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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

#TBRChallenge Review: Meant-To-Be Family

The Particulars: Harlequin Medical Romance #734, Book 2 in Midwives On-Call continuity series, 2015, out of print, available in digital

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: After discovering Marion Lennox a few years back I started glomming her backlist. My records indicate this was a used bookstore find back in 2019.

๐Ÿงจ Warning: All The Spoilers! ๐Ÿงจ

The Review: One might think that the hostess of this challenge would be ahead of the curve and not procrastinate. You would be wrong. It was Saturday afternoon before I went looking for a book that fit this month's Second Chance theme, and I figured my cupboard full of Harlequins was a good place to start. This was the second book I pulled off the shelf, it fit the theme perfectly, and I knew with Lennox writing I was going to get some angst - and boy howdy, did I get the angst.  The spoiler warning? Yeah, that's because this book has some heavy trigger warnings. This review is basically a public service.

Emily Evans is having a day. Her foster daughter isn't doing well and she's distraught. Gretta has Down's Syndrome and an inoperable heart condition. The little girl is dying.  Emily knew going into this that Gretta would die. There's nothing anybody can do. Her mother, who helps Emily with Gretta (age 4) and her foster son Toby (age 2) practically pushes Emily out the door to work, which she's running late for. She's a midwife at Melbourne's Victoria Hospital, a job she loves and while her ice queen boss is in a better mood these days thanks to her recent engagement, there's still gonna be hell to pay for being late.  Naturally it all goes from bad to worse when she swings her sturdy family sedan into her parking place only to side-swipe a flashy vintage Morgan. Could this day get any worse?  The answer is yes, yes it could.  Because the man sitting behind the wheel of the Morgan is none other than her estranged husband, Dr. Oliver Evans.

Of all the hospitals in all the world, he had to walk into hers. Oliver and Emily were married ten years ago, five of which were spent on heartbreaking, grueling IVF treatments.  Finally they get pregnant, only to have their son, Josh, be delivered as a premature stillborn. Emily puts her foot down after that. She's done with IVF. She cannot do it anymore. But she desperately wants children (as does Oliver) and she tells him, let's look into adoption.  Oliver snaps.  This man, yes THIS MAN, tells her "Em, I can't. I know adoption's the only way, but I can't do it. I can't guarantee to love a child who's not our own." Shortly thereafter they separate. That was five years ago.

Medicals are one of Harlequin's slimmer lines (about the length of a Presents or Desire) and there is A TON to unpack here. The reader learns about what split up Oliver and Emily in Chapter 2, so pretty early on you're going to hate this guy. Of course there's a backstory to why Oliver feels the way  he does about adoption - he was adopted. His parents ended up getting pregnant some years after he was adopted and once they had "their own son" they literally start comparing Oliver to a cuckoo. Oliver grows up, becomes a doctor, marries a wonderful woman - none of that matters. He's not their "real" son. So while I wanted to throat-punch Oliver, one would see how he would have hang-ups about adoption.

Emily is the exact opposite.  This is a woman brimming with love. The kind of woman who gives freely of herself, even though she knows it will open her up to heartache. Her and Oliver never divorced. They're still married at the start of this story, and she finds that telling. She moved on. She became a foster mother. Oliver did go to the States, continued his training, but there's been no one else. No new girlfriends, no children (even though he too wants children), nothing

This entire book is an emotional gut-punch. Oliver is emotionally broken, and what Emily realizes over the course of this story is that he was that way before they even met and got married. Oliver was damaged goods when they said "I do" - but it took the heartbreak of their journey towards starting a family to unravel their relationship.  I also really appreciated that it was the dude hung up on "we can't have 'our own' children" BS that runs amok in the genre.  So often it's the heroine flailing herself against those rocks.  This is also a romance where the ethical issues of the couples' jobs aren't hand-waved away for the sake of getting the couple a happy ending.  These two have to work for it, and it comes in the form of Oliver learning that found family can be the sweetest family of all.

