Saturday, January 4, 2014

Broken Promises for the Baby
Note: I know the author.  She was RWA's Librarian of the Year 2010, and I received the honor in 2011.  We are professional colleagues, and we presented together at Librarians Day at RWA Atlanta in 2013.  This is her third published novel and the third one I've read/reviewed.  I really liked the first two books in this trilogy, the second likely to end up as part of my "Best Of" for 2013.  All this to preface saying I hope she'll still speak to me if she sees this review....

A Promise for the Baby is the third book in Jennifer Lohmann's trilogy about three siblings.  The Milek kids grew up in a Polish-American enclave in Chicago, and what has been great fun about this series is how Lohmann has infused a lot of "small town" sensibilities in these books by setting her stories in a "neighborhood" of a "big city."  The culture, the sights, the sounds, the food!  It makes for such a really great concept.  That being said, I felt the strength of Lohmann's first two books were really her dynamite heroines.  Her heroes?  Were OK blokes, but not as strongly drawn (in my opinion).  So how would I like this last book featuring brother Karl Milek?  Turns out I was fine with him.  Oh the irony that I spent the entire novel feeling stabby towards the heroine.

From the time he was sixteen, Karl Milek has been tied to his clear sense of duty, justice and right vs. wrong.  His older brother, father and uncle were all killed by a drunk driver.  The driver had a history of DUIs, but he stayed on the payroll at his trucking company because somebody bribed a city official to overlook those transgressions.  Needless to say Karl grew up to become a lawyer and now works as the Inspector General for Chicago.  Basically it's Karl's job to ferret out corruption, which I mean - in Chicago?  Karl is a busy guy.  He's all work and no play, with one failed marriage already under his belt.  So naturally his well-meaning, meddling secretary practically pushes him out the door to a conference in Las Vegas, where, when he's confronted by his past, Karl gets rip-roaring drunk in the hotel bar one night.  He meets Vivien Yap in that bar, they get rip-roaring drunk together, get married, and oopsie, guess what?  Vivien shows up in Chicago a few weeks later to tell Karl she's pregnant.

Vivien comes to Chicago not only to tell Karl about the baby, but also because she's out of options.  She's been fired from her casino job and Dear Old Dad has cleaned out her bank account and anything remotely of value from her apartment.  Basically Vivien drives across country and arrives on Karl's doorstep in a car running on gas fumes and $10 in her pocket.  She's broker than broke.  She may not know Karl all that well, but she knows enough to know he's a "fixer."  She also knows that he won't kick her out on the streets - and our girl needs a place to live, time to find a job, and health insurance for her and the baby.

This story started out a little slow for me, mostly because it takes a while for the author to really delve into the characters.  For the first several chapters I felt like I was reading about people I had no firm handle on.  I knew Karl a little from the previous books, but since he's a stiff upper lip sort, he's not exactly forthcoming about, well, anything.  And Vivien is a completely new arrival into this trilogy's universe.

But the character development gains some traction once Vivien's Big Secret is revealed.  OK, this is good.  I finally have a nice handle on the characters and am learning more about them as people.  The problem is the more I learn, the more I loathe Vivien.  The Big Secret involves her father and why she got fired from her casino job in Vegas.  It's a doozy.  And naturally Karl finds out the truth via a third party and he is none too pleased.  I don't blame Karl one bit for being angry, especially 1) given his job and 2) having a deeply ingrained sense of duty.  Is Karl uptight and have a stick shoved up his ass?  Yes.  However this doesn't make him wrong.  And Vivien getting irritated with him when she's the one so clearly in the wrong is just annoying as all get out.  The worst of it is that Karl then spends the rest of the story having to 1) work through his issues and 2) gets treated like a villain even though his wife and her idiot father are the screw-ups.

That's the real problem - Vivien's Dear Old Dad, who is piss-poor con man.  Vivien has spent her entire childhood constantly moving around because Daddy needs to clear out when his schemes blow up in his face.  This is a guy who blew through her college fund, but it's OK because she's such a resourceful girl and she'll find some other way to pay for school.  This is a guy who robs his own daughter blind and skips out of Vegas - leaving her with nothing.  No job (thanks to him), no hope of ever finding another job in Vegas, no money, and nothing left for her to even pawn/sell.  Yet this asshole is still in her life because he was a single father and "did the best he could" and it's wasn't "all bad," Vivien has some "good memories."  And naturally Daddy comes sniffing around her again as soon as he needs something from her - ie. money.  And well she just can't say no to him!  And golly gee, he deserves the chance to know his grandchild!

