Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mail-Order Marriages (anthology) by Jillian Hart, Carolyn Davidson, Kate Bridges

Mail Order Marriages is a Harlequin Historical containing three short stories set in various places in America during the latter half of the 19th century. As you can probably tell from the title and cover, they're historical romances featuring mail-order brides.

The mail-order marriages aspect immediately appealed to me and was the reason why I bought this book. I wanted to see how the various authors would handle the subject. I was a little surprised at how repetitious the stories felt, considering there were only three of them. The first two stories both include a "heroine inherits a lot of money and a man from her past chases after her" subplot, and both of them handle it in pretty much the same way.

“Rocky Mountain Wedding” by Jillian Hart


Melody traveled to Montana with the intention of marrying the man whose mail-order bride ad she'd answered. However, when she got there she learned that the man she thought she'd be marrying had fallen in love with someone else. It's not really his fault – he had no idea his mother had been corresponding with a mail-order bride for him – but now Melody is stuck with no place to stay, very little money, and no job.

Gabe, the older brother of the man she was supposed to marry, reluctantly helps her. He's sure that his mother will try to set him and Melody up next. Melody doesn't seem like the kind of practical woman he's interested in marrying, and Melody isn't happy about the way he keeps insulting her. That doesn't stop them from being attracted to each other, and Gabe's protective instincts kick in when he learns that Melody is possibly being pursued by an abusive man from her past.


It's a good thing that the man Melody was supposed to marry was in love with someone else when she got there, or I predict that her marriage to him would soon have soured due to her and Gabe's instantaneous attraction to each other. I couldn't really understand why she was so attracted to him, considering how often he insulted her. He made it clear that he viewed her as some kind of gold digger and, even after he revealed that he was trying to push her away in order to avoid his mother's match-making efforts, I never really warmed to him.

This story didn't really work for me. I didn't hate it, but so much about it had me rolling my eyes. Although Gabe spent the beginning of the book mulishly determined to avoid being matched up with Melody, the instant he found out she might be in danger, he changed his mind and decided that they should get married. And Melody went right along with it, despite having previously been abused by a man she'd thought of as a family friend. How does any of that make sense?

Hart's writing was a little overwrought: lots of infernos of feeling, rising tides of need, Gabe's voice booming and thundering, etc. Also, there was some head-hopping - there were a few times when the story switched, without warning, from Gabe's POV to Melody's or vice versa.

“Married in Missouri” by Carolyn Davidson


It's been several years since Lucas's wife died, and he has decided his home needs a woman's touch again. He puts out an ad for a mail-order bride and chooses Elizabeth – she is almost 30 and therefore more mature, and her volunteer work at an orphanage has given her plenty of experience with children.

Elizabeth, for her part, wants to get away from Amos, the man she thought she'd end up marrying but who chose her prettier sister instead. Life with Lucas and his sons suits her just fine. The boys like her, she's good at housework and enjoys having a home she can arrange as she wishes, and Lucas finds her attractive, even though she's tall and a little on the hefty side. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, trouble is brewing back at her old home in Boston.


This story suffered from too little conflict. Elizabeth was the perfect housewife who, at least in the eyes of her new family, had no failings (I, on the other hand, was bugged by the number of times she thought about how much better her marriage to Lucas was than her sister's marriage to Amos – she had a right to be bitter, but still). Although the boys didn't instantly consider her to be their new mother, they liked her right away and grew to love her. Lucas and Elizabeth's first time in bed went pretty smoothly, and, outside the bedroom, they lived together so well that it was almost liked they'd been together for years.

When trouble finally entered the picture, it was trouble of the wrong sort. This was a relatively sedate story – lots of what, to me, were very interesting paragraphs on the nitty gritty details of maintaining a rural home during this time period. After a while, though, it became a little boring because, like I said, there were almost no snags in Lucas and Elizabeth's new marriage. Absolutely everything went perfectly. It would have been nice to see a few things go really wrong and then see how the two of them handled it. Unfortunately, even the slightest snags were easily dealt with.

The arrival of Amos, the man Elizabeth had once thought she would marry, was the one thing that livened this story up, but his appearance and the danger her added was all wrong for this story, which practically cried out for quieter, more domestic complications. It didn't help that Hart's story went in that exact same direction.

One thing that was a little unusual: there were more mentions of religion than one usually finds in stories that aren't published in Harlequin's Love Inspired line. I'm a very secular reader, but I didn't think the mentions of religion in this story were too much, and they fit in well with the time period.

“Her Alaskan Groom” by Kate Bridges


John is the successful owner of three livery stables. He thinks it's time for him to get married, but single women are few and far between in Alaska, so he finally takes the plunge and puts out an ad for a mail-order bride. He corresponds with Paulette, likes her, and believes they would suit. Unfortunately, the woman who arrives is not the woman he expects. Paulette has backed out, and the agency has sent Sophie as her replacement.

John's pride is hurt, and he unthinkingly insults Sophie, who is so upset that she walks off. It's not long before Sophie realizes that she could make a decent life for herself in Alaska, with or without John – there are plenty of potential husbands around, and she'd finally get to fulfill her dream of being a practicing midwife.


I loved the beginning of this story, but overall this was just too rushed to work as a romance.

The spark was definitely there. I liked that Sophie, despite being attracted to John, walked off after he said that marrying her would be like settling for a ham sandwich after expecting roast beef. I became more excited when Sophie realized that life in Alaska gave her options, that she didn't have to settle either. I wanted to see her make John work hard to win her back, but, unfortunately, she didn't.

I ended up feeling kind of “meh” about this story. They married and enjoyed having sex, but Sophie was worried because there didn't seem to be much more to their relationship, especially when she found herself really tied up in a patient's difficult pregnancy. I never became very emotionally invested in John and Sophie's relationship, and so I didn't fret when things were a bit rocky between them, and I didn't breathe a sigh of relief when they smoothed things over.


I didn't hate this collection, but I didn't like it either. As with a lot of anthologies, there were some things I enjoyed and some things I didn't. Out of the three, “Rocky Mountain Wedding” worked best as a story. I liked the feel of “Married in Missouri” better, but the lack of decent conflict meant it rapidly became boring. “Her Alaskan Groom” started off really strong but needed a lot more fleshing out to be effective as a romance.

  • Mail-Order Holiday Brides (anthology) by Jillian Hart and Janet Tronstad - Another mail-order brides anthology. This one is part of Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line. It looks like Jillian Hart has written quite a few mail-order bride historical romances, so fans of her story in Mail-Order Marriages might want to check out her backlist.
  • The Substitute Bride (book) by Janet Dean - Another Harlequin Love Inspired Historical featuring a mail-order bride. More accurately, this heroine flees an arranged marriage by exchanging places with a mail-order bride. I'm not sure how she thought that would make her situation any better, but, since it's a romance, things probably work out fine. From the sounds of things, this marriage starts off rocky - the heroine doesn't slide smoothly into frontier wife life. One negative review mentions that the book's language seems a little old-fashioned.
  • Abby: Mail Order Bride (e-novella) by Verna Clay - A mail-order bride story featuring a widower with children and a plain heroine - the description reminded me of Davidson's story. It sounds like a nice, quiet romance.

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