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Sunday, October 6, 2013

ARC Reviwe: By Proxy by Katy Regnery

This one’s a tough one to rate for me… I just overdosed on wholesome sweetness, but not necessarily in a good way. Not that there is anything really wrong with debut author Katy Regnery’s BY PROXY, which kicks off her Heart of Montana series of small-town heartwarming romances—it’s a perfectly fine big-city-boy-meets-small-town-gal super-chaste Christmas romance—but it just wasn’t for me. The blurb sounded like a lot of fun, with the hero and heroine meeting for the first time in a tiny Montana town to exchange vows so their close friends serving overseas could be married by proxy, but it just had too much of a New Adult and inspirational vibe layered atop the sweetness for my tastes, and I never really connected with either of the protagonists.

The virgin heroine rarely works for me outside of historicals. I find it an especially hard sell in contemporaries because most authors seem to equate a lack of sexual experience with the absence of cognitive ability, as if the hymen were an impediment to intelligent thought. Ms. Regnery falls prey to this at times with heroine Jenny Lindstrom, a twenty-four-year-old teacher in her one-horse Montana hometown raised in a very conservative family and with three burly, overprotective brothers. Jenny’s about as traditional as they come (those Christian values really hit you upside the head!) and all refreshing small-town innocence to world-weary city-slicker hero Sam Kelley. One look at his handsome face in the courthouse after he is late for their scheduled proxy wedding and inexperienced Jenny is sunk, especially after Sam has to stay the weekend so they can fulfill their duties. Forced proximity is one of my favourite contemporary tropes, but, unfortunately, I found myself not really liking either protagonist in this one! Jenny felt overly provincial and in the beginning came across as staid and a bit of a coward, giving up her dreams of city life for the safety of home. I understood her a bit better after learning her backstory and why she returned to tiny Gardiner after attending university in vibrant Great Falls, and I liked how she learnt to go after what she wanted (namely one Sam Kelley) instead of what she thought was expected of her… but I still found myself wanting to reach through my Kindle and telling her to grow a pair. Except for the breakfast scene—that made me chuckle and want to high-five her, even if she was incredibly judgmental in her assumptions and behaviour.

Hero Sam Kelley I found to be quite the wanker throughout. On the fast track to the high life as a successful investment analyst, Sam wants nothing more than to take the vows for his cousin and get back to the glitter of the party life in Chicago. Those plans are derailed when he meets—and inevitably falls hard for—fresh-faced Jenny, who couldn’t be more different from his latest smoking hot but self-centred and ridiculously shallow ex. I’m all in favour of the heroine edging out the ex (because, hey, it’s romance!), but I felt the constant comparisons were a bit much and there wasn’t a single redeeming feature for the ex. What does it say about Sam as a hero that he spent a year practically living with someone whose only virtue were her looks and whom he knew from the get-go wasn’t one for the long haul?? With Jenny, he’s all tender and sweet, which was adorable and “awww”-inducing, but when it came to the end of the weekend, he was an uncompromising hardass: go with him to Chicago to see where the relationship goes (when he knows Jenny’s ties to her family and tiny Gardiner are incredibly strong) or nothing, because how can HE live in a one-horse town? Though he does grovel like a champ and I could relate to how he doesn’t know what he wants out of life anymore (and root for him when he does sort it out), I couldn’t get past the wankerdom enough to like him. I appreciate that he’s not the ├╝ber-alpha billionaire Christian Grey clone that populates much of romance lately, and he’s a nicely written, three-dimensional character… but he just didn’t work for me.

I really enjoyed the small-town setting and thought Ms. Regnery did an excellent job portraying the sense of community and closeness in Gardiner. She also does a great job introducing the secondary characters that make up the rest of the series—chiefly, Jenny’s big, burly Swedish brothers. I love Christmas, and though I always find it a bit odd to read Christmas stories in autumn, I definitely felt and enjoyed the Christmas cheer in the book and was even tempted to wish for some snow before I regained my senses. Ms. Regnery’s light, breezy writing style worked well for the sweetly romantic story, but I thought that we spent a bit too much time inside the characters’ heads being told about how they felt/acted/overreacted/didn’t act rather than shown. Ms. Regnery will likely work out these kinks as the series proceeds and she grows as an author, but I found that being told rather than shown took me out of the story this time around.

Though I’m clearly not the target audience for this story, BY PROXY should make a quick, enjoyable read for anyone looking for a wholesome, heartwarming, and super-sweet story with traditional Christian values. I’m a series completionist, however, so I may revisit Gardiner to learn Erik’s, Lars’s, Nils’s, and Paul’s stories in the future.

**ARC provided by Author**

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