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REVIEW: In the Clear by Tamara Morgan

This is a second in a series of books reviewed by authors.  This is an open invitation for any author to submit reviews of books that get very little attention but that he or she liked very much. In issuing the invitation, I’ve asked the authors to review books authored by people they have no real contact with – they aren’t in the same RWA chapter or they aren’t critique partners. I hope that this is one way we can bring an authorial reviewer voice to Dear Author without the conflicts. So if you are an author, editor, publicist, etc. and there is a book you think deserves more attention, send me a review!

In the Clear (Winter Rescue)

 

It’s probably not a secret by now that I love novellas. There’s a grace and compactness to them that, when done well, makes for a beautiful gem of a story. And that’s what we have here: a beautiful gem of a story.

I was utterly charmed from the first word to the last. (Really from the first word. After I recommended this book on my Facebook site, one of my readers posted that it had the best first line ever. I’ve seen some pretty good first lines in my life, but this one still makes me smile every time. And then slowly start laughing again.)

First of all, Fletcher, the beta hero. Can we get a shout-out for beta heroes? For this man who has been in love with Lexie forever but is afraid of change, afraid of losing his best friends, twins Sean and Lexie, by being too “creepy” and letting his attraction to Lexie show. For Fletcher, who carefully keeps it all hidden inside, because his friends are so valuable to him. But who reveals his attention and love and care in countless tiny gestures. I adored this little scene, for example, when Lexie brings lunch by his workplace:

Burger and fries for him, milkshake on the side. A tiny green salad for herself. He arranged his food neatly in front of him, being careful to put the fries in the middle of the desk. For as long as he could remember, Lexie had a habit of buying herself rabbit food and then proceeding to eat most of her companions’ side dishes, never aware of her wandering fork. He usually ordered extra of the things she liked for that reason – she had no idea he didn’t actually care for chocolate cake.

I just love this. Love it. That silent attention and care that has been going on for years, without the heroine ever realizing it. Just for little details like that alone, this novella is a delight. I often highlight things authors do that I admire, that I would like to learn from. The second time reading this, I had to stop, because my text was starting to look like a bumblebee, and highlighting nearly everything does tend to defeat the purpose of highlight. But how can you resist something like this little capture of Sean, the brother?

He’ll judge me. And don’t you dare look at me like that. You know how he gets when I’ve done one of my screw-ups…He gets that uppity look on his face and starts brushing at his imaginary lint.”

“He does brush at imaginary lint a lot, doesn’t he?”

Lexie giggled. She knew she couldn’t be the only person to notice that personal weakness affected her brother like a bad case of dandruff.

The word-lover in me is utterly delighted. A bad case of dandruff. It’s too perfect.

Don’t be turned off by the secret superhero announced in the blurb. I confess the idea might have stopped me, if I hadn’t already developed a deep trust in Tamara’s writing over the past few months, starting from when I first picked up Confidence Tricks (a thief caper with two main characters I just loved). Whatever else, I know that her characters will not be a facile cliché.

And Fletcher isn’t. He’s too afraid to fill out that college application and change his life, but he’s strong enough to save a woman from a frozen lake, and above all he’s strong enough to be there, be the one the heroine can count on, the one who sees her value and who will always be there for her.

And then there’s Lexie, just as vulnerable and determined, so sure she is a mess, the sidekick to her twin brother and his friend, still wounded that, somehow, she’s the third wheel, that Fletcher can’t be her best friend, too.

I’m delighted by her from the first, but I love her from the end of chapter one, when Sean, her unwittingly devastating twin brother, rolls his eyes at her table behavior and then shakes his head: “Never mind. I can believe it. And that’s why Fletcher refuses to reveal his secrets to you.”

 “Because I lack finesse?”

“No. Because you’re you.”

She let out an irritated noise and promptly drowned every last one of her sorrows in her glass. She couldn’t count how many things in her life had been denied her by virtue of being herself. Success. Respect. Dates.

But after twenty-six years of practice and still not getting it right, who the heck else was she supposed to be?

