Author: Natale Stenzel
Genre: romance novel
Series: Second Story Brides #1
Published: October 25, 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Not even the bride could deny a certain punch-line quality to her current situation: hard-nosed divorce attorney dumps her fiancé and her career to take a job selling wedding gowns.
Sydney Garfield has always approached relationships rationally—none of this emotional head-over-heels or opposites-attract business. Marrying Jack Kaiser is the smart thing to do—after all, he’ll be the “perfect” husband. But after a life-changing shake-up at work, Sydney abandons logic—and her fiancé—to chase the fairy tale.
Real-estate mogul Jack can’t believe the woman he’s head-over-heels for is ditching her hard-won success—and him—to work as a small-town shop clerk. That’s her idea of a fairy tale? Hoping she's merely in need of time, Jack follows Sydney to Smizer Mill, where he invests in the quaint coffee shop next door. Now, he’s got a few new challenges: make a failing coffee shop a success and convince Sydney that theirs is a romance worthy of a true happily ever after.
Reviewed by Danielle.
Romances are, by definition, a fantasy, and as such, require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. Afterall, no one asks why Gandalf didn’t summon Gwaihir to fly the hobbits to Mount Doom or why Dumbledore didn’t use the Time Turner to stop Voldemort from being born, and no one should ask who thought it would be a good idea to make a fluffy romance about wedding dresses into a traumatic story about stalking and violence against women. Except, no. “Fantasy” is not a buzzword to be used to handwave away criticism of weak plotting, poor characterizations, and flat out offensiveness. Fantasies have defined rules and Wedding Dress for Sale has none.
Sydney Garfield is standing in the middle of a bridal dress consignment shop, preparing to divest herself of the last remnant of her engagement when her ex-fiance, Jack Kaiser, bursts in. He has followed her through four COUNTIES, ostensibly because her brake light is out. Later in the book, it takes a character several hours to make it from St. Louis, where Jack lives, to Smizer Mill. At no point in a 2 hour drive did Jack think to TEXT Sydney and say, “Hey, I know you’re not speaking to me because we broke up, but your brake light’s out. Peace.” This is because Jack is, as he jokes, a stalker.
“Stalking is a term commonly used to refer to unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group toward another person” (Via Wikipedia, emphasis mine.)
Sydney is clearly uncomfortable with Jack’s presence as he berates her in front of Ginny, the store owner. He make cryptic references to “Murphy”, whom Jack believes is the reason for the break-up. It takes the entire book to unravel the “mystery” of Murphy, but I’ll go ahead and spare you the wasted hours, <SPOILER WARNING> Ted Murphy and Nita Murphy got a divorce, with Sydney representing Nita. They had the perfect marriage built on respect and admiration, and a perfectly reasonable divorce. But, some unspecified time later, Murphy went off his meds and threatened Nita with a letter opener. It turned into a media circus and hostage situation and apparently newspapers are blaming Sydney for the whole thing. Which is totes rational. Murphy’s in jail, Nita’s a heartless shrew, Sydney’s faith in marriage as an institution is shaken. </END of SPOILERS> After much cajoling, and his attempt to reverse psychology Sydney out of selling by taking over and doing it for her, Jack finally leaves and Sydney decides she can’t go back to St. Louis and takes Ginny up on a job offer.
Jack, lonesome without his ex to boss around, takes to calling her old office. He finally weasels out that she quit and becomes quite upset. He then drives to her apartment and harrasses a doorman until he discovers that Sydney broke her lease. Now in rational people land, if my ex, who underwent a traumatic experience and was being hounded by the papers, decided to leave town without telling me, I would probably think she was trying to get away from me and her old life. I might be worried, I might even call her best friend to make sure the psycho didn’t walk off with her, but I would not STALK HER SOME MORE. But then, I’m not real estate magnate Jack Kaiser.
Let’s stop for a moment. Stalking is a serious crime. In the best cases, it makes the victim feel vulnerable and afraid. It leaves lasting psychological scars. In it’s worst cases, it results in loss of life. It is NOT: going to your boyfriend’s house to confront him about cheating on you. It might be: following your ex-girlfriend, finding out confidential information on where she’s staying, inserting yourself into her daily activities to keep an eye on her, spying on her from the park... Yet, Jack does every single thing on the maybe list and is regarded as cute and romantic. He is not. Jack Kaiser is a predator taking advantage of Sydney’s emotional trauma from witnessing the stalking, kidnapping, and violence of her friend. Sydney needs psychological counseling, not a puppy, (which further increases her dependence on Jack.) The fact that everyone in the entire novel glosses over this, but jokes about what a stalker Sydney is, well...
As you may have guessed, Jack also moves to Smizer Mill. He buys into a coffee shop NEXT DOOR to the bridal shop and bribes the owner into teaching him to make mochas so he can take one to Sydney every morning. Honestly, from there until the last 20%, we have a rather standard romance. Jack wins back Sydney’s trust by being comforting, sweet, and bland. They walk the puppy, talk about Sydney’s fears like grown-ups, and eventually decide to see each other on a day-by-day basis. This ~third of the book is the only redeeming factor, and even it is marred with jokes about Sydney stalking Jack, a subplot about a hot vet that goes nowhere, and Ginny the psychic wedding dress saleswoman.
And here’s where we really go off the rails. Spoilers from here to the end, sorry.
