Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Spoonful Of Sugar
I might have mentioned a time or two (or three....) that I judged a local RWA contest recently.  That's how I came to read my first book by Susan Meier - whose book Nanny For The Millionaire's Twins, won first place for category romance.  I did have issues with that particular book, but Meier slathered on enough angst and tugged at enough emotional heartstrings, that I knew I'd try another book by her.  Which is how I came to pick up Single Dad's Chrismas Miracle.  Besides the fact that I'm a sucker for Christmas stories, the author once again slathers on plenty of angst.  Unfortunately, just like the first book I tried by her?  The execution didn't really work for me.

Growing up in an abusive household (Daddy is a jackass), Althea Johnson ran away to California before the ink was barely dry on her high school diploma.  She became a pretty good teacher, but not good enough to survive budget cuts.  She's now on her way back east and her well-meaning sister (see: A Father For Her Triplets) has offered to give her a job in her bakery.  But Althea doesn't want to work in a bakery and she's not all that keen to go back to the hometown where her father still lives.  So through a friend of a friend she takes a job homeschooling Clark Beaumont's troubled son, Jack.

Clark's wife died in a car accident three years ago, when their daughter Teagan wasn't quite six months old.  It was only after the fact that Clark learned his wife was having an affair.  The "other man" literally threw himself on the casket at the funeral and started wailing.  So yeah, there's been a tiny bit of gossip - to which Clark's response has basically been to isolate his kids in their house.   Jack's now rebelling and Teagan doesn't speak out loud.  Clark, in such a deep state of denial, doesn't really see there being a problem.  Teagan is "just shy."  Jack is just being lazy and not showing initiative.  Althea, wishing someone had seen something, done anything, when she was growing up tormented by an abusive father is determined to save this family.  But can Clark and Althea keep their relationship strictly professional?  Because heaven knows they both think they're too damaged to move on to any sort of romantic entanglement.

Yes, what we have here is your basic Mary Poppins romance.  Althea swoops in, with her drive and determination, takes the kids into town, bakes cookies with them, shows Clark the error of his ways, and everything turns out rosy in the end.  Well, sort of.  The only thing keeping this story from collapsing under the weight of a mountain of sugar is Althea's baggage.  Part of me thought she probably should have been more screwed up, but certainly she's not one to hop into healthy relationships.  Prior to Clark, her boyfriends consisted of a series of "beach bums" who mooched off of her.  Of course they also didn't beat the crap out of her like Daddy did - so there's that.  So it's easy to see why she fights her attraction to Clark the way she does.

What didn't really gel for me was Clark's baggage.  Dead Wifey was having an affair for a year prior to her death.  Teagan is six months old.  Clark has real fears that Teagan ain't his kid - but instead doing anything about it, he lives in fear that The Boyfriend will just magically show up one day and take her away.  He doesn't talk to a lawyer.  He doesn't get a paternity test.  He basically just works and keeps his kids at home.  All the time.  He doesn't quite succumb to Magical Thinking, and I get that he would be afraid, but this Other Man is dealt with in a very perfunctory manner.  A guy who bursts into tears and throws himself on his lover's casket at her funeral, in front her husband and family - does this sound like a guy who would just go quietly into that good night?  Especially when he accuses Clark of not giving his wife the divorce she asked for (when in reality - she didn't - but Clark doesn't tell Other Man that).

The angst, while intriguing, just never quite came together for me.  And while I am reading a romance novel and I do want things to be rosy and sunny in the end?  For me, none of the problems that these characters faced were dealt with in a manner I felt were realistic.  Jack's problems are solved by Althea taking him out of the house and promising him that if he gets his grades up he can go to public school.  He's a boy who is angry and resentful of his father, and that's all it takes to turn him into a perfect kid?  And why exactly doesn't Teagan talk?  Yes, she would be shy since her only playmate is her big brother, but kids don't just not talk for a no reason.  All it takes to fix that is Althea swooping in, letting her pick out a gaudy wreath for the front door and putting pretty barrettes in her hair?  Color me skeptical.

At the end of the day this ended up being an OK read.  I had issues, but I kept flipping the pages and zipped through the story at a fairly fast clip.  There's a lot of promise here, it just never felt fully executed and delivered to me.  Would I try another book by this author?  After two C reads in a row?  Maybe if the right back cover blurb came along.

Final Grade = C

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