A Lowcountry Bride
I cannot tell you how badly I wanted to like Preslaysa Williams’ A Lowcountry Bride. I’m a fashion and design geek, I love ambitious heroines, and I like to read about diverse characters, including those with illness or disability. On paper, this book should have been everything I wanted. Unfortunately, on Kindle, it wasn’t.
Maya Jackson, a biracial Black/Filipina wedding dress designer – who also has sickle cell anemia – is on the verge of the promotion of a lifetime at a major NYC wedding dress design house when her father breaks his hip. She travels to Charleston to care for him. While there, she meets Derek Sullivan, a retired Navy captain who is trying to keep his mother’s old bridal salon, a pioneering Black business, from going under, and Maya pitches in to help him out.
Maya’s design aesthetic and her dedication to it are the most developed aspect of the book. She has legitimate sewing skills and knowledge of textiles. She wants to incorporate colors which are traditional to non-Western weddings (for example, celebratory red), and use some of the famous fabrics, weaving, and embroidery techniques native to the Philippines. It’s clear that she clashes with the WASP-y aesthetic of Laura Whitcomb, the one-note villainess whose mega-brand Maya designs for. I appreciate that the author allows Maya to have ambition, and considers that ambition a legitimate counterweight to the obvious HEA she’d achieve by staying in Charleston (which wouldn’t give her that industry acceptance that she craved.) Hooray for a heroine who is allowed to desire fame and reputation!
Unfortunately, nothing else going on here is as well-developed, to the point that many elements simply don’t add up. Maya jeopardizes her career and puts herself in financial straits by coming to help her father, but he doesn’t seem to need her at all. Ginger, who works at Derek’s boutique, has to browbeat Maya into trying to sell her gowns to Derek, when a designer with hustle should be pounding pavement. Jamila, Derek’s daughter, has no internal consistency, existing to love or hate Maya depending on what pushes the plot at any given point. Derek’s naval captaincy is intended to justify the distance between him and his daughter, but it’s wallpaper. A captain in the U.S. Navy earns six figures, but he doesn’t have enough money saved to pay off a dress shop mortgage so low he can catch up on payments by staging one good special event? Derek’s personality – overwhelmed, indecisive, and non-confrontational – is not that of a man who has captained any ship, let alone the aircraft carrier he casually references once.
Derek is a widower whose wife Grace was murdered in a mass shooting based on the real-life killings at Episcopal AME Church in Charleston. Again, unfortunately, there is no depth to this. Supposedly-military Derek has no idea how to address loss or help his daughter navigate it. The author doesn’t explore the particularity of experiencing abrupt, violent loss. If you miss a few one-offs about the massacre, you could think Grace died of illness, or even divorced Derek and moved somewhere else. When Maya talks about returning to New York, Jamila says to her dad, “They all leave, don’t they, Dad? … Mom. Grandma. And now Maya. They all leave. It’s the truth. Don’t you agree?” Derek thinks, “He didn’t want to reaffirm negative beliefs about people leaving Jamila’s life. Then again, the evidence spoke for itself.” What? Grace was MURDERED, Grandma died of natural causes, and Maya, who has been dating Derek for all of three weeks, is PURSUING HER DREAM JOB. These are NOT THE SAME.
The prose is sadly weak. We’re hit over the head with things we can easily understand. We don’t need, for instance, to be told that it’s “funny” that going out with Maya gives Derek the same feeling he had on his first date with Grace, or that Maya’s smile warming him like sunshine means that she’s special. We get it. The editing feels sloppy, as phrases recur mere paragraphs apart, and action is unnecessarily recapped.
And how about this intense, passion-ridden dialogue:
Maya: “You know that my sickle cell will require a lot, and so I won’t be able to be the happy hostess all the time. Especially when I get my transfusions.”
Derek: “I fully understand. I’m willing to help you with whatever you need. I also want us to build on the other night. That’s important to me. Is it important to you, too?”
Maya: “Yes, it’s important to me, too.”
Derek: “That makes me happy, Maya.”
This reads like a failed AI project trying to replicate an emotional human conversation.
This book gets a C- because it didn’t upset or offend me, it just failed to deliver. I’m sorry to say I recommend you leave A Lowcountry Bride at the altar.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent retailer
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.
|Review Date:||June 7, 2021|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||AoC | chronic illness | designer | PoC | South Carolina|
What is with the writing? I just glanced at the excerpt and came across this paragraph, in the middle of a phone call where Maya’s father tells her he’s in hospital with a broken hip :
Pronouns are your friend!