Exactly. Who can’t identify with that feeling, or even that realization? Who the heck else am I supposed to be?

I love the way their relationship develops, the way we can see her trying to worm herself deeper and deeper into Fletcher’s life, without her quite being aware at first what that need to be closer to him really means. The way we learn that she does, in fact, know Fletcher doesn’t like chocolate cake, but doesn’t know to credit his reasons for buying it to herself. She, too, has her own insecurities, and the story clearly and believably draws the reasons for this. But while she may not know she’s in love with him, she sees him—truly sees him and cares for him—just as well as he sees her.

The brother, Sean, who stands in so many ways between them, limits their abilities to truly understand what is developing between these two, and yet also highlights that development both for the reader and for the main characters as they learn to call his statements into question. So, for example, Sean discourages his sister from calling Fletcher about her discovery of his hero moonlighting:

“You’ll make him feel weird about it. That’s what you do. Whenever you get excited about something, you bounce all over him like he’s some kind of trampoline. But Fletcher isn’t springy like that – he just absorbs it. And you never see the dents you leave behind.”

Lexie is understandably wounded by this and cast into self-doubt, but later she thinks: Maybe Sean is right. Maybe I do flail and leave dents behind.

 But for some reason, she’d always thought Fletcher was the one person able to withstand them.

And that is the essence of this story. They are the ones who are right for each other. They just don’t realize it, partly because of Sean, and mostly because each one doesn’t realize his or her own rightness. That they are worthy people.

And Tamara Morgan handles this beautiful double trope of best friend’s sister and friends-to-lovers with her usual deft hand, deepening the reader experience with her wit and way of capturing characters, while adroitly avoiding the cliché. I love, for example, Lexie’s reaction to the compass. It was one of those classic Tamara Morgan moments, where I’m just starting to anticipate disappointment, just starting to think that facile cliché is coming – and then Lexie reacts completely differently from what I was expecting, and yet in a way completely fitting to her character and her relationship with Fletcher.

This twisting away from the facile provides a freshness and depth and reality to this story which, coupled with the insight and humor and the pure adorable charm of this couple, makes for a lovely way to spend an hour and a half. (At 37,000 words, this novella is actually close to the length RWA allows for “short novels”—40,000 words. The length felt just right for the story.)

An adorable and profoundly comforting story. I think it might become one of my comfort reads.

- Laura Florand

 

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 Laura Florand compilation


Laura Florand 
is the award-winning author of the Amour et Chocolat series (The Chocolate Thief, The Chocolate Kiss…), where sexy Parisian chocolatiers woo the women they love with what they love best – romance you can taste. Her books have been translated into seven languages, received the RT Seal of Excellence and starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, and been recommended by USA Today, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and Dear Author, among others, and twice been selected as Sizzling Book Club Picks by Smart B*, Trashy Books. They’ve even been selected for the infamous (legendary? notorious?) DABWAHA! She was born in Georgia, but the travel bug bit her early. After a Fulbright year in Tahiti, a semester in Spain, and backpacking everywhere from New Zealand to Greece, she ended up living in Paris, where she met and married her own handsome Frenchman, a story told in her first book Blame It on Paris.  Now a lecturer at Duke University, she is very dedicated to her research into French chocolate. For a glimpse behind the scenes of some of that research as well as recommendations for US chocolate, make sure to check out her website: www.lauraflorand.com.

 

20 Comments

  1. cleo
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 08:38:04

    I love a good novella. This one sounds really good.

    ReplyReply

  2. JJPP
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 08:42:20

    Sounds good! Clickety-click-click.

    I also just started reading Snow Kissed on the train this morning! :)

    ReplyReply

  3. Andrea T
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 08:46:50

    What a gorgeous review! I have been thoroughly convinced to give In the Clear a try.

    ReplyReply

  4. Juhi
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 08:47:36

    Thanks for the insightful review–the way you wrote about the book has convinced me to try out Miss Morgan’s fare!

    ReplyReply

  5. Virginia Kantra
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 09:11:04

    How have I missed this? Must buy now! Thank you for the review!

