A Tailor-Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer
I don’t read a lot of romance. I tend to prefer my romances as subplots to a greater story; they seem more organic that way, and tend to avoid the cripplingly annoying heteronormativity that seems to place itself about shin height every time I open a book that markets itself as mainly romance. (Not that I don’t run into it in other places.) But I do appreciate the light, fluffy, and honest quality of a lot of material marketed as such; it’s comforting to know that your leads will end up together in a story that won’t challenge your view of the universe. (Which is why the heteronormativity bugs so much; my view of the universe involves telling it to kindly go die in a fire.) A Tailor-Made Bride sounded cute, and then it was free on Amazon.
A Tailor-Made Bride is set in 1881, when dressmaker Hannah Richards opens her own store—a long-time dream of hers—in Coventry, Texas. Richards is eager to bring a little beauty to the town, but Jericho Tucker, the livery owner across the way, thinks Hannah is bringing the temptation of vanity instead. Hannah and J. T., as he’s known, immediately butt heads over the value of beauty in a Godly life, but their conflict is soon complicated by economics, matchmaking, and, of course, their growing attraction to one another.
While I don’t believe in love at first sight, I do believe that there is a moment when you realize you are attracted to someone, hence the concept. But I don’t think there’s such moments for Hannah and Jericho. Yes, there are two moments where they realize that they love one another, but that’s different—that’s later in the process. But that initial moment of “Oh! I like them like that!” is important; removing it implies that a character considers every available person who corresponds to their sexuality possible partners. And I’m pretty sure you sexual types don’t work like that, but hey, what I do know? As you might be able to guess, Hannah and Jericho never really have that first moment; from the time they meet, they’re constantly thinking of each other in flirtatious or romantic ways. While Tucker’s rescue of her from a staircase could easily serve as a starting point, it really isn’t. But otherwise, the romance builds nicely, the two play off each other well, and it’s nicely chaste—after all, this is a specifically Christian romance.
The conflict between Hannah and Tucker on beauty in a religious context was what actually drew me to the novel (though it’s so light and fluffy I hesitate to call it that). Hannah believes that if God wanted everything to be plain and efficient, he would have made the world so; Tucker has seen firsthand what greed and vanity can do to a person, since his flighty mother abandoned the family to go play mistress to a wealthy man. The two discuss and ponder the issue, but Hannah’s worldview ultimately comes out on top and it’s part of Tucker’s character development that he realizes that choice plays a huge factor in this. It’s a nice message and an interesting angle beyond straight-forward Christian romance—again, I rarely read romance in general, so I can’t comment on the subgenre as a whole. I do have to admit that there was one thing that both made my skin crawl and undercut the message; at one point, Hannah considers how validating it is to have one’s beauty noticed by a man. Personally, I find the idea of dressing up and being lovely not for yourself and your own desires weird, and, elsewhere, Hannah makes it absolutely clear that she’s providing beautiful, practical, and modest clothes, not immodest and flirtatious clothing—the clothes are beautiful because Hannah believes she has a God given talent to bring beauty in the world. (In that way, she is not unlike Austin Scarlett, a designer from the first season of Project Runway, who also believes he’s here to put beauty into the world.) So that small detail undercuts what Hannah’s explicitly working towards. Yes, it’s a small detail, but it’s an enormous stumbling block that shows a lack of consistency.
There are other things; I have to admit to bursting out laughing when Hannah, a woman in 1881, begins her mornings by working out—not by simply taking her constitutional, but lifting weights. Although that probably had to do with the fact that the novel presents two-pound weights as challenging more than anything else, as Witemeyer spends a lot of time explaining and justifying Hannah’s calisthenic routine—she was a sickly child, her mother found a doctor who prescribed this sort of thing, and she’s kept at it ever since. It even becomes the focus of a romantic scene between Hannah and J. T. I know that it’s probably historically valid, but it seemed so… odd. Also, when Hannah and Cordelia, J. T.’s sister become friends, a makeover ensues. Now, it’s been established that Cordelia wears the most practical of practical clothing, and I would have been perfectly fine with a makeover including a pretty new dress and a new haircut. But Cordelia’s makeover involves weight loss in a manner that never questions the idea that Cordelia would have to lose weight to be attractive to the beau of her choice; in fact, J. T. even wonders if she’s getting sick, even as Hannah and Cordelia delight over taking in seams. I expected heteronormativity in a book set in 1881, but the extrapolation of weird modern views about women’s bodies onto that time period was, while certainly not as infuriating, definitely a little unsettling.
Bottom line: A light and fluffy period Christian romance that looks at the role of beauty in a Godly life, though it can be inconsistent and the way it extrapolates weird modern views about women’s bodies onto the late 1800s is a little unsettling. Ultimately forgettable, but a nice enough to waste time with.
I got this book for free during a promotion on Amazon.