Wednesday, February 21, 2018

#TBRChallenge 2018: Sweet Lullaby

The Book: Sweet Lullaby by Lorraine Heath

The Particulars: Historical western romance, Berkley Diamond Books Homespun, 1994, Out of print.  Available in digital edition, Harpercollins Avon, 2010

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  It's a Lorraine Heath western and a beloved book for many in Romancelandia.  I tracked down a print copy pre-ebook days and paid the exorbitant price of $6.50 for a pristine used copy.  Because that's what us old farts had to do back in the pre-ebook days.

The Review: It's been a long time since Wendy hated on a classic romance beloved by Romancelandia - yet, here we are.  Although "hate" is probably too strong a word.  To get this party started let me just say that this was Lorraine Heath's debut novel and it finalled for a RITA.  That bit about this being her debut?  That's important.  I'm come back to it in a moment.

Rebecca Anderson is the only child of a prosperous Kentucky rancher and Daddy has been grooming her to take over the family business.  Then the fool girl makes the mistake of falling in love with one of the men and getting pregnant.  This is how naive our girl is - when she tells her father about the baby she's blindsided by his less-than-thrilled reaction.  Anyway, the Baby Daddy has taken off for parts unknown before Rebecca even knows she's pregnant and he made no promises or gave any indications when or if he would return for her.  Daddy sees only one option.  She's going to have to marry someone else and Jake Burnett is the man for the job.

Jake has loved Rebecca since he first laid eyes on her and while they are friends, this love is totally unrequited.  But given her limited options and with Jake having land in Texas that they can settle on, a shotgun wedding is planned and over with before we even hit page 50.

After I finished the first two chapters I immediately went to check the author's web site.  This is the same author who wrote the Texas trilogy and Always to Remember?  Yes it is - and that's how I verified that this was her debut.  Guys, it totally reads like a debut.  You know what else it reads like?  Like the author wanted this to be a saga.  A 600-800 page historical saga with a long-winding romance arc but she ended up selling it to Berkley who told her to chop out half the word count.  The character development is flat.  We're TOLD Jake has unrequited feelings for Rebecca.  We're TOLD they're friends.  But there's no foundation laid.  Other than Jake being the Beta-iest Hero to Ever Beta, I'm not sure WHY he loved Rebecca so fiercely.  The pacing also felt "off."  There's too much time spent on secondary characters for a book that's less than 300 pages (in my opinion) and there's a mad dash to the finish line that felt positively frantic.

Things do get better the further along in the story we go, but these characters never feel fully realized until towards the very end of the book, and that's when more problems come into play.  Namely, Rebecca.  Man, is this girl a problem.

I liked her at first, I really did.  She has gumption.  She knows her own mind.  She sticks up for herself and for Jake.  But, as you can probably guess, her past comes back to haunt her towards the final third of the book and that was when she was dead to me.  You know how we like to talk about romance heroes who need to grovel?  The kind of heroes you want to have to crawl over broken glass to atone for how dismally they treat the heroine?  Well, never let it be said that I'm not equal opportunity because Rebecca's actions during this portion of the book had me shaking my head in disgust. 

Original cover. Isn't it horrid?
Now, Jake?  He's one of your standard Too Good To Be True heroes.  The only thing (and I mean ONLY) thing saving this guy from being a hopeless Gary Stu is that the author gives him a back story to explain his lack of backbone.  Frankly, given Rebecca's actions in the latter half of this story I was left firmly believing that he was WAY too good for her and was hoping against hope he'd fall in love with a woman who truly deserves him (for those of you who have read this - I had my eye on Velvet The Prostitute for that role).

I was all set to slap this with a C grade, mostly because of the flat writing and lack of character development.  But then the conflict that spurs the reader towards The Black Moment comes into play and it left a sour taste in my mouth.  I'll be honest - this final grade is probably a little harsh.  I've read way worse and maybe if I had read this book earlier in my romance reading life I would have loved it.  But I didn't and I didn't and here's where we're at. 

Final Grade = D+


Dorine said...

Oh my, I'm betting you're spot on with the saga being chopped up. Isn't that what happened to a lot of debut books? The whole rewrite or editing frenzy to make it marketable which could take the life out of it?

I find that I have a really tough time enjoying romances written during this time. Even those that I loved loved loved before the 1990s fall flat for me, or irritate me now.

I wonder if the style has changed so much, or that we have, or a little of both?

Carole Rae said...

I do like Western romances...but this? I may have to skip this one. Plus his face I'm not sure. LOL.

S. said...

I liked this one when I read it but yes, I don't think it would b a book I would be eager to re-read.
We do change with time and some books just loose the appeal...

Jill said...

My mother had this book when I was growing up! I remember being mesmerized by that quilt cover.

For the challenge, I read "Hajar's Hidden Legacy" by Maisey Yates. I'm not sure if I should be reading a sheik romance in 2018, but Maisey Yates said this was a Beauty and the Beast" romance and it definitely was. While I was reading it, I enjoyed it.
The book handwaved the problems of the heroine being a princess of a Catholic (maybe?) Alpine country and the hero being a Muslim prince. We aren't given any indication either is religious, but presumably there would be pressure for one to convert. I give it a C+

Wendy said...

Dorine: I think it would have worked better for me as a historical saga. All the elements are there, it's just none of it is fleshed out to any satisfaction in the short historical format (this felt very similar in feel to a Harlequin Historical).

Carole: LOL!

S: Even despite my harsh reaction to certain elements - there were other elements here that I did enjoy. I did get swept up in the community feel of the story - but the romance, the main characters were flat for me.

Jill: That was my first read by Yates! I liked it, but yes - you totally have to read through your "fairy tale lens." In fact, that's the only way I can read sheikh romances - and even then I tend to only read the ones written by authors I'm already familiar with.