Sunday, December 17, 2017

#DeckTheHarlequin: Never Christmas Without You

Never has it been more obvious why a book would be in my TBR than with Never Christmas Without You by Nana Malone and Reese Ryan.  Two novellas, both Christmas themes, both with friends-to-lovers tropes.  Shut up and take my money.  But what started out working fairly well for me slid downhill the further along I got into the stories - to the point where the Ryan entry hit my Big Honkin' Red Flag Rage Button.  You know what this means.  Yep, spoilers.  There shall be spoilers.  Consider yourselves warned.

Just for the Holidays by Nana Malone

Justin Morrison is from a hotel-owning-running-whatever dynasty.  When his father passed away, Daddy Dearest, cut Justin out and left the hotel business to Justin's cousin, whom naturally he cannot stand.  Justin took this rage and opened his own boutique hotel. All by the time he's 25.  And of course it's a big success.  Because that's how things work in Romancelandia.  Anyway, his grandmother, whom he adores, has a medical episode that sends Justin into a panic.  She'll be fine, but she lays down the law.  He will come home for Christmas and he will bring his girlfriend with him.  Minor problem: there is no girlfriend.  Justin made one up so his grandma would stop trying to set him up with every eligible female that crossed her path.  What to do?

What he does is rope in his BFF, up-and-coming artist, Alex Winters into the charade.  She's hesitant for a couple of reasons: 1) she's a terrible liar and 2) she's secretly been in love with Alex forever.  Of course he's clueless because, well, he's a man.  And now she's agreeing to spend the holidays with him and his family playing happy couple on Catalina Island.

This actually starts out pretty great.  There's a bit too much "tell" over "show" in the early going, but Justin and Alex have a spark and it's the kind of set-up tailor made for a Hallmark Holiday Movie.  The story is set in both Los Angeles and on Catalina Island.  You've got this big ol' family, the root of Justin's baggage, and a family matriarch who doesn't suffer fools gladly.  I was rolling with it until a completely unnecessary throw away piece of dialogue that drove me insane.  Justin and Alex are at the point where they're acknowledging there's a spark between them that goes beyond friendship when the idiot says this:
"You're the sexiest woman I've ever known.  You don't even try.  Most girls I know, it's all smoke and mirrors.  Hair extensions, nails, make-up.  These women look like completely different people when I wake up with them in the morning."
EXCUSE ME?!?!?!  Maybe this is just me, but I hope all those "fake" women Justin has been wasting his time with come back like the Ghost of Christmas Past and claw out his eyes with their fake nails and strangle him with their hair extensions.  But maybe that's just me.  This kind of thing drives me bonkers - the tearing down of every other woman to illustrate to the reader (like a damn sledgehammer upside the head) that the heroine is a "real woman" and that she is "The One."  Ugh.  Romance authors, for the love of all that is holy STOP DOING THIS!

I know this is a crazy thing to nitpick about, but it was like a bucket of cold water and the story never quite recovers.  Especially when Alex goes running off and starts listening to nonsense from the villainous characters.  So what started out as a solid B read?  Yeah, not so much.

Final Grade = C

His Holiday Gift by Reese Ryan

This is part of the author's Pleasure Cove series and features prodigal son, Dash Williams.  Dash agrees to meet his long lost BFF, Mikayla Mitchell, at a coffee shop.  They used to be thick as thieves, until Dash decided to date her step-sister Jess.  Given that Mick, the geeky girl in their school, had a major crush on Dash this went over as well as expected.  Dash is happy to reconnect, until Mick drops the bomb.  Jess is dead and her 6-year-old daughter, Maddie, is probably Dash's kid.  Needless to say, Jess is portrayed as a conniving, manipulative piece of work so Dash had no clue he had a daughter.

This set-up is rife with problems, but Ryan sure can lay on the Drama Llama.  For one thing, Mick just takes Jess's word for it that Dash is Evil Incarnate - never mind that Mick has no illusions of her step-sister's character.  I could buy this somewhat because Dash hurt Mick THAT badly, so she was set-up to believe the absolute worst of him.  But once Jess is dead?  Yeah, no.  Yes, Mikayla is raising (and adopted) Maddie, but the kid has a father.  Mikayla may think Dash has washed his hands of Maddie but once Jess is dead?  All bets are off.  The child's mother is dead and the father should have been looped in on that minor detail pronto.

