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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

#TBRChallenge 2024: Sweet Mercy

The Book: Sweet Mercy by Jean Brashear

The Particulars: Harlequin SuperRomance #1339, part of series, 2006, out of print. The author later self-published this book as Dream House and given that she changed the hero's name, it stands to reason that maybe other changes happened?  I read the SuperRomance edition of this story and this review is about that edition.

Why Was It in Wendy's TBR?: I got my copy at a used bookstore and liked the sound of the back cover blurb. 

Spoilers Ahoy!

The Review: This cannot be overstated: I am utter trash for romance heroines who have "reputations." Add in a gooey vulnerable core and some stand-up-for-yourself feistiness and I'll be a goner before you even get me out of the first chapter. All the enjoyment I got out of this book is entirely because of our heroine, Jezebel Hart. Too bad she falls for a hero who isn't even remotely good enough for her.

Gamble Smith was a jackass in a previous book, breaking that particular heroine's heart. He's working as an artist in New York City, his career is starting to take off, and then he gets word he has to go home to East Texas.  It's his mother's birthday and his siblings are throwing a party.  However, once he arrives in Texas he learns the party had to be cancelled because Mom has been in a fairly serious car accident.  This just compounds his guilt.  He left Texas years ago after his one twu wuv, his first wife, died.  They were childhood sweethearts, he built them a dream home (a lovely cottage) and they were happy.  Then, against doctor's advice, she got pregnant. Think Shelby in Steel Magnolias.  She's overjoyed, Gamble is not because 1) she's so frail and the doctor said it was a bad idea and 2) because she got pregnant without consulting him (she stopped taking her birth control behind his back). Naturally what everyone fears will happen, happens. Wife #1 and the baby die and Gamble is swallowed up by his grief, leaving a lovely cottage to rot as penance, a shrine to everything he's lost.

It should be noted here that Gamble's grief seemed entirely wrapped up in Dead Wife #1. The unborn baby's death gets short-shrift.

Enter Jezebel Hart. A former stripper and cocktail waitress, she came to Three Pines, Texas looking for a fresh start and found a family.  The bar's owner gave her a job and she's now running the place while he recuperates from an injury.  She would love nothing more than to get him out of the nursing home he's currently in and into a real home - and of course Jezebel has fallen in love with Gamble's abandoned cottage. She meets Gamble when he lands back in town and sparks immediately fly.  She doesn't know who he is right away and he has no idea that she's the one who approached his brother about buying his cottage.  Naturally they end up in bed and naturally once he finds out who she is things get complicated.

Words cannot express how much I loved Jezebel. If she had a theme song it would be Brick House by The Commodores. She doesn't have the red hair, but I pictured her looking like the actress Christina Hendricks.  She's the kind of woman with curves for days and who has spent her entire life dodging leers (and other things) from asshole men. She's also a woman who can take care of herself, getting a lifetime of practice growing up in foster care and doing the type of work she's done. But underneath the siren's body is a woman who wants the white picket fence. If there's a stray within a country mile she'll take it in.  And Gamble with his haunted eyes, his grief and pain - she doesn't stand a chance.

The problem here is that Gamble is nowhere near good enough for her. Look, I get it. He's grieving. However, grief does not give anyone a free pass to be a hateful jackass - and the slut-shaming in this story enraged me.  Gamble has sex with her and then says awful things when he finds out she's the one interested in buying his cottage.  His sister accuses her of using her body to manipulate her poor grieving brother.  To add insult to injury, while Jezebel doesn't back down from Gamble, and gets more than one scene where she rips him to shreds, his vile sister never does show up on page again with Jezebel to apologize for what an evil witch she was to her.  

Seriously, I would take a bullet for Jezebel.

Two other issues with this story: the first time Gamble and Jezebel bone the condom breaks.  She knows this and immediately thinks she's pregnant (because she's clairvoyant apparently?) but has to wait a few days for the pregnancy test. And since this is a Harlequin of course she doesn't even have a single thought about emergency contraception.  Of course Gamble is all butt-hurt when he discovers the pregnancy test in her apartment and that leads to Drama Llama in our final act - but dude, she knew the condom broke and you didn't? When you were the one WEARING IT?!  Then there's the final separation to spur our couple to the happy ending. The author has to get Jezebel out of town for Gamble to have his Come to Jesus moment, and that's done by having Jezebel go back to Reno to be a trial witness for a mob hit she witnessed before hightailing it to Texas to lie low. 


The witness to the mob hit thing is very tacked on and screams CONVENIENT PLOT DEVICE. It's so tacked on that to keep Jezebel safe from eventual mob retribution it's disclosed she ended up not having to testify and the bad guy was convicted without her testimony. Ergo the mob has no reason to want her dead and she can go on with her life. Which begs the question - why fly a witness all the way to Reno and then not use her testimony?  This nugget in the story is mentioned early on to explain why Jezebel is in Three Pines and then leveraged at the end to be the third act separation. Other than that it does nothing and goes nowhere.

What am I left with?  With no idea how to grade this story. I loved the heroine. Her immediately thinking she's pregnant and no thought of emergency contraception did annoy me - but she's in a Harlequin, so yeah.  But the rest of her? Insert all the heart-eye emojis.

It's just unfortunate I hated Gamble. The pining for his saintly first wife. His behaving like a jackass while he and everyone around him uses his grief as an excuse. I've seen people grieve. I've known grieving people. They don't behave like this asshole does. And while I'm at it, his vile sister who slut-shames Jezebel should have been drop-kicked into the sun, not fall in love with the ex-con who works at her mother's garden nursery. Seriously, she's terrible.

I read it in two gulps, but it gave me emotional whiplash. Love ya Jezebel, but the rest of it is kind of a mess.

Final Grade = C+


azteclady said...

WELP, that's...ugh.

On the "not grieving for the baby" thing: I can see that making sense, since he didn't want the wife to get pregnant and probably spent most every moment of said pregnancy dreading what it was doing to her, so maybe the baby was never anything other than the thing that could (and did) kill his wife.

Doesn't make him a better person, and it may not have been written that way, but that would make sense.

(and I'm late with my own TBR read, because...ugh)

willaful said...


Whiskeyinthejar said...

I am never so cold-hearted as when it comes to main character's still dealing with past significant others, I don't want to hear about a past great love I want the focus on the present one.

The way I blinked when the mob plot came in.

Gamble and Jezebel, truly inspired MC names.

S. said...

The mafia part is a good reason for me to NOT read this book...
It is always fun to read your reviews, though, always!!

Wendy said...

I want to stress how tacked on this mob thing is. Other than being mentioned at the beginning (why is the heroine in town?) and the end (get the heroine out of town so the hero realizes what a tool he is) it's never mentioned again. The meat and potatoes of the story (the middle of the book) - no whiff of the mob plot device. It's so bizarre.

AL: That's an excellent point re: the baby. The hero was JUST coming around to the idea when he found his wife dead.

Whiskey: Oh the names are epic! The author changed the hero's name to Micah in the self-published edition which, honestly, what a shame.

S: Oh, thank you! I'm here to entertain 😂

Jen Twimom said...

Wait... "Jezebel Hart?!" Really. LOL! This one doesn't sound like my kind of read, but I enjoyed your review immensely! Fun times!

Wendy said...

Jen: Yeah, the names aren't exactly subtle 😂