Title: First Comes Marriage
Author: Shira Anthony
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspun Desires
Pages/Word Count: 262 Pages
At a Glance: Shira Anthony puts the cart before the horse, and then proceeds to charm her readers as we watch Jesse and Chris fall in love.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Their marriage was supposed to be all business….
When struggling novelist Chris Valentine meets Jesse Donovan, he’s interested in a book contract, or possibly a date. The last thing Chris expects is a marriage proposal from New York City’s most eligible bachelor!
Jesse’s in a pinch. To keep control of his company, he has to marry. So he has valid reasons for offering Chris this business deal: in exchange for living in a gorgeous mansion for a year, playing the doting husband, Chris gets all the writing time he wants and walks away with a million-dollar payoff. Surely Chris can handle that. He can handle living with the most handsome and endearing man he’s ever met, a man he immediately knows he wants in the worst way and can’t have. Or can he?
Review: Shira Anthony’s First Comes Marriage is the epitome of category romance—the meet-cute, the setup, the drama, the wooing, the happily-ever-after—and I enjoyed every last word of it.
Following in the tried-and-true footsteps of your mom’s Harlequin romances, Dreamspun Desires and the authors contributing to the line are giving new life to some of the time honored tropes in the romance genre. First Comes Marriage is such a blatantly wonderful feel-good read that I couldn’t help smiling and sighing just a little the more I got to know its main characters, Chris Valentine and Jesse Donovan. The title of the story itself is just adorable, playing on the schoolyard rhyme every kid sang or heard at one time or another growing up; although, doing things more than a little backwards is an indicator of the conflict these men are getting themselves into. Jesse’s proposal happens well before the k-i-s-s-i-n-g or the love, mostly because it was made approximately five minutes after he and Chris met. This particular merger and acquisition is more a necessary business arrangement for Jesse than it is a ’til-death-do-us-part proposition.
For a plot and resolution this foreseeable to work, it needs strong characters we readers can invest in, and I’m thrilled to say Shira Anthony got the job done, spot on, with Chris and Jesse, as well as their supporting cast. In short, I really liked these guys and wanted them to stay the course. Chris’s steadfast anti-marriage stance along with Jesse’s decision to lie by omission supplied the plausible setup for this plan to emerge, build, evolve. And then, of course, when lies, truth, evasion, and the dynamics of what Chris and Jesse want and don’t want and can’t admit to wanting play out, we get the logical conflict anyone who isn’t Chris or Jesse could see coming light years away, wrapped up in an idea so full of reasons to fail. What Anthony does, though, is begin to build a friendship between them, and their chemistry as friends is so lovely that their falling in love was just a no-brainer. At least for us readers to see. For Chris and Jesse, however, it wasn’t quite that easy.
One of the characters that ended up surprising me in a good way is Jesse’s step-grandmother, Wenda. Where Shira Anthony could have crafted Wenda’s role as nothing more than a convenient stereotype, I love that her subtle portrayal played into the family dynamic not as Wenda truly was but as who Jesse expected her to be, and I enjoyed every single scene she and Chris were in together. Jesse’s upbringing and the loss of his beloved grandfather informs each aspect of his adult life—both he and Chris are just a little bit broken, in fact—so the strong women in their lives (Chris’s mom is great too, as well as Marcie, Jesse’s chef) were a welcome addition to the story. Of course, there has to be a shrew in this brand of storyline as well, First Comes Marriage being no exception, but this character was more annoyance than threat, so any over-the-top angst was kept to a minimum, thank goodness.
From cute little seductions to solicitous caretaking to incredibly romantic gestures, I bought into this story in a gleeful way. I admittedly don’t read much standard fare romance, but when I do, I want a story and characters that charm me straight along into the happy beginning. Shira Anthony succeeds at this in a most delightful way.
You can buy First Comes Marriage here: