Just in time for wedding season, Catch of the Day arrives with wedding themed novellas by Whitney Lyles, Beverly Brandt, Cathie Linz and Pamela Clare. This anthology offers readers a quick and uncomplicated dip into stories that stay tightly focused on the hero and heroine, while wading through bridal bouquets, pre-wedding jitters, extreme ceremonies, and ugly bridesmaid dresses. Like any wedding, Catch of the Day‘s crescendos are well planned and well carried out and conversely the low points are as painful and disastrous as a fumbled wedding cake.
The collection starts with Cathie Linz’s “Brides Gone Wild,” a story that is reheated romance in both the telling and the storyline. Pam Greenley is a small town florist who has to deal with five weddings in the same weekend (one wonders if five brides is the grand total of eligibly aged women in the entire town). Naturally her high school boyfriend, Michael, is a last minute wedding party replacement for one of the five weddings and is in town to alternately tempt and pester her. Then, a national bridal magazine wants to do a featurette on Pam’s business and sends first a reporter, and then a photographer, unannounced, both of whom show up during the busy five wedding weekend. National, glossy magazines are generally not so poorly run—or with such deep pockets—that writers and photographers are sent traveling about without first making plans. The magazine story is a small, and dismissible, element of “Brides Gone Wild” but it’s indicative of the story’s endemic problems: characters that lack believable motivation, situations that are forced, and forward motion that depends entirely on coincidence. Linz aims for goofball farce, such as a mother of the bride so notorious for beating people with her shoe, that even the police are leery of her, and a bridesmaid whose cheeks swell to chipmunk proportions due to tooth extraction and allergies, which, taken by themselves are fine. However, when the farce is coupled with the story’s craft flaws, the entire novella becomes dismissible.
By stark contrast, the following story, “Heaven Can’t Wait” by Pamela Clare is intelligent in both approach and execution. Lissy Charteris and Will Fraser are a passionate, engaged couple who agree to abstain from sex for the two weeks prior to their wedding. The agreement turns into a bet: if Lissy caves first, she’ll wear the super tight and slinky wedding dress that Will likes, and if Will gives in to temptation, he and his groomsmen will have to wear the dreaded mauve cummerbunds at the ceremony. It is a delightfully sexy way to torture themselves—and tease their partner—but also a way for Lissy to put aside the he’s-only-marrying-you-for-the-sex doubts Lissy’s mother has saddled Lissy with and a way for Will to prove himself to Lissy. A bride and groom are, perhaps, the easiest story route to take in an wedding anthology, but Clare lays their story out as a teasing sex romp that lends the couple edge and imbues their time on the page with heat. Clare steps easily from the world of romantic suspense—Lissy and Will are characters from Clare’s Extreme Exposure universe—to this contemporary setting by focusing in on her characters. Lissy and Will are both drawn through their actions and dialog which allows them to resonate and feel like real people. “Heaven Can’t Wait” wisely lacks the grit and villainy of Extreme Exposure, but is explosive nonetheless. If there is a complaint here, it’s that Lissy and Will linger far longer than the pages they come to life on. Clare’s next release can’t hit shelves fast enough.
The one entry to this wedding themed anthology that feels out of place is “So Caught Up in You” by Beverly Brandt. Tasha O’Shaunessey is an investigative journalist, who, as one would expect, makes assumptions right and left, when she isn’t busy jumping to conclusions. The object of Tasha’s assumptions is Quinn Hayes, extreme wedding planner/purported people trafficker/all-around-good-guy-who-allows-people-to-think-he’s-not-so-good. Quinn is Tasha’s little sister’s wedding planner. The wedding being planned, in the rain forest of Costa Playa, isn’t so extreme as it is simply inconvenient: inconvenient for the wedding guests, but more importantly, inconvenient for the story. The wedding feels like a cumbersome add on to an action story that centers around Jorge Acosta—a bad guy as clichéd as they come with dialog like, “So we meet again,” and “I could have you killed for that,”—and his vengeance filled quest to find workers, he suspects, that Quinn has helped escape from Acosta’s evil, evil clutches. The setup doesn’t allow for romance, and as such, Tasha and Quinn’s story feels as out of place and added on as the wedding subplot itself. That Tasha and Quinn deliberately have sex knowing that Acosta’s men listen through the door, and worse, that Acosta is dead in the next room, certainly doesn’t help matters. The sum total of the out-of-place-wedding, the rain forest, the human trafficking, and the preposterous bad guy, is a novella that doesn’t marry well with the anthology or offer enjoyment taken singularly.
Catch of the Day concludes with Whitney Lyles’ chick lit contribution, “The Wedding Party.” Lyle’s heroine, Meg, isn’t the standard issue plucky chick, rather she is the extremely put out bridesmaid. There’s the ugly bridesmaid dress, the other bridesmaids (whom she couldn’t have less in common with), and the countless pre-wedding activities that take up Meg’s time, try her patience, and drain her pocketbook. In the midst of all things wedding, Meg sets her sights on persuading her ex-boyfriend, Mason, to give their couplehood another shot. Sure, Meg was the one who called things off between them, but after more than a year of dating other men, she understands what a gem she had in Mason. Fortunately Mason is one of the groomsmen and Meg hopes the wedding festivities will allow them to rekindle their romance. The setup of “The Wedding Party,” getting back together with an ex, is infinitely compelling because Lyles takes a realistic approach to two people who were once in love, but now aren’t together. Meg and Mason do not quickly fall back into easy familiarity. They each have feelings that must be dealt with in their halting approach to reunion. It is this lack of contrived artifice that is the story’s strongest point. During Meg and Mason’s hesitant steps to get back together, Meg meets Bill, that most rare of all love interests, the man who shows up on the page without a flashing neon HERO sign above his head. Bill slips in subtly enough to, at first, dismiss his presence, then, later, question if his purpose is only to foil Meg’s rekindled romance. At the story’s climax Meg must choose between Mason, who she believes she mistakenly cast aside, or Bill, an all around nice guy. This is the point at which Lyles takes the too easy road by making the flawed Mason irredeemable, thus taking the tough decision out of Meg’s hands. The ending would have been markedly more satisfying if Meg had been forced to work for it. “The Wedding Party” remains the strongest piece of the collection despite the misstep ending.
As a whole, Catch of the Day is an uneven offering. The two strongest stories, “Heaven Can’t Wait” and “The Wedding Party” succeed on well executed fundamentals, proving that page count need not be a hindrance in crafting an enjoyable, well told story. These two stories deserve suitable and equally matched accompaniment; that they were coupled with such weak offerings forces Catch of the Day to limp down the aisle.
You can visit Whitney Lyles, Beverly Brandt, Cathie Linz, and Pamela Clare and purchase this book here and here.