Saturday, May 25, 2013
It Takes Two To Tango
The follow-up to her strong debut novel, Reservations For Two, Jennifer Lohmann takes a big step forward with, The First Move. This second book in a series features one of my very favorite tropes, the complicated, emotionally prickly, wounded heroine. It's also a trope that is notoriously hard to pull off, mostly because romance readers are a fickle lot. Oh sure, we love our warped, screwed-up heroes, but the minute a heroine starts exhibiting anything of the sort she's a vile bitch who doesn't deserve him. To which I say - pfft! What Lohmann does with this story is very smart. Yes, her heroine is closed off, emotionally stunted, and kind of a bitch at times - but oh her back-story! It's really heartbreaking.
Miles Breslinn cannot believe his eyes. Here he is, at his ex-wife's wedding and who should he run into? None other than Renia Milek, the girl who populated every one of his teenage fantasies in high school. She was the pretty, wild-child party girl. He was a dork, which meant she didn't know he existed. A sad fact confirmed to him when he chats her up and he realizes that she has no clue who he is. Oh well, he can't let his tiny bruised ego stand in his way. He's no longer a dork, and he's determined to get a date with his former dream girl. Now to figure out a way for her to say yes.
After her father and brother died in a car accident, the Milek family fell apart. Renia's way of coping as a teenager was to rebel - anything to get her grieving mother's attention. This led to a lot of partying, a lot of drinking, and sex. Sex that resulted in her getting pregnant, getting shipped off to live with an aunt, and eventually giving that baby girl up for adoption. It was not an open adoption, mostly by Renia's choice, and now that her baby is set to turn 18, Renia is bracing for the other shoe to drop. She's so wrapped up with the idea that her baby might call her, how and if she even wants that to happen - that she really can't deal with a distraction like Miles. But damn, he's persistent.
I thought Lohmann's debut was a very solid read, but this book? There are moments of brilliance and heartbreak that just damn near ripped my heart out. You bleed for Rey. She was 16 when she gave birth, and intellectually she knows that giving her baby up for adoption was the best thing she could have done for the child. Rey was self-destructive and 16. What kind of life could she have given her baby, especially when the Baby Daddy calls her slut and denies paternity, and her own mother basically kicks her out of the house to go live with an aunt? Also relinquishing her parental rights, making that decision, sobers Rey up to the point where she's an emotional brick wall. OK, great - she's no longer drinking herself stupid and having indiscriminate sex - but she's also not forming any good relationships either, keeping her own family at arm's length. Rey struggling with her past, and the years she has spent living in denial, are devastating to read about. She may know that giving up her daughter was the right thing to do, but that doesn't make that decision any easier for her to live with. That decision has a ripple effect in Rey's life and in her relationship with her own mother. The moment in the book where she and her mother finally sit down to talk? I mean, really talk? Keep the tissues handy.
As much as I loved Rey's journey, what didn't work quite as well for me was the romance. Miles seems like a nice guy, but I never quite figured out how our couple got to love. For a long time I sort of felt like Miles was in love with the idea of dating his high school dream girl. He owns up to this and pays lip-service to it towards the end, but I just didn't quite see it. When? How? Rey and Miles weren't close in high school - at all. He fantasized, she didn't know he existed. There is no past relationship for them to build on. Also she spends a decent chunk of the story pushing him away, even as she's leaning on him. Rey is, if nothing else, kinda screwed up - so it makes sense she would run hot and cold. I think I needed Miles' personality to be stronger to really ramp up the romance end of this story.
But you know what? This book made me emotional, in a good way. I'm not a crying sort of reader. It rarely happens. But there are moments in this story where I was reading with a lump in my throat, and I really think that's on the strength of the heroine. Romance, as a genre, tends to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy focusing on hunky, beefcake heroes who are emotionally screwed up because their Mama, Daddy, Brother, Pet Goldfish didn't love them enough. Yeah, heroes are great - but romance works because at the end of the day it's the heroine's journey. It's a genre that relies on studs for the sex appeal, but it gets its running legs from the heroines. Renia drives this story. Renia pretty much makes or breaks this story. And in my opinion? She makes it. She's stellar. Don't miss it.
Final Grade = B+