If you’ve been paying attention to me recently, you would have noticed my recent binge of Olivia Gaines’ Modern Mail Order Brides series. Her books can be characterised by how quick people are to accept romance in even the most unusual of situations. However, the thing I feel that Gaines does well is the Happily Ever After.
Recently, I allowed Twitter to feature Romance as a topic on my timeline, and now I’ve basically joined Romance Twitter. And I’ve followed Romance writers like Beverly Jenkins for years – because I keep mixing her up with Brenda Jackson – so I’ve enjoyed some of the Romance Writers drama, but nothing that didn’t affect Fiction writers as a whole. So imagine my shock when I stumbled upon a thread about how the big difference between a Romance and fiction with romantic elements is the use of the Happily Ever After.
Romance readers, like fanfiction readers – being in a genre that is so popular, but is never taken seriously – are particular about their categories. Don’t call it interracial if the couple is not interracial, mark that there is cheating if there’s going to be cheating, and, for god’s sakes, don’t call it Romance if there’s no Happily Ever After. And part of me thinks that the recent uptick in authors – especially those who mainly publish their works on Kindle – having to outright say that their books have an HEA really comes back to a bigger conversation of women writers being miscategorized because they are women.
But that’s a conversation for another day.
Olivia Gaines is my topic of the day because she writes Happily Ever Afters. And when I say she is good for it, she is good for it. The reason that Gaines even got on my radar is because of her Modern Mail Order Brides series, which is filled with HEAs, but I really appreciated the diversity of the stories that Gaines was telling. Admittedly these were all stories about black women marrying white men who lived in relatively small towns. However, Gaines managed to make each story something new.
I actually read the last two entries in the series first, but that won’t stop me from talking my way through the series. So, without further ado:
In North to Alaska, Amanda Perkins heads to Alaska to meet what should have been the man of her dreams, only to realize that he was an absolute liar. Thankfully, Riley Bishop comes to her rescue, but not before they’re both snowed in for the winter.
I don’t know if Gaines had always intended for this to be a series, but North to Alaska was a great opener. As bad as it was, I liked that Amanda had her dreams crushed and essentially had to fight her way to happiness in the beginning. If it had been smooth sailing from the jump, I don’t think I could have gotten into the series the way that I did.
The time that it took Amanda to get used to Riley and her caution about the whole situation was valid. She had been hoodwinked by what was supposed to be her fiance’, and would have spent the winter being abused had it not been for a mama bear looking for her cub. So of course, Amanda wasn’t too keen to jump in with the next guy to come up the mountain.
This was probably one of the longer books, timewise, in that Amanda and Riley were literally up in that cabin for weeks before anything really happened between them. It can also be noted that Amanda probably didn’t use the Matchmaking service that the other ladies in the rest of the series use – with 2 other exceptions.
Even though Amanda’s story is referenced later, it’s essentially a one off, because the only other situation that went bad technically wasn’t the fault of the two people being matched, or even the matchmaker. You get the idea that, had the matchmaker been involved, Amanda would have only gone to Alaska if Riley had truly been the one looking for a wife.
In Montana, Pecola Peters writes about mail order brides, but her stories tend to lack substance. After hearing the unbridled opinions of her unsuspecting readers, Pecola decides to make herself a mail order bride, if only to help her writing and do something new with her life. This leads her to Montana, and the kind eyes of Billy Joe Johnson. Pecola might never go back.
This book was for the literary babes, because the author admits that Pecola was named for a Toni Morrison character, and Billy Joe is too much of an English major not to be aware of that. The whole reason that Pecola even chooses him as a husband is because of how he writes to her. Imagine her shock when she finds her books in his library.
I think the thing that I liked most was that Pecola and Billy Joe were not immediately sexually compatible. I appreciated that Gaines added something that was so real for many couples to one of her stories. I could have done without having to know about why Billy Joe’s brother was so terrible, only to find that he was not the bad guy in the end. That was also something that really happens to people, but I had probably finished Amarie Avant’s Devil in Her Bed maybe two weeks before so that was too soon for me.