That said, there's a lot of landmines in this story.  Remember Gretta?  This is a book with no miracle cure. The four-year-old girl dies over the course of the story folks, don't say you weren't warned.  Also, while I'm glad Oliver realizes what an ass he is, that he learns to open himself up to love and all the good and bad that goes along with that, this is a dude who needs therapy.  Like, no joke. Emily actually mentions it to him once, that the hospital has some very qualified folks he could talk to, but it doesn't happen over the course of the story.  Sure, sure, he and Emily reunite and live happily-ever-after but true love does not unravel the years of emotional abuse that Oliver experienced with his adoptive parents (thank the sweet Lord they stay off page). Couple this with Gretta's death, and that Toby also has health issues, when stress meets Oliver's baggage - I'd like to believe he'll have the tools in place to not backslide - and I'm not entirely convinced he does by the end of the story.

The secondary characters are welcome additions (Emily's mother, her neighbors who were FANASTIC!) and while this is part of a continuity series, it stands alone well.  It's not a book for everybody.  It's very emotional, dealing with the very heavy and painful topic of infertility and the death of a child. I didn't read this so much as inhale it but I recognize it's a lot. It's the sort of book I recommend but with a lot of caveats thrown in, because I can completely understand some folks reading this review and automatically nope'ing right out.  I think it's a triumph for Lennox, but oh man, is it ever complicated.

Final Grade = B+


Whiskeyinthejar said...

Holy cow, yeah, that sounds all too real for me. Here I was complaining about how the investigation was too easy for the hero in my month's pick. Like, dang, I feel like I need a drink after just reading your review, lol

azteclady said...

Thank you so much for stressing the good and the hard of this book, Wendy.

I have often bemoaned the magical genre romance cures for all that ails people--not just emotional issues that disappear when twu wuv makes an appearance, but physical ones--but I'm not sure I could take this one, at least not right now.

(I know word count is at a premium in these shorter stories, but one can hope that in a later book one learns that yes, Oliver is getting the help he needs)

eurohackie said...

Wow, you found a real gem this month in your Harlequin collection! I like it when the author puts in the hard yards instead of hand-waving away some of the difficulties that face the main pair. I have a different Medical Romance about an estranged couple who have child-bearing issues, that I bought precisely because it seems likely to be just as difficult a story to pull off. Kudos to your author for making it work!

Unfortunately, my choice this month was a DNF. "The Return of Chase Cordell" by Linda Castle is a western from the Historical line, and I snapped it up because of the idea of a soldier returning home with no memory of his life before the war sounded extremely compelling. Unfortunately, this was not. My main issue was the fact that our MCs were 21 and 19, respectively, though the amount of story happening to them was definitely meant for more mature characters. I guess I'm Old now because I think of teenagers as practically babies, and these two married when they were teens after knowing each other for 2 weeks and yeah, it just did not work for me. Throw in some nasty powerful businessmen, a murder mystery that was not done well, and a taste of the losing Confederacy and it was all too much for me. Bleh!

Still, it's one less book on Mount TBR, so that counts for something I guess.

Wendy said...

Whiskey: Yeah, immediately after finishing this book I went with total fluff / cozy mystery as my next read - LOL.

AL: It is A. LOT. for sure. I am generally here for the angsty emotional gristmill but I was rung out by the end. Also Lennox does such a good job on the emotional stuff, I mean I think I could have found this book too much had my life experiences reflected some of those in the story.

Eurohackie: I can see why you picked up your choice because I just read the back cover blurb and was like "oooooh!" But ugh, that's unfortunate.

Jill said...

I have been awful about keeping up with these challenges, but I'm still here and avidly reading the reviews. I love your love for Harlequins!

Jen Twimom said...

*BLINKS* WOW! That is a lot... way more than I could deal with. But I'm glad it worked for you and you got in your read for the month. YEA!!

Wendy said...

Jill: If loving Harlequins is wrong, I don't wanna be right ๐Ÿ˜‚

Jen: Oh man, yes it's A LOT! It worked beautifully for me but the entire time I was reading it I was thinking, "How do you recommend this to book to people?! With lots of caveats I guess...."