A few years ago, Miss Bates read Michelle Celmer’s Caroselli’s Christmas Baby, a marriage-of-convenience, friends-to-lovers narrative she greatly enjoyed. Celmer’s latest and the subject of this post, More Than A Convenient Bride, is based on similar premises. South African heroine, Julie Kingston, best friend to, and research assistant of Dr. Luke Wakefield, has to leave the US when her work visa is not renewed by immigration. Friends for years since they met working for MSF, Julie and Luke are devoted to the health and well-being of the residents of small-town Royal, Texas. They are also more committed to their friendship and mutual medical mission than any significant others. Workaholics and free spirits, they agree to a marriage of convenience to ensure Julie stays where she can continue to help Luke rake in the millions by inventing life-saving surgical aides, while acting as chief of surgery at the local hospital and continuing his philanthropic work. These are highly intelligent, committed, professional protagonists and Miss Bates looked forward to their come-to-love story. It didn’t hurt that marriage-of-convenience and friends-to-lovers are two of her favourite tropes.
More Than A Convenient Bride, despite its promising tropish bases and protagonists’ stellar qualities, is a romance novel that changed directions on its way to the HEA like a neophyte driver taking continuous hairpin turns. Abrupt shifts in narrative and characterization made this a disappointing read. [There be spoilers ahead. It’s the only way Miss B. can explain how things went bust for her.] Two serious, emotionally reticent adults suddenly turn into sexual omnivores. Two rational, we-must-preserve-our-friendship adults fall into wild monkey sex minutes into their marriage. Julie, product of both an abusive father and former boyfriend, we’re told, is a nomadic, sexually free spirit … it’s feelings she’s afraid of. What the hell?, thought Miss Bates. Two medically-savvy professionals, with years of experience and education, have an oops-we-forgot-the-condom moment … because, of course, their reticence flew out the window with “I do.” Not to worry, no baby on the horizon because the rhythm method seemed to work. Once Julie and Luke start to have a great time in and out of the bedroom, conflict is at nil. Bring in Luke’s ex who, at first, though she has a near-dying child in hospital, is gunning for him big-time. Miss Bates thought, okay, good old-fashioned HP-like “other woman” conflict: this might be okay, after all. That trope deflated like a lop-sided soufflé when Julie and Evil Ex became besties. Celmer then threw in some pet humour to keep this baby going. A blind kitten, Luke’s surprise gift to Julie, indulged in some pretty amusing antics and Miss Bates thought she was reading yet another narrative. To conclude, Luke had the obligatory revelation that Julie’s the only woman he ever loved: this isn’t friendship, folks, it’s big-time Romantic LOVE. Quandary: how to keep her when her nasty past keeps her from giving her heart. Oh, that’s easy, be cruel and cold …
Miss Bates wasn’t pleased and thus Miss Austen says of Celmer’s More Than A Convenient Bride, “rubs and disappointments everywhere,” Mansfield Park.
Michelle Celmer’s More Than A Convenient Bride, published by Harlequin “Desire,” has been available since March 3rd, in “e” and paper, at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.