Left at the Altar
I like humor. I enjoy television series such as Scream Queens, with its mix of horror and comedy and sharp social commentary. I love authors such as Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Julie James who often have quirky heroines or laugh out loud moments in their books. I appreciate light stories, such as those written by Sherri Shackelford or Karen Witemeyer. I’m not a big fan of zany stories, though, and that presented a bit of a problem while reading Left at the Altar.
Two-Time, Texas has a momentary problem. Forty moments to be exact. In an era where the local jeweler/clock-maker sets the time, Two-Time has two jewelers and two time tables set forty minutes apart. All that will end when Meg Lockwood marries Tommy Farrell, because once the two children of the feuding horologists wed, the town will move to a standardized schedule. The community is really looking forward to it. Naturally, with an event this highly anticipated something is bound to go wrong and it does: the groom doesn’t show.
Turns out Tommy Farrell wants to see the world and Meg just wants to live a quiet life in Two-Time. It took him till his wedding day to realize it but the two just aren’t compatible and there is no way he can go through with the wedding. He shows up late (anywhere from an hour to twenty minutes depending on whether you are on Farrell or Lockwood time) and asks to speak to the bride prior to the ceremony. The two talk out the problem in the cemetery as all the guests wait in the sanctuary of the small church. The couple parts only somewhat amicably, leaving Meg a jilted bride. It should have been a private discussion but it turns out they had an eavesdropper; just moved to town attorney Grant Garrison. He was visiting his sister’s grave and was hidden behind a monument when the not-bride-and-groom had their tête-à-tête. That’s the cherry on Meg’s humiliation sundae and she flees without speaking to him, tearing her no-longer-needed wedding dress in the process.
Grant is charmed by the feisty, beautiful Meg and is delighted to find their paths crossing on a regular basis after her aborted wedding day. It’s the only thing that delights him about his new home, where the denizens are prone to fighting in the streets at all hours of the day and night and where the boarding house was once a bordello. Just as he’s wondering how much better he wants to get to know Meg a spanner is thrown in the works: Tommy Farrell asks him to be his lawyer in the breach of promise case that Meg’s father has filed against him.
Grant plays the straight man in the ensuing high jinks as Meg and the rest of the town bounce from one wacky moment to the next. I, however, was only mildly amused. A picture is clearly painted of a kind hearted heroine with more sweet than savvy. She is lovingly, patiently indulged by the man who slowly realizes it is his destiny to play savior to the lovely ditz. It is isn’t so much that Meg is stupid – she’s not – but she has a tendency to get herself into trouble while trying to fix the injustices of the world. I’ve seen this plotline work, but it didn’t here because the connection between the hero and heroine isn’t strong enough; I didn’t see any relationship building that convinced me these two could be a real couple and not just a savior/victim partnership. They are good, hardworking individuals who are attracted to each other but it takes more than that for a love story to bloom.
In fact, that lack of relationship building was my biggest complaint about the whole book. Take Tommy and Meg for example, the two people getting married at the start of the story. Apparently they had been best of friends since being young’uns in school. That friendship had led to their almost trip down the aisle but we never see any evidence of its existence. How, for example, could Meg not have known that Tommy wanted to travel? The only confirmation we are offered of their connection is a handful of lackluster conversations; Meg has much more lively discussions and is portrayed as being much closer to her sisters than her erstwhile fiancé. If that was the case, if Tommy was not, in fact, the best friend with whom she shared everything and confided in, what led to their engagement and pending nuptials? Why did she suffer barely any heartache at his loss? It read to me very much as though that relationship existed simply because the author needed it to. The background and detailing of it was never constructed and that was in essence the way the whole book was handled.
I absolutely loved the novels in Ms. Brownley’s Undercover Ladies series, which had solid romances combined with Western Adventure and a touch of humor. Left at the Altar however, while very readable and sweetly pleasant, is so frothy that it lacks substance and heart. While I plan to continue reading this author, I hope her next book will be more like her previous novels than this one.