The added romance of Pecola’s brother and Billy Joe’s cousin was a bit interesting. I have actually never read a Black Man White Woman romance – despite them being shown in the media – and I think Gaines did well to make that particular relationship something I would care to get into. That being said I know Gaines does have some BMWW romances, but I think I’ll take my time making my way through all of her works.
Another thing I want to point out, and this is something I had noticed from the books I had already read, is that Gaines is very blatant about the races of her characters. She doesn’t try to smooth it out and pretend that these relationships could be commonplace. These are mostly city black girls moving out to the country to marry white men who, for the most part, barely interact with black people in their everyday lives. I’ll give her that it does not become a point of contention in these books, but Gaines has no problem serving up some awkward moments.
In Wyoming Nights, Darlene Patterson has mostly lost the will to live when her best friend decides that Darlene needs to try again. Cue several weekend trips of meeting several husband prospects until finally, Daniel Winstrom, the park ranger, comes into her life.
I think this falls under the Second Chance romance category, because Darlene and Daniel had both been married previously, and were both over fifty. This novel also has a connection to Gaines’ Serenity series, as some of the characters in this novel are building a small town not too far from where Daniel and Darlene live. This is probably also one of the only novels in the series where they don’t have a baby, and the only one where they don’t plan to.
This book centers mostly on Darlene, which I was fine with because her story is a bit interesting. We are made to believe originally that her first husband had this great love for her, and she had even come to love him, but it was ultimately that Mr. Patterson was just a really good opportunist. It was sad that Darlene missed out on having a relationship with her children and grandchildren, but I was happy to see that she was able to find new life with Daniel.
That being said, the scenes that came from meeting Daniel’s family and friends were definitely what made the book. I am hoping that these two characters show up in the Serenity series whenever I get around to giving it a shot.
In Oregon Trails, Kalinda Marsh had been reinventing herself since she was a child. Anything to get away from the reality of her parents’ relationship. So when Kalinda takes the chance to go be a mail order bride in the Oregon wilderness, it’s only par for the course of her life. Maybe the love of Paul Darton will be enough to free her from her past.
On the one hand, because of the location similarity, Oregon Trails reads like Wyoming Nights but with a younger couple. On the other hand, I really didn’t expect Kalinda’s story to go the way it did.
All things being equal, Hurley Lancaster is ultimately a trash father and a terrible mate. At no point, even in the racist South – and Kalinda is obviously an ‘80s baby, so there’s really no excuse – can a man be excused for having his lover and child live like second class citizens in his house just so he can maintain an image and keep them close. I don’t care how it goes, I absolutely could not reconcile it. This happens twice in the series, but I take the most issue with this one because Kalinda’s parents are still together even after she’s moved her mother away from her father and all of his bullshit.
And then there’s Paul’s brother, who should really be shot. The decision to send him away for therapy and rehabilitation after his accident doesn’t stop the fact that he is a serial rapist. Kalinda and her sister have their parents to blame for how their relationship turned out, but Paul’s brother is just terrible.
Paul’s relationship with his cousin is interesting to say the least, but it works out in the end. The townspeople are definitely characters who helped to make the book more interesting. That being said, the Happily Ever After had to go smoothly, and Paul and Kalinda’s families brought so much drama that their relationship was its own escape.
In Blind Copy, Mr. Exit picks up a stowaway on his way home from an assignment. Unable to deny the need to help her, Mr. Exit then rescues her mother and sister, not realizing how easily his life would change.
While Blind Copy is not a part of the Modern Mail Order Brides series, it’s actually connected to the next three books in the series, and a big part of why I made the decision to make my way through this part of Gaines’ fictional universe. I had actually read this book after I had finished Moonlight in Vermont, because the first chapter of Blind Copy was included as a preview.