Where is a shotgun when you need one?

Maybe I'm cold-hearted but if my father did half the stuff Vivien's Dad did to her?  It would go like this:

Dear Dad.  Leave me alone.  Stop contacting me.  I've filed a police report about the money and personal possessions you stole from me.  There's now a warrant out for your arrest, so I'd lay low if I were you.  Oh, and here's a restraining order.  Go to hell.  Sincerely, Me.

But Vivien can't do this because, well, she's a romance heroine.  Dear Old Dad basically gets to keep on doing what he's always done.  Karl sort of deals with the problem at the end by throwing money at him.  Because it will make Vivien happy to have her father stay in her life and get to know their baby (!!!!).



So the lesson here is that Karl is the "bad guy" for being a judgmental prick (which he is, but it doesn't necessarily make him wrong).  Vivien's Dad gets a big check and the opportunity to keep having a relationship (and I use the term loosely since relationship to this man = what can you do for me) with his daughter and his future grandchild.  

This book technically ends happily, but all I can think about is the other shoe waiting to drop.  Oh sure, Karl can tie it all up in a bow, giving his father-in-law stipulations, but once a blood-sucking leech, always a blood-sucking leech.  And Vivien shows that while she can say "no" to him, she doesn't have the balls to cut this toxic asshole out of her life completely and forever.  Because, you know, the baby.  And he was a "good father" who "did the best he could."  Oh really?  Before or after he stole your college fund and then robbed you blind as an adult?

Yes, it would be a cryin' shame if that baby didn't get to know this asshole.  Boo-frickin'-hoo.

Seriously, it left me so very irritated.  I didn't see Karl as a bad guy no matter how unreasonable Vivien thought he was being.  You know why he doesn't trust you cupcake?  Look at your bloody track record.  I wouldn't trust you as far as I can throw a rock.

And I throw like a girl. 

Final Grade = D


nath said...

If Ms Lohman is a professional, she'll talk to you again, Wendy :)

It's too bad about the book. It's sad how the hero is being turned into a villain for having standards and values :( And ugh about the heroine's father. That's the kind of character that is nonredeemable. You give him money and you can be sure you'll have to give more and more. It's nice from the heroine to still see the good side, but after a while, it just makes her naive and stupid. I can totally understand the issue you had here :(

AnimeJune said...

Blargh! I hate those books, where the protagonist's mum or dad did terrible things and because of an ACCIDENT of genetics, the protagonist is genetically obligated to help them or love them and to that I say, BULLSHIT. People make their own family - it's certainly convenient if they happen to be related, but if they treat you like crap, you shouldn't have to put up with it just because you share a few strains of DNA.

One book that handled this surprisingly well was Christie Ridgway's FIRST COMES LOVE. Heroine's mother walked out on her when she was a baby to be a stripper - and while Dear Ol' Mum comes back, redeemed, and has a secondary love story to boot - the novel never renews her relationship with the heroine, the heroine never dissolves tearfully in "mummy's" arms. They're different people, and they form a truce by book's end, but the woman doesn't suddenly get to be treated like the heroine's mum again. I appreciated that a lot.

Rosario said...

Victoria Dahl tends to be pretty good at this, too. She has at least a couple of books where the heroine has a family member sent to jail because they richly deserve it.

Wendy said...

Nath: Well I've heard from her away from the blog. She's still speaking to me - and hopefully not sewing herself a Lil' Wendy Voodoo Doll ;)

Wendy said...

AnimeJune + Rosario: Seriously, it drove me nuts. Especially since the hero is run over the coals for being so judgmental. He IS - but dang, if half of your family was wiped out by a drunk driver who skirted the law thanks to political corruption - well, you can understand his actions. The heroine's father is just an asshole.

I'm going to look up that Ridgway book! She's a local author for me, and I keep telling myself I need to read more of her books. I just don't read a ton of single title contemporaries - evidence by the fact that I haven't tried Victoria Dahl yet either Rosario :)

Thanks for the recs!