Thursday, July 14, 2011
You Mean It's Not All About Me?
What I've noticed about Donna Alward's books is that she seems to go for angst. I happen to like angst, but what I've really appreciated about the small sampling of her books I've read thus far? It's all highly believable angst. This stuff could happen in real life. Case in point, the baggage both hero and heroine are lugging around in A Family For The Rugged Rancher (I know, I know - dippy title.)
Luke Evans needs help. His two younger sisters have gone off, married, started families of their own - which means he's the one running the family ranch by himself. Harvest is coming up, and he's overwhelmed. What he needs is a housekeeper. Someone to cook, clean, do his laundry, since he's working sun-up to sun-down out in the fields. Since one of his sister's is nagging the hardest, he leaves it up to her. She hires an agency to do the looking, and they choose Emily Northcott. The fly in the ointment? He didn't know she was coming, and that she'd have 5-year-old son, Sam, in tow.
Emily's now a single mother thanks to her husband deciding one day that a wife and kid were holding him back. The savings account is shrinking and she needs this job. It was a mutual decision by her and Scum Bag Ex that she'd stay home with Sam. Well now it's 5 years later, he's gone, and she's finding it difficult to find work with a 5-year gap in her job history. Being a housekeeper wasn't exactly her life's ambition, but she's taking the boat that's most sea-worthy.
Luke has closed himself off emotionally - so much so that his reaction to Sam makes Emily suspect that he just doesn't like kids. He raised his younger sisters, he took on the responsibility of the family farm, all because he had to. And it's the reason that he had to that haunts him. He doesn't want anyone he loves to be faced with the kind of choices he's had to make, to witness what he's had to witness.
This is, in some ways, a hard book for me to grade. First, there are some stumbling blocks here that may annoy some readers. Emily did take her Scum Bag Ex to court, but he's still not coughing up the child support, and she's...not doing anything about it. I will say the author gives a slightly more credible reason for this than most, but this tends to be a hot button for a lot of readers, regardless of the reasoning. I was able to roll with it, mostly because I know jack about the Canadian courts (this story takes place in the Alberta province).
Also, Emily is a very traditional heroine. She liked being a staying home Mom. She has no regrets. But she does spend a good chunk of this story cooking and cleaning. But hey, that's her job. And frankly, I admired her for taking this job because she needed one, and it made the most sense considering her work history (or lack thereof). Her ex made her feel worthless, like what she did had no value, so she's determined to right the ship and gain some self-worth. She also has her son to think of.
Luke is all gruff exterior, but is really a scared, lonely man. His "logic" behind why he's shunning any romantic entanglements is slightly cracked however. I could almost understand it if he were an only child, but he has two sisters who have married, had kids etc. So what's working for them, can't work for him? Now this being said? The author writes all this conflict well enough that I could see where both Emily and Luke were coming from. To a certain extent, I think we can say I understood them. If I were their "real life" friend? I'd tell them both they were being stupid - but I could "see" why they felt the way they did about certain things. Look, this is a major gray area when talking books. Either you buy into it, or you don't. And I bought in. Take that for what it's worth.
At the end of the day, I appreciated that that author gave me an angsty read without being over-the-top. The themes in this story are pretty universal. Shouldering responsibilities, taking care of your family, feelings of self-worth - these are all things readers can understand and get behind. It's the matter of how well we connect with the characters that can determine how successful the story is for us. And with this one? I connected. Certainly, there are things I would have done differently had this all been happening to me, personally. There is advice I would have given to these characters. But you know what? I wasn't a character in the story, and it wasn't about me. It was about them.
Final Grade = B-