Friday, May 10, 2019

Review: A Baby to Bind His Bride

I'm at the stage in my life where I'm past the point of apologizing for what I like to read. I'm a grown-up. I understand that I like some problematic stuff. I recognize it's problematic and move on.  Such is the case with Presents.  Presents tend to trigger the "pure fantasy" part of my brain. I don't read them as being "real world." They operate in a fantasy, fairy tale world (at least for me - I can't speak for other readers of the line).  But, to be honest, Presents is a minefield kind of line. There are some that are really awesome and some that are regressive to the point where I feel dirty afterward...and not in a good way.  A Baby to Bind His Bride by Caitlin Crews is a rarer bird though. This is a book that wants you to think it's progressive...but, it's really not.

Susannah married billionaire Leonidas Betancur when she was a sheltered and naive 19-year-old.  Theirs was a marriage arranged by their families. Leonidas, being a jackass Presents hero, hops on his private jet, ON HIS WEDDING NIGHT, to broker a business deal, leaving his wife behind.  OF COURSE before the consummation of the marriage because, sheltered and naive 19-year-old = virgin bride.  Anyway, his plane goes down in the Rocky Mountains in a fiery crash, and while his body is never recovered, it's presumed he's dead.

Fast forward five years and Susannah has morphed herself into "the Widow Betancur."  Leonidas' family is a nest of vipers, and in name of protection, she reinvented herself into the consummate widow.  She lives in black. She evokes the memory of her dear departed husband, never mind she was married to him for less than 24 hours.  She's no man's pawn and since Leonidas' "died" she's been running the family dynasty.  But she's tired and desperate for freedom.  And to be free she needs to finally get answers - because she's not convinced Leonidas is dead.  That's how our story opens.  She finds her husband living in a religious compound in the mountains of Idaho with a host of acolytes who think he's a god.  If that isn't the perfect metaphor for every Presents hero EVER, I'm not sure what is.  Anyway, Leonidas has amnesia (because OF COURSE) but once he sees Susannah, and hastily divests her of her virginity (because OF COURSE), the light dawns and most of his memory comes back.  But what will happen when he finds out his wife only found him in order to divorce him?

This is a Presents, so yeah, the plot is preposterous.  But that's kind of their thing.  Why Susannah felt like only a divorce would "free her" is never explained to my satisfaction but I loved this idea of a girl who everyone gives zero credit morphing herself into this ball-busting widow.  Unfortunately, we never really see that in action.  Oh sure, the author tells us about how she thwarted Leonidas' very randy cousins and kept his Evil Mother at bay - but Leonidas is in the picture from Chapter 1 which means he's the one protecting her throughout this story.  No seeing Susannah busting heads in the boardroom.  No seeing Susannah stand up to her parents at a society function.  No seeing Susannah have a darn backbone.  No, instead what readers get is Leonidas' kidnapping Susannah once he finds out she's pregnant because there's no way in Hell he's going to give her a divorce now.
"The marriage, the Betancur name, all of that is noise. The only prison you need worry about is me, Susannah. And I will hold you forever."
Yeah, no.  Then, to add insult to injury, eventually Leonidas lets Susannah leave the isolated Greek island, she jets off to Australia but comes back to give some big ol' speech about how she's always loved him (why, exactly?!) and he does next to nil in the groveling department.  But hey, it's OK because at the end of the story the author tells the reader that they're now running the empire together (oh, I'm supposed to think that's progressive!) but Susannah, naturally, squirts out a baby boy.


Look - have I liked problematic as f*ck Presents in my day?  Yes. Yes, I have.  But don't spin me a story that has the window dressing of "progressive" and "feminist" and then fall back on regressive Presents stereotypes.

You know, I finished this book a few days ago.  And back then I slapped it with a middling C grade.  The author knows her way around the format and line, plus it's a well executed story from a craft standpoint.  But the longer I spent away from this book the more annoyed I got.  Look, does romance have a problem with reinforcing traditional gender roles?  Yes, of course it does.  But don't wrap a story in the trappings of progressive and "different" and then...revert back to this nonsense.  Just stick with the nonsense right out of the gate.  I actually prefer that.

Final Grade = D+


Miss Bates said...

Hear, hear! I'm a fan of the integrity nonsense too. I don't read Presents for its feminist viewpoint. I read it like "wish fulfillment". Sex, love, vindication, and a new wardrobe. I don't judge; like you, I own its problematic nature and enjoy the heck out of it.

azteclady said...

By golly, yes. Every new-to-me romance author who writes a novel that pretends to be progressive by telling us how the heroine is accomplished, independent, successful, a ball-buster, then never shows it, ensures I don't read the author again.

Wendy said...

Miss Bates: There's a fine line of jackassery I'll put up with in Presents, and when the author can walk that line - oh, it's a wondrous thing. This book wants to be walking that line but...nope. Just speeds right over into This Hero Is Too Much Of A Jackass and Never Fully Recognizes That Fact territory. I mean, I guess I should have known when the book opens with him being "the god" in a religious sect compound. Like, duh Wendy.

AL: The sad fact is that it didn't really sink in for me until towards the end of the book. I was all like "She's strong! She's fierce!" and then the light dawned and I was like, "Wait, did she actually do ANY of that ON page?" No. She doesn't. I kept waiting for her to cut him off at the knees and she never does. Oh, what might have been!

lynneconnolly said...

Yeah, and yeah. I read this one and it was at first really amazing, because I didn't think she could get away with this storyline. But she's Caitlin Crews. And she very nearly did.
I'd have loved to see her working with Leonidas, and maybe coping with his culture shock returning to society.
I do know that the editors at Presents have a very heavy hand, so maybe something ended on the cutting room floor, so to speak. But I was disappointed with the spineless heroine in this one.

Nikki said...

I've read a few by Crews and liked them, but this one doesn't sound like it makes the cut. Therefore, I'm out.

Wendy said...

Lynne: I wanted much more from the heroine because the backstory the author lays out IS really intriguing. But instead it reverts back to standard issue HP and...meh. This really could have been something interesting and different and it just left me feeling deflated.

Nikki: Mileage will vary, of course - but yeah. I felt like I was set-up to expect one thing and instead I got the same ol', same ol'. The whole thing felt like a missed opportunity.