, unicorn, and vendetta on the back copy.  Secret baby? Done. Alien secret baby? Bring it.
    These are romance novels we’re talking about. What’s more unlikely than true love overcoming all obstacles? Unlikely works for me. Absurd thrills me. Implausible is just what I’m looking for. I am ready willing and able to suspend all disbelief. If I can swallow the miracle of unconditional love everlasting, amnesia isn’t going to faze me.  And though it sounds both dirty and conceited, the fact remains I’ve got mad skillz in the, ah, swallowing department.

  14. 14
    Nabpaw says:

    I love sherry thomas and i loved this book.  i did have a problem though with the amnesia, not because of the implausibility, but because i wanted helen to discover how wonderful david was without a dopey plot device.  I was looking forward to all the wonderfully witty exchanges I was sure they were going to have.  as i kept going with the book, however, and read the awful things david said to her and her equally cutting responses, i understood that wonderfully witty exchanges wouldnt have been enough to do that.  their witty exchanges were the source of a lot of the trouble between them.  anyway i loved the book and i loved the trilogy. 

  15. 15
    Jimthered says:

    So, she made you forget about your dislike of amnesia?  Does that count as ironic?

  16. 16
    Terrie says:

    Just read this and agree it is just lovely.  Sherry Thomas provides flawed characters who you love to root for.  Real change can be difficult and it’s so rewarding watching these two face their flaws and choose a better truth and wisdom instead.  And the book just sparkles while all of that is happening. A lovely read.

  17. 17
    Ducky says:

    This is actually my favorite romance in the trilogy – I was expecting to love “Ravishing The Heiress” the best, but it turned out to be this last one. Love the hero and his interactions with the heroine.

  18. 18
    sweetsiouxsie says:

    Thank you! Now I know what to read when I finish the Jennifer Ashley I am close to finishing! I love Sherry Thomas. I read the first two books in this trilogy and I have the third one. I just have to dig it out of the TBR pile. Happy reading, everyone!

  19. 19
    PamG says:

    What’s the big deal with amnesia?  My husband slipped and fell on a granite ledge about 10 minutes after proposing to me, and, to this day, he can’t remember asking me to marry him.  In fact, he used to get a great deal of pleasure out of saying that I’d hit him on the head and made it up!

  20. 20
    hen says:

    I didn’t really feel like the book managed to overcome its weaknesses, personally.  At the end, I was still waiting for a better idea of Helena’s personality beyond “prickly.”  Everything felt half-done to me, and when I realized I was halfway through the book at chapter nine and I didn’t feel engaged with any of the characters yet, I knew that the about-to-happen amnesia wasn’t going to provide the missing link.  The meat of the book seemed to happen too quickly.  I really loved the first book in the trilogy, but I felt somewhat the same about the second: too much situation, too little personality, though I chalked that up to the fact that I read the second book while on a plane and I never like books I read on planes as much because I’m such a nervous flier.  This one I read on the ground, though.

  21. 21
    Christy in NC says:

    I completely agree with you about everything. I couldn’t believe I could actually love an amnesia plot, but when Sherry Thomas writes it, I’ll go along with almost anything. She’s one of my absolute favorites, and I’ve loved this entire series.

  22. 22
    JANEJ1234 says:

    I agree about most of the story happening too fast. There was so much set up that by the time it happened with the characters falling in love, it was over. I felt there wasn’t enough as a stand-alone. There seemed to be a lot of re-treading over the past. OVerall, it was more enjoyable that I thought it would be with the amnesia story, I just wish it hadn’t taken so long to get there. I also didn’t like the ending- she remembers her entire time with David but sudit seemed like once she got her memory back, she forgot about the last four weeks.

  23. 23
    librarygrrl64 says:

    “i did have a problem though with the amnesia, not because of the implausibility, but because i wanted helen to discover how wonderful david was without a dopey plot device.”

    Ditto. And I think there was enough buildup in books 1 and 2 to make that happen but, oh well. I still love Thomas’ writing, and I also loved this trilogy, as well as Delicious (one of my all-time faves).

  24. 24
    booknosh says:

    I feel like this review makes me want to try out Sherry Thomas again—I have to say that so far I’ve been really disappointed in her books.  Like you, I feel like she overcomplicates and overdramatizes so that there is sometimes no way the conflict she’s created can even be resolved. 

    Also, I do think she is finding some sort of enjoyment out of turning tropes on their heads and making you like the book despite the amnesia or the too selfish hero/heroine etc… and I don’t think she always succeeds. 

    Sometimes too, I feel like her use of vocabulary is a little on the extreme side.  I mean, I like a romance that stretches a little, but sometimes her descriptions feel overly forced in a let’s re-study for the GREs sort of a way… but your review makes me at least want to think about maybe giving her another try (have read two so far, one the RITA winner, but have been left cold so far)

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