Just Say Yes by Myretta Robens
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7851-X
When I first saw the galley for Just Say Yes, I thought I’d been sent some sort of Young Adult Regency. The typeface is huge; shrink it to a normal size and this book would be fifty pages shorter. Eliminate the padding in the plot, and it would be fifty pages, total.

The story is simplistic: heir to a dukedom, out to prove himself worthy, passes himself off as a steward and falls in love with the vicar’s daughter. This leads to patent disapproval on all sides from such stock characters as the pushy, social-climbing mama, the Duke, the unwanted suitor being foisted on our heroine by aforementioned mama, and various other types. The hero is good with animals. The heroine giggles a lot.

The story opens when adorable Cassie Hartwell has to pull a smelly dog off a man who is pinned down by the overly enthusiastic creature. The man introduces himself as Geoffrey Dorton, steward to the estate of Lord Marchbourn. Cassie takes him home to meet her father, the vicar. Her mother is snotty and rude, since he’s only a steward. Her father is vague. Geoffrey finds Cassie enchanting, etc.

Geoffrey is really the heir to a dukedom, but wanted a chance to prove he could actually do something other than loll around indolently, so when he was asked by his brother-in-law to check on an estate, he jumped at the chance. But Geoffrey knows that he’ll be the target of every matchmaking mama for miles (such as Mrs. Hartwell) if his identity is known. Hence the disguise.

Geoffrey and Cassie enter into a friendship that deepens into something more. But he can’t marry a lowly vicar’s daughter, can he?

That’s about it for the plot. There is a subplot involving Cassie dognapping some abused beagles, but it’s only a plot device to allow Geoffrey to come to the rescue. The rest of the book is merely caricature as Mrs. Hartwell frowns upon Cassie’s friendship with Geoffrey and pushes an odious alternative suitor at Cassie. Geoffrey’s father gets wind and is sternly disapproving. The vicar continues to be vague. Geoffrey’s deception is eventually exposed, with predictable results.

Just Say Yes is stock through and through. Cassie irritated me from the start. A grown woman comes across a man being pinned down by a large smelly dog, and all she can do is cover her mouth and giggle? Gag. She’s short and plump, but we’re told she’s adorable. Boy, are we told. Over and over. Unfortunately, her actions don’t make her “adorable” as much as they do “juvenile.”

Geoffrey is just plain bland. Surrounded by the stock cast, he fades into near-anonymity. Handsome nobleman, goodhearted, loves dogs. It’s paint by numbers.

There isn’t much to recommend in Just Say Yes. Sometimes when I read, a food analogy will pop into my head. This book is macaroni and cheese. It’s edible, and some people can eat it on a daily basis, but you know what you’re getting before you even open the box, or in this case, the cover. Feast at your own risk.

--Cathy Sova

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