    ReplyReply

  6. rube
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 09:22:57

    Agree with EVERYTHING in this review. I also ended up highlighting huge sections of this book. Morgan’s so deft with one-liners, but her characters also have real emotional depth and believable problems.

    ReplyReply

  7. Jody Wallace
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 09:26:31

    Beta hero. The burger and fries scene. SOLD! I quit reading the review there, so as not to get spoiled at all. Thanks for sharing this one.

    ReplyReply

  8. Zoe York
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 09:29:12

    He ordered her chocolate cake in secret? Sold. Fletcher sounds perfect, right down to his imperfections, because I love nothing quite as much as a robustly human hero. Thank you for sharing this novella find with us!

    ReplyReply

  9. JenM
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 10:47:23

    I’ve been eyeing this because I loved Tamara’s recent book, The Derby Girl. And a beta hero to boot. That lunch scene made my heart go all swoony. Off to one-click.

    ReplyReply

  10. Amanda
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 10:53:42

    A Friends-to-lovers that involves a beta hero? I have so got to give this a try.

    ReplyReply

  11. Cheryl
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 10:57:48

    Add me to the list of those who bought it based strictly on the first snippet. I’ve never read Tamara Morgan and am definitely looking forward to trying someone new.

    ReplyReply

  12. nasanta
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 11:22:02

    I don’t really like novellas but your review and your choice of snippets have intrigued me – and it is only $0.99 on Amazon. There goes that one-click button. I’ve never read this author before. I look forward to adding her to my not-so-new-to-me author pile. Thank you.

    ReplyReply

  13. HJ
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 12:02:52

    What an excellent idea this review by authors is! I’ve bought this novella on the strength of it; it sounds lovely.

    ReplyReply

  14. EmilyD
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 12:56:15

    I completely agree with Laura’s review. I bought this on a twitter recommendation and thoroughly enjoyed. The characterizations were well-done and it was lovely to read such a realistic beta hero.

    ReplyReply

  15. Laura Florand
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 16:37:15

    @JJPP: Ahem. Well…after Snow-Kissed, this might be just the right note. At least…I hear Snow-Kissed is rather angsty. :) The couple in In the Clear is so cute, and it’s such a comforting read. It’s got a lightness to it, but not in a superficial way. Really just exactly the kind of book you want to curl up with, along with a cup of hot chocolate, on a cold Friday night.

    ReplyReply

  16. Reese Ryan
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 16:38:28

    Thanks for the recommendation, Laura. Recently I’ve discovered how much I enjoy reading novellas. I love a good beta or gamma hero, and friends-to-lover stories, so I’m all all over this one. Just one-clicked it.

    ReplyReply

  17. Laura Florand
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 16:40:11

    @rube: Exactly! I worry when I talk about her wit that people will expect a fairly flippant romantic comedy, and it’s so much better than that. She always gives that extra layering of truth to stories. Even Confident Tricks, which was a complete thief caper and very funny, had this depth to the characters and their interactions.

    ReplyReply

  18. Laura Florand
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 16:46:02

    @Reese Ryan: I love novellas. Both as a reader and a writer. As a writer, I feel as if they allow me to do such a variety of things — the light-hearted, just-for-fun story, or the dark intense delicate one that would be just too overwhelming in a longer form. And as a reader — I love that 60-90 minute sinking into a complete story and world. (As long as it’s well-done and the story feels complete.) It makes it so much easier somehow to discover new writers, too.

    ReplyReply

  19. Lindsay
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 20:40:01

    Coming in fairly late, but this review was fabulous and I picked up the novella immediately — it was out of the park for me, so I am really excited to see what else you review! I really enjoy short stories and novellas, and I’m thrilled when people specifically review them.

    ReplyReply

  20. What Kelly’s Been Reading: The “I Survived the Polar Vortex” Edition
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 12:39:07

    […] went on a huge contemporary binge, kicked off by Tamara Morgan’s In the Clear, for which I thank Laura Florand for reviewing here, because holy crap, I love that book. So of course I had to read all of Morgan’s backlist, and […]

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