You May Kiss the Bride
In this début novel from new author Lisa Berne, Gabriel Penhallow has to get married. He does not have to enjoy it, but it has to happen and all is set for his marriage to a biddable society bride. The problem is that he accidentally kisses Livia Stuart, who is as far from biddable as one can hope to get and his plan for a simple marriage of convenience begins to crumble before his eyes. You May Kiss the Bride is a slow-burn, opposites-attract tale about how what we think we want and what we need are often very different things.
‘The Penhallow Way’ is shorthand among the family for finding a spouse, producing an heir and a spare, and then living quietly separate lives. No need for intimacy, no need for warmth, just lie back, think of England and get on with it. This future has been so ingrained in Gabriel that he doesn’t even seem to care about the identity of the spouse and sees women as interchangeable. (Gabriel, let me say here, is not the favorite hero of all those I’ve ever encountered, although he did grow on me… slowly.) So when negotiations are underway for his marriage to one woman and he gets caught compromising another, this fazes him not a bit.
Livia Stuart is an orphan with few social graces but a lot of goodness. She’s the ward of her uncle who can think of no better outcome than for Livia to be married off to a Penhallow and the first scene clearly shows readers that Livia’s life is one in which things have happened to her rather than one she in which she has participated. As she’s not fit – meaning not socially adept and ‘up to snuff’ – to be a proper Penhallow wife, Gabriel’s grandmother takes charge of her tutelage, this heralding the beginning of the world’s longest engagement.
This book is a lot of things all at once and I struggled to review it because of that. It’s a story of two people who were abandoned at young ages learning how to love and how to actually be in a relationship with another human being. There’s also a thread of social commentary running through it; I got the impression the author was trying to make the point that society valued the wrong things about a person sometimes, and perhaps still does. For example, she posits that kindness is more important than social standing, and being willing to help someone in need is more valuable than knowing all the right hair styles and still being a cruel person. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the relationship between Livia and her so-called friend, Cecily. Cecily is the woman Gabriel was supposed to marry, and she spends much of the book attempting to undermine Livia, as she feels a Penhallow marriage is rightfully hers. The contrast between Cecily and Livia is stark.
I said before that the romance is of the slow burn variety – and so it is. Very. A lot of other stuff happens before they kickstart their HEA.
I am not a fan of angst or slow burns, so the pacing of this novel didn’t really work for me. What did work, however, was Livia’s relationship with Grandmama. It’s a slow evolution, but one which changes both women for the better. To expand upon that more would be to spoil a few plot elements, and so I will refrain, but anyone who enjoys cross-generational friendships will find a lot to love here. I also really enjoyed who Gabriel and Livia were at the end of the story and how they evolved together. The conclusion made the journey worth the slog through all the stubbornness.
I can’t wholeheartedly recommend You May Kiss the Bride, mostly because there were a few too many moving pieces for me to feel settled in the story and to really enjoy it. But there were things I liked, and I will look out for Ms. Berne’s future offerings.