I liked that Blind Copy starts out as an action book with some heart. Raphael Hoy, or Mr. Exit, is a contract killer who specializes in pedophiles, rapists, and exploiters. While his boss specializes in cults, the only reason that Raphael even gets involved is because of his stowaway, ten-year-old Karli Jebsen. Soon, Raphael finds himself with a fake family that feels more real everyday.
From what I gather, The Technicians, is a series about assassins being healed with the power of love in the process of saving people. There’s a scene in Blind Copy, where a few of the technicians gather with their families and reveal that most of the relationships had started out as covers. The fact that these people ended up falling in love and making lives together is just happenstance.
Blind Copy is what made me think that Gaines was all about fast romances with instant chemistry and a tidy Happily Ever After. I was three books in by this point, and that’s really what it was boiling down to. To be fair, Mr. Exit almost doesn’t marry Willow, Karli’s mother/aunt, but it really does work out in the end, and they make their own happily ever after.
In On a Rainy Night in Georgia, Ezekiel Neary goes to Georgia to decide what he’s going to do with himself after a life-altering wound. What he finds is a half-dead Aisha Miller ready to give birth on his doorstep. The only way they can survive this ordeal is to pretend to be husband and wife, but can they survive their own ghosts?
What happened to Aisha that brought her to Ezekiel’s door step is the stuff of mail order bride nightmares: she’s kidnapped by her fiance’s brother, then starved and raped for months. The amount of caring that Ezekiel has to do for Aisha even before she’s conscious enough to know him is beyond the pale. However, that wasn’t the stuff that gave me pause.
Aisha has to take on a new name, so Ezekiel names her for his dead ex-lover, Tameeka Robinson, with the added flair of Shenaynay as a middle name. So Gaines does weird stuff like this because, ultimately, the male leads are still white and wildly awkward about race. The thing that got me was the fact that the original Tameeka Robinson was Ezekiel’s former babysitter, and may have taken his and at least one of his brothers’ virginities when they were teenagers and she was basically an adult.
This wasn’t the first time that Gaines had thrown in a wild tidbit like that, but it was the first time I really stopped to think about it. It’s also not the last.
The Neary Brothers arc of this series is eye-opening to say the least. However, it does do a good bit of world-building as the first two brothers are recurring characters in Gaines’ The Technicians series – they both make an appearance in Blind Copy.
All things considered, this book probably should have covered a longer timeline. It’s unimaginable to think that Aisha could be okay with everything after about two weeks of pretending to be Ezekiel’s wife. The fact that they decided to stay on the mountain for a while is really unbelievable, considering how much had happened. But I’ll give Gaines that she makes sure to check up on Aisha over the next two books, so that we can somewhat come to believe that she’ll be fine.
In Buckeye and the Babe, Cabrina Robinson has been searching for her best friend, Aisha, for a year, and just when she’s tracked down the matchmaker that set her friend up, Gabriel Neary jumps in with a proposition. Come on a road trip with him to see that her best friend is alright. Somehow they get married, but they have time to figure that out too.
I don’t know at what point Gabriel becomes The Technician’s Archangel, but they don’t talk about it much here. Gabriel is just a CIA agent with a specific cover that he needs to maintain, and that’s really all that we’re getting. He reads similar to the guy we meet in Blind Copy, but it doesn’t quite feel the same.
A couple weeks out from reading it, I don’t like this story as much as I used to. Cabrina and Gabriel got on too well, too quickly. That may have been due to the matchmaker, but it just didn’t sit too well with me. Aisha/Tameeka’s damage is a good bit more pronounced in this book, but it’s obvious that she and Ezekiel are happy despite Cabrina’s misgivings.
Up to this point, the small editorial mistakes are still noticeable, but never so blatant as this: Carbina’s mother’s name is Constance at some points and Courtney at others. I’m not sure if Gaines was torn between the two names, and just forgot to take it out, or someone meant to cause confusion by leaving the mistake in.
That being said, the fact that the Robinsons are their own form of damage isn’t even considered until Cabrina’s story comes, as they were a revelation of safety and good parenting to Aisha/Tameeka.
