Soraya Lane tackles in her latest release Back in the Soldier's Arms. The conflict alone will likely keep some readers away, but I can't help but admire the hell out of the author for "going there."
Daniel and Penny Cartwright look like the perfect couple. Both in the military (he's Navy, she's Army) they met, fell in love, got married, and have a 5-year-old daughter, Gabby. The plan was to finish out their four years and settle into domestic bliss, but it didn't quite work out that way. Daniel finished his stint as a Navy pilot, and just as she was about to walk away from the Army, they threw the ol' Stop-Loss card at Penny. She was shipped back overseas, and Daniel was left at home to adjust to civilian life and being a single father. It's a rocky adjustment which leads to Daniel falling off the fidelity wagon with a one-time encounter. Now Penny is home on leave for their daughter's birthday, and to deal with the fall-out of Daniel's infidelity.
The story picks up with Penny coming home on leave, so the reader isn't privy to witnessing Daniel be unfaithful. Still, a hero who lets Mr. Happy out to play with others besides the heroine tends to be a deal breaker for a lot of readers. For me? It's all about context. This is a hero who isn't a jerk. He's really not. He feels like a complete and total shit-heel for what he's done. Plus, he loves his wife. The thought that she may leave him is enough to turn his stomach and he spends huge chunks of this book practically begging, on his knees over broken glass, for forgiveness.
For her part, Penny thinks she might be able to forgive Daniel, it's the forgetting part she can't deal with. Just thinking about him with another woman leaves her feeling hurt, angry, and totally unworthy. On top of this, she's been away from her daughter, and the adjustment home, for only one week before she has to leave again, is extremely bumpy. Gabby has only had Daniel to rely on in the parent role for some time. It's Daniel she wants. It's Daniel she turns to. And it breaks Penny's heart that, in some instances, her daughter flat-out doesn't want her.
This is a book about a hero who screwed up royally and spends the rest of the novel desperately trying to make things right. Naturally, it does not go smoothly. There are bumps in the road, there are angry words. I spent every single page of this story practically having my heart ripped out on a continual basis. The military "stuff," how that can effect a marriage, how it effects families, felt very authentic to me. Granted, I have no first hand knowledge of the life, living with someone in the military, but these characters, their conflict, didn't feel silly or trumped up to me. It felt painfully real.
If I had any one quibble with this story is that I wished it had had a stronger sense of place. I'm still not sure where this story was set. America (given the use of Stop-Loss), somewhere. Also, while I think the author does a very good job with her conflict, and making her hero sweat blood to get his marriage back on track, I think I wanted him to suffer more. Like say, the length of a SuperRomance as opposed to a Harlequin Romance. That being said though, the author still makes him work and it's not like he doesn't work his ass off to get a second chance with Penny.
There is no such thing as a "simple" or "easy" relationship. It doesn't exist. Period. Relationships tend to be one giant ball of gray. As readers we all have "deal-breakers." I have mine - certain things I can't forgive - and while generally speaking it's easy for me to say that infidelity is one them? Ms. Lane gives readers a story where it's not so easy to make that statement. It was, at many times, a very hard book to read, just because of the suffering these two people go through - both heroine and hero. It's a book that the author should consider entering in the awards circuit next year, and a book that will move mountains when it finds the right reader, at the right time. It's also a book that effectively cuts through the cookie-cutter fluffy label that gets slapped on category romance way too often for me to even be remotely tolerant about it anymore. It's too hard of a book for me to declare undying love for, but it is brave as hell. I hope the author is rewarded for it - whether it be with royalties, awards, or just really moving, awesome fan mail.
Final Grade = B+