Comfort and Joy
Comfort and Joy is a Christmas offering from Zebra that failed to put me in the holiday spirit.
Charles Rycroft is a member of the Boston creme de la creme. He’s inherited a publishing business, and as a hobby he collects fine art. One day, after making a particularly important art purchase, he is mugged and beaten, his art is stolen, and he is left for dead. When he comes to, about a week has passed. He is shocked to find himself married to Maeve O’Malley, the Irish serving girl who rescued him. Although Charles determines to divorce Maeve quietly, he is touched by her consideration for him and can’t seem to bring himself to leave her in the run-down tenement where she lives. He takes her home and resolves to pay her back by giving her the best Christmas possible. After the holidays are over, they will separate.
Maeve has been pushed into this marriage by her protective family, but by the time her husband awakes, she finds herself already in love with him. When she discovers the truth of Charles’s identity, she is somewhat overwhelmed. There is a great social gap between herself and her husband, and Maeve is not certain that anything can bridge it. But she determines to try and fit in as well as she can. She calls on her former employer and friend to help her learn all of the appropriate behavior and etiquette for her new station in life. But can she transform herself enough to please not only her husband, but his snobbish mother as well?
I can’t say exactly why this book never engaged me. It wasn’t badly written, and it had a number of elements that should have been intriguing. The time and setting were nice; would that more Americana romances were set in urban areas. Neither Maeve nor Charles was in any way objectionable. They were both decent human beings. I suppose I would have to blame all the niggles this book had for its less than stellar grade.
First off, Madden really overplayed the Irish card. Maeve is forever starting sentences with “Sure’n I’m…”. And she blathers on constantly about fairies and leprechauns and the magic land of Tir Nan Og. There have been a number of times when I have been charmed by Irishisms that authors have thrown into their books. I loved it when Nora Roberts used the brogue in the Born In series, and I found Dare, the Irish hero of Eileen Charbonneau’s Rachel LeMoyne, to be a delight. But somehow in this book the Irish was just so much blarney.
Second, there’s the amnesia/coerced marriage premise. It was asking for too much suspension of disbelief to buy into Charles’ not only being out of it for a week, but his inability to remember any of that time once he recovered. Ditto for the fact that Maeve’s family forced her to marry a stranger because propriety had been compromised while she nursed him back to health. If they were so concerned about her virgin eyes, why didn’t her father or brother do the below the waist clean up? The set up just felt extremely contrived.
Third, there’s the incredible amount of repetitious phrasing. For every time Maeve says “Sure’n I’m…,” Charles thinks, “Dear God,…” Throughout the whole book his every thought begins with this same “Dear God” exclamation, sometimes two or three times a page. I know Maeve is supposed to sound Irish and Charles is supposed to sound stuffy, but couldn’t Madden come up with a few more phrases for each of them and vary them a bit?
The description is similarly repetitive. One of the secondary characters is described as a “pale widow” every time she makes an appearance. Maeve herself is described as small and beautiful in every scene. In fact, this happens so often that Charles actually marvels over her beauty and diminutive stature each time he sees her, that I began to think of his attitude towards Maeve as extremely condescending. It was as if he loved her solely because she was beautiful. I began to suspect that he might very well have tossed her if she hadn’t looked so stunning all the time. The emphasis on her beauty somehow made me very uncomfortable.
Finally, the sub-plot involving an art theft never interested me, and Maeve’s involvement in tracking down the thief made her seem TSTL, especially toward the end of the story. She tended Charles when he was beaten and left for dead. She should know that the thief is dangerous. Yet, she overlooks this in her desire to please Charles.
For all these reasons I can’t really recommend Comfort and Joy. I think this book might have been better with some hard editing. Take out just the repetitious dialogue, phrasing, and description, and I might have given it a C+ or a B-. But as it is, it was too flawed for me to enjoy.
|Review Date:||November 30, 2001|