In Bleu, Grass, Bourbon, DeShondra Leman had no intention of doing any more than the nasty with Isaiah Neary, but one night with no condom meant she’d find herself pregnant eventually. Good thing Isaiah’s serious about her.
To be quite honest, this was the book that I wanted to read the minute Gabriel and Isaiah met Cabrina and DeShondra in Vegas. I just did not care for Cabrina and Gabriel, and I was over Tameeka and Ezekiel when I finished their book. The fact that Isaiah and DeShondra don’t seem to show up in The Technicians is fine with me, because Gaines could have started a whole other series with the cast of characters in this book.
The interesting thing about this arc was how weird the three friends seemed to each other, especially after marrying the Neary brothers. I liked how DeShondra essentially told Isaiah that she had no interest in whatever lives her friends had found themselves in. I loved that Isaiah agreed, because he was done with it too.
So, when I read Blind Copy, it was revealed that the Neary brothers’ mother was a black woman. Things is, she’s never described as such the few times you see her in the Neary brothers’ arc of the Modern Mail Order Brides series. However, when Mrs. Neary tells her story, you realize that she’s actually white-passing. To be fair, I think Mrs. Robinson is also white or white-passing, but Gaines doesn’t do much to make this obvious. Just a comment here or there. The Neary brothers are all still basically white, but it feels like Gaines really buried the lead on that one.
I should also point out that there’s actually only two traditional weddings – as everyone else goes to the JP, has a skype call, or gets married in Vegas – in this entire series. DeShondra and Isaiah’s is one of them. Isaiah is also probably one of the few grooms that gets to really play up the Alpha male role. Like I continue to say, it all works out in the end.
In The Tennessee Mountain Main, Khloe Burgess was having the worst week. She was wrongfully suspended from work, her house burned down, her mother died, her boyfriend broke up with her, and she almost got mugged in New York. Thank goodness for that nice matchmaker lady, or she would have never found out about Beauregard Montgomery. He gave her life a whole new meaning.
I loved this book, but I would be a liar if I said that I didn’t have grievances. Apparently I wasn’t paying attention when this first came up, but Beau has tattoos on his head. Fine, but Beau lives up in the Appalachians with people who had little contact with the world outside of the media since the Civil War. The fact that not one Civil War flag showed up in this book is an absolute surprise to me.
So in On a Rainy Night in Georgia, I spoke about how wild it was that Gaines has Ezekiel having sex with his babysitter at a questionable age. Then here comes Beauregard with a story about how part of the reason he likes black girls is because of the fifteen-year-old who took his virginity when he was maybe thirteen himself (I say maybe, but I’m pretty sure he was twelve). I know these things happen, but it doesn’t make them okay.
Lastly, there’s a landslide at the end of the book, and Beauregard and Khloe almost die, but definitely lose their house in the process. Except, Beau has another, much bigger, house higher up the mountain. Beau gives a relatively understandable reason as for why they weren’t already staying at this other house, but one has to wonder how long he would have kept that from his wife if the first house hadn’t been destroyed.
That being said, I don’t even know why Khloe’s brother even showed up. He is absolutely unnecessary to the plot, even with the reveal of what happened to Khloe’s mother.
Yet and still, it all works out.
In Stranded in Arizona, Kevia Caplan just wants to make sure her younger sister, Dionne, isn’t marrying some serial killer before Kevia leaves Dionne to it. However, when Kevia wakes up on a bench in the middle of Arizona with only one bullet in her gun and the name of her sister’s fiance, Kevia finds herself in for an adventure of a lifetime.
I totally understood Kevia’s frustration with her sister. The situation Dionne left her sister in, just so she could “loosen up”, was ridiculously dangerous. I was ready to fight Dionne by the end of it. Did Kevia need to chill out a bit and give people a chance? Yes, of course. But, definitely not how Dione planned it.