Whoa! All those adjectives remind me of the stuff kids in primary school come out with when they’re told to “make sure you use plenty of good adjectives”!
A dog can never just run down the road. No, it has to be – “the black and white spotted dog ran quickly down the winding road.”
I’m beginning to think more schools have set their students on the path of poor writing, which is the exact opposite of their goal. Don’t get me started on “said is dead.” No, it is not. It is a neutral word that is supposed to disappear when you’re reading. But I digress.
Marian’s excerpt above also reminds me of Mark Twain’s criticism of James Fenimore Cooper’s writing. Twain said, “When a person has a poor ear for music he will flat and sharp right along without knowing it. He keeps near the tune, but is not the tune. When a person has a poor ear for words, the result is a literary flatting and sharping; you perceive what he is intending to say, but you also perceive that he does not say it.”
Just based on the provided examples, Williams doesn’t seem have a good ear for natural sounding exposition or dialogue. Some of that can be improved with practice and abandoning bad grade school writing advice, but a lot of it comes down to intuition. As for the plot holes and poor plotting, Avon should have performed major editorial surgery before sending this to press.
What this book does seem to have is the kind of diversity and issue-stuffing that I have been lambasted for criticizing in the past. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with diverse characters. Bring ’em on! But when that’s all you have as a selling point, it shows.
Personally, I’ve seen a LOT more below-average books released for which the only selling point is that they feature white people than ones for which the only selling point is that they don’t.
Well, if you want to take Sturgeon’s Law into account, 90% of everything is crap. ;-)
That’s probably true about all those below-average books with all-white casts, but I wouldn’t say the total whiteness is used as a selling point so much as their tired tropes.
It just constantly wears on me that a diverse author whose book isn’t great but gets pubbed anyway is presumed to have had a leg up because of her background when publishing statistics tell us the exact opposite. The mediocre white authors, who exist in droves, are the ones who really get a boost from their race.
That’s a bad assumption. I assume the POC authors have to write BETTER stories just to get a foot in the door.
I won’t take my speculations beyond my own experiences and observations in publishing. By which I mean, I’ve never been traditionally published by one of the Big 5 or its imprints. But I can tell you that multiple magazines, small publishers, and even major outfits like Harlequin have recently implemented explicit submission practices that favor and court authors who are not white heterosexuals. For example, Harlequin has a “Romance Includes You” mentorship program for authors from “underrepresented communities.” While I understand that publishing is still largely homogenous in regard to race, authors are ultimately individuals. The idea that a young, starry-eyed wannabe romance author with a dream and talent but few if any professional connections is ineligible for professional help just because of the color of her skin bothers me. At least Carina Press used to do first page critiques by blind submission lottery. Anyone could submit the first chapter of their romance in progress, and a small number would be randomly selected for a professional critique and advice on the blog. They should bring that back.
Likewise, a number of magazines I submit to outside of erotica have implemented policies of allowing self-professed POCs to submit more than one story per submission period when no one else is allowed to and/or having weeks set aside when only POCs are allowed to submit at all. I was also a bit floored that an upcoming science fiction magazine ironically called Inclusive Future Magazine is only accepting submissions from trans and nonbinary authors for their debut issue. That honestly doesn’t sound very inclusive.
These kinds of outright discriminatory publishing practices worry me as an author who believes writing should be judged by its own merits. So yeah, what I call “issue-stuffing and diversity stuffing” does look pretty blatant to me when I see these worrisome submission trends in action. It’s not hard for me and others to make the mental leap from, “Hmm… This magazine/publisher is actively seeking submissions only from a certain group, and now they have published a mediocre work that hits all of their criteria. Hmm…”
I certainly hope that wasn’t the case as to why A Lowcountry Bride was ultimately published. And I definitely understand why such an accusation would be grating. Finally, I’m always happy when an author gets published, regardless of the quality of the work. It’s not easy, and I respect that. But as a writer- and reader- there are deeper industry problems that I find grating as well.
P.S. If this is becoming too tangential, I wouldn’t mind opening up a topic about discriminatory writing submission practices on the Agora.
That is awful ♀️