Then there's the fact that Dash basically admits to his sister that the reason he's starting to notice Mikayla now, and not all those years ago, is because she's gone from ugly duckling to swan.  Our girl, she's stacked.  Is this realistic?  Yes.  Is it what I want in a romance novel?  No.  I want the damn fantasy.  I want the hero to have always been in love with the heroine but just too dense to realize it.  And Dash says this at the end, but given this previous conversation with his sister where he admits he's noticing Mick now because she's va-va-voom?  Yeah, it's harshing on my fantasy buzz.  Considerably.

But man, the drama is great.  And it hums along until the author hits on my biggest pet peeve in the universe.  The whole Biology Reigns Supreme In Romancelandia Ideal.  While out shopping for Christmas presents Dash sees Mick getting all misty over baby clothes.
He was trying to comfort her, but all she heard was him referring to Maddie as someone else's kid.  Maddie wasn't someone else's kid.  She was her daughter as much as she was his.  "You'll have kids of your own someday."
But wait, there's more!  See, Dear Reader, for reasons Mikayla believes she's incapable of having "her own children" and when Dash finally confesses he loves her she tells him her Deep Dark Secret and oh noes what if he wants more kids someday?  To which Dash says if they want to expand their family it's OK.  There's adoption, there's surrogacy etc. etc.  OK, Wendy getting less angry.  Wendy coming down off the ledge until....


Take one wild guess what sort of epilogue we get with this story.  Go ahead.  Guess.  That's right.  NEVER FEAR!  Because the hero has AMAZING SUPER SPERM AND BIOLOGY IS ONCE AGAIN BACK IN ORDER!  HALLELUJAH!  PRAISE JEEBUS.

I get this is my baggage but gods I HATE THIS GARBAGE!  I have friends who were adopted.  I have friends who have adopted.  One of my nieces is adopted.  This ideal that still exists in Romancelandia that a woman ain't a woman unless she can squirt out 2.5 kids is the sort of conflict that belongs only in historicals and it's the only place I can marginally deal with it.  In contemporaries it's just flat-out rage inducing and makes me want a bucket of brain bleach.  What a disappointment.

Final Grade = D 


azteclady said...

No, no, it's most definitely NOT just you, for either story.

The "she's not like other girls--so that's all the character building needed" bullshit makes me see red. And that bit of dialogue you quoted? I cannot think of the hero as anything but an asshole, who 'put up' with 'not so good' girls just to get laid--and of the author as someone who has internalized misogyny to an unhealthy degree.

As for the magical wang shooting magic soldiers that 'cure' fertility issues... ::rage scream::

Jazz Let said...

Absolutely agree with you and azteclady, both of those things infuriate me.

How am I supposed to believe someone is capable of a proper relationship if they have viewed all of their past conquests (and I think that word is appropriate here) as fake? It doesnt say much for his judgement. What is wrong with having had a few good enough, but not 'The One' relationships?

And due to my own fertility problems the magical baby thing is just painful and ought to be strangled, grrrrrr.

Wendy said...

AL: What drives me insane about "she's not like other girls" comparisons is that society bombards women Every. Single. Day with messages on how we should look and then romance authors ding us for it as a shortcut to show the reader "SEE! THE HEROINE IS DIFFERENT!" Ugh.

Jazz: The only way I can tolerate the whole "a woman's worth is wrapped up in her ability to procreate" and "miracle babies" is in historicals. Fewer options for women, medical know-how not terribly advanced. But in contemporaries it gets on my last good nerve. The story wasn't perfect before that (I failed to mention that Maddie is the Plot Moppetiest of all Romancelandia Plot Moppets), but you know what would have made the story? An epilogue with the hero and heroine taking in a foster kid. Instead I get miracle baby and I want to burn the book to the ground.

S. said...

I usually can "separate" the miracle baby idea in a romance book from what my views are on it in real life so I don't really mind seeing that trope happen but in that case, wouldn't it be better if the authors could write things in a reasonable and open discussed way that wouldn't make it too silly and medically unlikely in the epilogues?
I haven't read the book but I'd be even more annoyed at the way the female protagonist was made to look like a experiment waiting to happen rather than a credible person who knows all the facts of her medical history.

Wendy said...

Sonia: It's written in this round-about way like, "the doctor's are pretty sure it's not going to happen for me" - so it's not written as an impossibility...just rather unlikely.

This is a long-standing gripe of mine in contemporary romance. So many women struggle with infertility and I think that's why authors want to explore that - but then to sweep it all under the rug because the heroine has "met the right guy" - it sends this coded message that she's finally getting pregnant BECAUSE she's met the right guy. Which...ugh. Bothers me on so many levels.