Being that this was technically the last book in the series for me (being that it was the last one I needed to read to be caught up), I thought it was fitting that the husband ended up moving to live with the bride. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice that these women got to go live new lives, but Kevia liked hers and Brecklin, her new husband, was tired of living off the beaten path. It can be argued that Isaiah does something similar in Bleu, Grass, Bourbon, but it’s not the same because he bought and remodeled a whole new house for him and DeShondra, whereas Brecklin moved in with Kevia to fit into the life she had already built.
I liked that there was more than a passing connection to the other books, in that Brecklin and Kevia come across the sex fiends from Buckeye and the Babe as they make their way back across the country. We have no reason to believe that Kevia would have come across Gabriel Neary, considering that they work for different agencies, but this incident would have been right up her alley. I love that Gaines decided to have Brecklin give the sex fiends some “healing” advice.
I think I liked this happy ending best. It made sense for everything to be so chill at the end of such a crazy adventure. And, while that is ultimately Gaines’s specialty, I always appreciate the journey to get there.
In Maple Sundaes and Cider Donuts, Evan Eaton just needs to get married in order to fulfill a clause in his inheritance. However, when the presumed bride backs out, Leta Feldman goes in her place, if only to make sure that the bad guy doesn’t win. And while Evan and Leta do eventually work out, they find that bad guys come in many forms.
This was actually the first book I read in the series, courtesy of Bookbub. However, I think that if I had stopped on this one, I would have never bothered to give the rest of the series a chance. Evan and Leta’s chemistry just did not work for me, because Leta just wanted a chance at a new life, and Evan was making the best out of a bad situation.
Ultimately, it all worked out, but I really felt like it wasn’t Gaines’ best work. There was a good amount of action, and the gossip was great. The HEA was a bit too tidy though. The personal conflict seemed to mostly be with Evan, and, originally I felt that that was a disservice to the book as a whole, but then I realized that a few of the previous books were heavy on the brides’ POVs.
I appreciate Maple Sundaes and Cider Donuts, though, because it put me on to a series that I might have never gotten to. I also like that Gaines furthered the idea of this particular matchmaker being a bit magic. It might be another ten books before we really get into that part, but I appreciate Gaines for trying.
In Moonlight in Vermont, Fauvette Cassowary meets Angelo Franklin at a hotel bar on what should have been her honeymoon. They both decide to leave it alone, but fate, and some matchmaker magic, has other plans.
This was the book that really made me say, “okay, I want to see where Gaines was going with all this”. I honestly couldn’t believe that someone could write eleven books about mail order brides and it not be repetitive. Imagine my shock.
I like that Fauvette’s mother and Angelis’ mother both had their own share of drama that their children needed to work through. I liked that there was a journey to their Happily Ever After. I liked that there was counseling involved. I didn’t like that we never got to find out who was shooting at Fauvette, but I’ve realized that Gaines just likes to have some life-threatening drama thrown in once in a while.
I felt like the Happily Ever After in Moonlight in Vermont was earned. It’s just as quick as the other books, but it worked really well. It should also be noted that Angelis was predicted as a possibility from as far back as The Tennessee Mountain Man and Stranded in Arizona.
Going forward, it looks like Gaines is supposed to branch out from the BWWM books – if only for a little bit – when she gives Beauregard Montgomery’s sister a chance to leave Tennessee and try her hand at being a mail order bride. Interestingly enough, I’m pretty sure that was supposed to be number ten in the series, but Gaines ended up writing Maple Sundaes and Cider Donuts and Moonlight in Vermont instead. Whether or not Gaines will go back to Katherine Montgomery any time soon remains to be seen, but I’ll definitely be reading it.
Since I’ve finished this series, I’ve actually read the Love Thy Neighbor novellas that Gaines has written. They’re all quick, steamy reads about couples who all happened to be, or were at one point, neighbors. I really have to give it to Gaines, because she is so great at creating all of these interesting characters with great romances, and no two stories are alike.
I like that I can still recommend Gaines even after twelve books. That means that she’s a master and what she does, and not someone I could see myself getting tired of. I look forward to continuing with her.
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