Thursday, July 14, 2011

You Mean It's Not All About Me?

The glue that seems to hold the Harlequin Romance line together is the whole "light on sensuality" thing.  It's either "just kisses" or "behind closed doors."  Other than that?  The rest of it is up for grabs.  Points-of-view, modern, traditional, fluffy, flirty, sassy etc. etc. etc. 

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-


Donna Alward said...

You have given me food for thought.

I do know what you mean. There are times when I'm reading - and writing too for that matter - that I want to shout at the characters to wake up. (Actually reading one now where I just wish the characters would say what they mean, it would clear up a lot.) But that being said, most times I trust the author because I know that they'll GET IT by the end - you know, that whole moment of clarity. :-)

Main thing is you DID buy in. And you gave a really thoughtful review. I did mention you are made of awesome, right? :-)

Wendy said...

Donna: It's always good to hear re: the awesomeness :)

The great thing about the romance genre is that trust. It's a romance - I know I'm getting the HEA. A big reason I can go for those deep, dark angsty reads. I know it will all be "OK" in the end.

joykenn said...

Luckily I've never been divorced. (I tell my husband that reading murder mysteries is "research, just in case". It's worked for 46 years.) Unfortunately some friends who have been divorced have a ridiculously hard time in some cases getting actual money out of their ex. He falls behind, he's short this month, and so on while the kids need new shoes and the gas is almost cut off. She has to hire a lawyer and take him to court, he pays up for a while, the lawyer gets a big chunk of the back money and then it starts again.

Unfortunately some states are more helpful than others in enforcing child support and even then guys can move and change jobs and it takes a while to find them. Some work off the books and claim little income. Some make it their new hobby to torment their ex by hiding and avoiding payment. Its a harder than you think if the guy isn't interested in staying in touch with his kids. Sigh!

Wendy said...

Joy: Some of what you've mentioned factors in with this story, which is why I could roll with it. But I know some readers who really start to see red with this type of plot element. I chalk it up to being burned one too many times by books that handle it "poorly."

I will say, this sort of thing mainly irritates me when it's wrapped around the Secret Baby trope. We all have our reading quirks - fickle creatures that we are :)

Kate said...

I just wanted to mention...I've never seen a romance cover that consists of a man, a boy, and a spaniel. Maybe I'm out of the modern/cowboy loop, but that seems rather unique to me (or am I wrong?)

Wendy said...

Kate: When talking category romance - covers with man and child really seem to be on the upswing in several of the lines (Harlequin American and Harlequin Desire immediately leap to mind). But yeah, man, child AND a dog? What I liked about this cover was that the kid looked like an actual 5-year-old. I get tired of seeing babies all the dang time....

Kate said...

That's interesting. I don't read a lot of categories and when I do I tend to default to historicals, so this had given me a miss. It's a little strange to me to take the female out of the equation for the cover to give all the focus on the man and child, in a gender politics sort of way. But at least the dog's pretty cute.

*Goddess* said...

I used to read this line a long time ago but it bored me. Last week at the library book sale, I actually purchased a lot of them because of your recommendations. I'm telling ya, if they're crappy, I'm coming to YOU to collect my $1.50......for ten books....

Geez, ya can't beat that with a stick:)

Wendy said...

Goddess: And you'll still get a "boring" one on occasion. I read one like that....oh a couple months ago I think? Boring, to me, is the kiss of death in category. Way worse than an A-hole hero or ninny heroine.

The good news is that there are some authors in HR with LONG backlists. So if you hit on one you like in that batch, hopefully it will be an author with a few books under her belt. Oh, and if they all stink at $1.50? I could reimburse that! LOL