Cassandra Effington's family always thought she would be the one to get into trouble, but it was her identical twin sister, Delia, who created a scandal on her way to making the perfect match, while Cassie is still on the marriage market. She may not have caused a stir, but she is an unconventional miss who took up the job of redecorating the homes of her wealthy peers. When she's hired to renovate the home of the "infamous" Viscount Berkley, she finds the man attractive, but doesn't trust someone of his reputation to be a faithful husband. However, she does develop a friendship with him, so she can't resist the challenge when he makes the proposition that he'll find her the man of her dreams if she finds him the perfect bride.
Reginald Berkley isn't nearly as infamous as Cassie seems to think he is. In fact, he's fallen in love with many women over the years, but they never seem to love him back. He's had trouble attracting the right kind of woman, so he and his friends concocted a story about his fictional exploits in hopes that women who relish the idea of reforming a rake would take notice of him. When he meets Cassie, Reggie is certain that he's fallen in love for the last time, but convincing her that he's her perfect man isn't as easy as it seems. That's why he made his little proposition with every intention of rejecting the women she put before him. However, his plan begins to backfire when two people show up at his friend's house party who seemingly are the perfect bride and groom for each of them. Can Reggie find a way to fend off the woman who's now pursuing him, while convincing Cassie that her Prince Charming is really himself, or will he lose her forever when she misunderstands his actions?
I've slowly been making my way through Victoria Alexander's Effington Family & Friends series, with the goal of reaching a between-the-books novella that I didn't want to read out of order. That's mainly why I've stuck with it throughout eight novels that have been hit and miss with me. Well, that and I was trying to give the author a fair shake. But overall, these books have missed more than they've hit. Only one-third of the stories I've read by this author have made it out of the OK range, and unfortunately The Pursuit of Marriage ended up being yet another one that missed the mark. In fact, it's now in a tie for my least favorite of the series so far. For starters, I know that Victoria Alexander has a lighter, breezier style, but this story was farcical to the point of being mostly unbelievable for me. Both the characters and their relationship lacked enough depth for me to be able to genuinely connect with them, or truly feel and believe in their love for one another. Lastly the entire first half of the book is written almost entirely in dialogue with very little narrative prose or introspection. This was so frustrating, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to power through and finish it, but finally around the halfway mark, this changed. After that the mix of dialogue and prose was more equal, making it easier to read, but it still failed to really spark for me.
Cassie is an unconventional young woman who is described as eccentric. She has no trouble speaking her mind, and has very little filter between her brain and her mouth. Despite being a gently bred lady from an aristocratic family, she actually works as an interior designer, a talent she discovered when she helped her twin sister, Delia, redecorate her house in The Lady in Question. However, besides the "eccentricity" of working for a living and talking a bit too much, Cassie's only notable characteristic is that she has just discovered that she fears if she gives in to her desire for more adventure that it will lead to her ruination. But I never really understood why she has this fear, as there doesn't seem to be much, if any, motivation behind it. There's nothing remarkable that happened in her past, and although her brothers have always seemed to think that she'd be the one most likely to get into trouble, it doesn't seem that she ever really has. This is about as far as Cassie's characterization went. I didn't dislike her, but at the same time, there wasn't much to make her stand out to me either.
Reggie appeared as a supporting character in previous books of the series, and while his heart usually seemed to be in the right place, I have to admit that he often struck me as not being the sharpest knife in the drawer. I can't say that my opinion of him changed much after reading his story. Reggie has a habit of falling in love with women at the drop of a hat and getting his heart broken when they don't return his affection, so when he falls for Cassie almost instantly, he has a hard time convincing his friends that this time it's actually real. And to be honest, I didn't really see what was so different this time around, because the author doesn't really show how his feelings are distinct from all those other times, except that he knows he wants to marry her. To be honest, the fact that Reggie had "fallen in love" so many times in the past, made me feel like he was somewhat shallow and not mature enough to know what love really was. I also didn't feel like Reggie was being entirely true to himself. Underneath it all, he's a pretty sweet guy who definitely leans toward the beta side. Because of his sappy nature, he's had trouble attracting suitable women, so he and his friend concocted a story and started spreading rumors that made him seem more rakish, thinking that the challenge of reforming a rake would attract more women. He's pleased when Cassie calls him infamous, but of course that's not what she wants in a man - or so she thinks. Although Cassie eventually starts to suspect that Reggie isn't as "infamous" as he's reputed to be, he never does come clean about the ruse, which left me feeling like he wasn't being entirely truthful either.
Reggie and Cassie's relationship was equally lacking in depth as their characterizations. They share an immediate attraction, which Reggie embraces, while Cassie fights it, thinking he's unsuitable for her. Trying to stay close to her and prove that he is what she's looking for, Reggie makes a bet with her. He will find Mr. Perfect for her, and she will find Ms. Wonderful for him. Of course, I could see from a mile away that this harebrained scheme was never going to work. While I did feel some connection between Reggie and Cassie during the kissing scenes and intimate scenes, I really never did figure out exactly why they fell in love with one another. It's just kind of this magical love at first sight thing that didn't work well for me. Then in yet another ridiculous scheme, Reggie tries to engineer a surprise wedding, and when a guy like him who doesn't think things through very well starts planning, things are sure to go awry, in this case in a very predictable manner. And yet at the same time, what does happen is bordering on absurd and didn't make a lot of sense to me. By then, though, it was the end, so I didn't really care anymore.
Victoria Alexander has some quirks to her writing style that have annoyed me in previous books of the series, but this one was a bit over the top. I already mentioned that the first half was nearly all dialogue, which was exhausting for an introvert like me to read, not to mention lacking in depth. There literally was almost nothing of note that happens during those pages, because it's all just talk, talk, talk. Some of the dialogue is redundant, too. I tired very rapidly of Reggie's friend, Marcus, reminding him over and over that he'd vowed not to fall in love so quickly again. Then there was the extreme overuse of the phrase, "I see," which nearly everyone in the book was uttering on a regular basis. I also got bored with the overuse of "perfect," which I think was supposed to be light and witty, but simply annoyed me. And don't even get me started on my overexposure to characters sighing. If I read "blew a long breath" or some derivative thereof to indicate this action one more time, I thought I might scream. I kid you not, I could have chosen just one of these overused words/phrases to play a drinking game and gotten quite soused. If I'd used all three, I would have wound up with alcohol poisoning.:-) I couldn't help wondering where the editor was on this.
So the bottom line is that I think The Pursuit of Marriage requires a reader with an appreciation for the particular type of humor it contains, and I'm not that person. I'm not a stick in the mud and I feel that I have a decent funny bone, but this was just too ridiculous and farcical for me to genuinely enjoy it. I suppose it did have some mild entertainment value, at least during the second half, and I have read books that were far worse, which is why I didn't mark it any lower. But I simply didn't connect with the characters sufficiently for them to draw me into their love story in a meaningful way. I do wish that I could have, and especially that I could have connected better with Victoria Alexander's writing in general, as I met her once and she seemed like a nice lady. However, every writer's work is not going to resonate with every reader, and I think this is a case of writer and reader being an unsuitable match. Since I've worked so hard to get to it, I'll definitely read that novella I mentioned earlier, which is the next in the Effington Family & Friends series. But after that, all bets are off. I'll probably be putting Ms. Alexander on the back burner, or possibly even dropping the remaining books in this series and any others on my TBR pile altogether.
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