Ginny has some sort of magical bride powers that tell her when people will get married and what dress they’ll wear. Ginny calls Sydney upstairs to “try on a dress for another bride who’s about your size.” It is of course, “The Dress” and seeing it convinces Sydney that maybe marriage isn’t so bad after all. But there’s a twist! The dress...
is empire waisted! (*gasp shock faint*)
You see, Jack and Sydney had one night of torrid passion before she broke up with him. Despite being adamantly against children, due to her own childhood of neglect since her mother was a teenage bride with no support and worked like a million jobs, someone forgot to wrap it. Based solely on the fact that “The Dress” has an empire cut, Ginny informs Sydney that she’s pregnant from this encounter.
Sydney is obviously a bit skeptical of her fairy/witch/alien boss, but Ginny has irrefutable proof! Syd loved coffee when she came to town and now she doesn’t! With this information firmly in hand, Sydney proceeds to have a nervous breakdown, but never considers other options to an unwanted pregnancy. She does treat us to a thrilling visit to Walmart to buy a pee test and a charming scene of cleaning up vomit after she, surprise, is totally pregnant! And now she has to tell the man with whom she’s only agreed to take things one day at a time.
Of course, trying to be smooth, Jack’s all, “Oh babies suck, let’s never have them, let’s not even move in together, one day at a time girl, you and me,” when Sydney tries to broach the topic. She gets mad, blurts out the truth, and starts to storm off when the final act hits.
Nita calls to let Sydney know Ted’s out of jail and looking for her. Jack gets all alpha-hole and goes off on a big rant culminating in, “Obviously, the authorities can’t protect you. So I will. You’re coming with me where I can keep you safe.”Sydney swoons and realizes that she loved him all along, she was just scared. But now she knows there’s no one better to marry than a hyper protective stalker. This realization turns her on and gives us some truly, TRULY wtf moments:
Jack Kaiser, hot real-estate magnate and adorably bumbling - heartbreakingly sincere - lover. Just wait until she got her hands on him.
“Just to clarify...You want to have sex with me? Now?” He gave her a shocked look. “We’re racing time against a maniac who threatens to carve up women and you’re talking about sex? Are you nuts?”
She widened her eyes. “So you don’t-”
“I mean, yeah, sure, let’s go.” Eyes feverish, he started yanking the shirt out of his waistband.
“God Jack, I can’t believe we stopped for sex when we had a maniac on our tail.”
Jack decides that they’re not safe at Sydney’s apartment, because reasons, so he hauls her down the street to the coffee shop. Please note that no one has called the police. Obviously Ted is already there waiting, which means they had sex for like two hours. Ted tries to explain that it was all a misunderstanding, he wasn’t trying to hurt Nita, when Jack lays him the fuck out with one punch. Real-estate magnate and apparent Navy SEAL, Jack subdues Ted, which leaves us with time for a misunderstood villain monologue.
“But that’s a letter opener.”
“Exactly!” Ted smiled with relief. “That’s what I wanted to show you. I didn’t have a knife when I held Nita. It was a letter opener like this one. I mean, I guess it could do damage, but it wasn’t a knife. So, technically, it wasn’t a weapon.”
Sydney eyed him with disbelief. “I don’t care if it’s a thick, pointy paper clip. It looks sharp to me. Were you going to stab me with it?”
“No. I just brought it with me to show it to you. Proof, I guess, to convince you I’m not a maniac. I wanted to explain and -” He sighed heavily. “I wanted to apologize.”
Well that makes everything OK! Anything else you want to tell us, Ted?
“And that’s when you discovered it was dangerous to go off that type of [anxiety and BPD] medicine without a doctor’s supervision. Violently dangerous? Psychotically dangerous?”
“Um...yeah. I really am sorry.”
I have four more long, awful quotes highlighted, but they all amount to the same icky apologizing with a huge helping of victim blaming and I fear I might go over my percentage of quotes for fair use “for purposes such as criticism, comment”. I’ll just leave you with this last gem.
“I’d give anything to have Nita pregnant with our child.” Murphy stared longingly at Sydney’s belly.”
Murphy leaves the coffee shop and the police chief shows up to say, yeah, you may have been too dumb to call me, but like a hundred other people did. I’ve got officers out there to take him into custody. SOMEONE WITH SENSE! I COULD WEEP! Of course, he let a maniac just hang out in the coffee shop until Sydney showed up, talk to her for an indeterminate amount of time without sending anyone in, and is going to arrest him for...nothing, because Sydney doesn’t have an OP against him and he didn’t do anything but hold a letter opener in her presence. Nevermind, I’m back to weeping for other reasons.
Sydney then feels this is the appropriate time to stand in main street and shout that she’s pregnant and we close out our hostage negotiation with a laugh track.. Cut to the epilogue and our heros are planning their wedding, again,, Sydney’s opened up a small law office in town, and Jack does one more gross, manipulative thing to twist the knife one last time. He’s agreed to sign a pre-nup, even though they don’t need one because they’re so in looooooove, but he’s written it himself! If they divorce, Sydney gets everything, but she must act as his lawyer in litigation. Let me repeat. She gets everything if she violates her professional ethics, acts in a conflict of interests, and represents her ex-husband in their divorce. This is his life insurance policy that Sydney will never be able to leave him. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS FUCKERY?
Sydney signs, the second in the series is set up, whatever. The book is done and so am I. Yay.