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TBR Challenge: The Bridal Veil by Alexis Harrington

Sensuality rating: Lightly Steamy

(This was a difficult challenge for me because I don’t much like holiday stories. That fact became extremely obvious when I searched my paperbackswap TBR listing for Christmas books — most of what showed up turned out to have been already purged, and the remaining books became almost instant DNFs. I then looked through GoodReads listopias of best holiday books and saw mostly 1 and 2 star grades from myself. 

Recents events made the thought of attempting another obnoxiously cheery Christmas read intolerable, so I went searching in my historical TBR cabinet — the genre which needs the most help — hoping to find something with any connection to a holiday. And a random glance at a page in this book showed a reference to…. Jacob Marley! Good enough.)

Out of work, money and family, Emily Cannon takes the place of her recently deceased sister, who had been going to Oregon as a mail-order bride. Farmer Luke Becker had been looking forward to marrying the petite, dark-haired Alyssa – in his mind, expecting her to look just like his beloved dead wife — and is aghast when the tall, plain, straw-haired Emily suggests he marry her instead. But Emily has a card up her sleeve: she’s a teacher of deportment, and Luke’s young daughter Rose desperately needs to learn some civilized manners.  And so they marry, though Luke warns Emily that it can never be a marriage involving love.

As Emily begins to make a place with Luke and Rose, despite the fierce hostility of his former mother-in-law Cora, she begins to bloom. In her family she was always the plain, sensible sister, but Luke starts to notice her quiet grace and elegance. And while her civilized touches make their home a more attractive, comfortable place, she learns to let go of her too-rigid insistence on proper etiquette.

There’s a tender wistfulness to this story that I loved, embodied in the symbolism of the bridal veil.  Emily’s wedding is too hurried for her to even wear the veil, an heirloom which she had fantasized would make her look beautiful. She’s both admirable and pathetic, as she tries to sublimate her desires for emotional and physical love in duty and propriety.  In some ways, Luke is in a similar situation; although he’s always been attractive to women, his life hasn’t led him to expect much for himself. He’s just trying to support his family and be a good father, without hoping much for his own happiness. It’s very satisfying when these two both discover what they have to offer and what they can find together.

After the fact, I don’t think it was a coincidence that I picked up this book to examine.  I find Americana romance soothing; it values home… family… hard work… community… cooperation… endurance. The quiet, homey virtues, the ones that a major tragedy always highlights.  I give The Bridal Veil 4 stars, though I’m tempted to give it 5 because it held my wandering interest on a terribly sad and upsetting day. It’s out of print, but inexpensive copies are readily available, or it can be bought for Kindle here or for Nook here.

Originally published by St. Martin’s Press. Reviewed from owned copy, probably acquired at paperbackswap