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REVIEW: Secrets and Speed Dating by Leah Ashton

Trying to move on from a disastrous engagement, Sophie Morgan needs a date for her best friend’s wedding–and fast! And what quicker way to find a man than speed dating? Only it’s bar manager Dan Halliday who catches Sophie’s eye.

Dan can’t resist helping a damsel in distress, so he offers her a deal–a few shifts in the bar in exchange for the date–no strings attached. But when pretence leads to passion, they both get more than they bargained for. And it’s too late to have any secrets between them….

Dear Ms. Ashton,

I was drawn to your book for a couple of reasons. Usually the “Romance” line works well for me because it features nice heroes, it doesn’t center on secret babies and the heroines have a backbone. I don’t ask for much. But once I started reading “Secrets and Speed Dating,” I realized I was getting a bit more than I bargained for: an anti-secret baby – something I haven’t seen in Harlequin books very much.

9780373178155.inddFirst, let me talk about the book’s basics. Sophie’s meticulous planning of every aspect of her life makes sense as you’ve written her history of getting through her cancer treatments. It’s how she does her life and it’s kind of cute in a way. Dan used to be – well maybe not quite that absorbed – but as obsessed with how he wanted his life to go. He’s learned to let loose and it’s fun to watch him shake Sophie up and get her to relax. I was enjoying the book up until the ubiquitous moment when Sophie has to suddenly – is this due to lack of word count? – change her mind about sex and their relationship gets hawt and she finds she can’t do “lighthearted, short fling” quite as easily as she thought she could and she gets hurt but then – also suddenly – Dan changes his mind and he’s ready for a relationship and then he discovers the Big Secret. Sophie asks him how he can do a 180 almost overnight. I wanted that answer too but felt it was more that it was getting close to the end of the book and there wasn’t enough time for it to feel believable. This part gets a C+.

Now let’s discuss what I was a little amazed – but in a good way! – to see here. It seems that Harlequin loves babies. There are babies all over the various line covers. Pregnant women are popular too. And the epilogues usually feature the happy, fecund couple. Readers better be able to handle diapers and formula for a lot of the lines. In this book, though, I began to get the feeling that you just might be dishing up something different. Sophie can’t have babies. Now I can’t count the number of times a book has started this way. The distressed heroine feels she can never have children. She feels incomplete. She feels less than a woman. But then by the end of the book – A miracle happens!! – and she finds herself preggers. Sophie feels this way too at times but she knows there will be no miracle baby. No man’s sperm will magically change the situation. This is it and a man has to accept it. She thought she had such a man but then he changed his mind and the news that his girlfriend is pregnant is a blow Sophie feels deeply. Her brittle confession to her speed dates attempts to narrow down the candidates but deep down Sophie hurts from this.

I’ve got to give you credit for writing this story line. And for not suddenly changing the game on us in the closing pages of the book. If someone really does want children but can’t have them, reading books which have couples who are granted their wish must hurt at the same time as she feels happy for that make believe child. But you’ve written something both bittersweet and truly moving. Dan wants kids and after losing his chance years ago, suddenly finding the perfect woman who makes him change his mind about “forever” and then discovering the secret she never thought she’d need to tell him because they were only supposed to be pretend dating for a few weeks, has to hurt.

But Dan gets a chance to know, deep down, what is really important to him: Sophie without children of their own or life without her. And I was cheering his soppy declaration that life without her was something he couldn’t imagine facing. Here’s a hero who affirms his heroine completeness, who knows what he’s getting into and who tells her that she’s all he needs. He accepts what they can’t have. It makes me happy that someone has written this book for all the women who aren’t going to have that miracle that they want so badly. For me, this part of the book is a B.

Most of the book is fairly standard for a Harlequin. There’s some fun, good stuff but the sudden changes for Dan and Sophie that were needed to set up conflict scene felt very predictable. Once the Big Mis had separated them for a little while and Dan came to his senses about what’s really important to him and poured his heart out to Sophie, I was happy. But I wish there had been a bit more space in the final section so that Sophie and I didn’t have to question his flip-flop so much. Still, I applaud you for taking a different road than usually seen with these baby centered plots. B-

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

16 Comments

  1. Brie
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 09:52:49

    Now I’m trying to come up with a list of books I’ve read with heroines that can’t have babies and they stay that way until the end, no miraculous pregnancies and no annoying baby epilogue. Can’t remember any, but I know I’ve read them. I think in one of Julie Garwood’s contemporaries the heroine can’t have babies because she was shot. Ugh! I hate that I can’t remember more books because I love these “anti-secret baby” stories, it angers me when heroines get magically pregnant at the end, why not adopt? That’s a happy ending also! The same when the heroine doesn’t want to have kids, but then changes her mind because loves cures it all and not wanting to have kids is apparently something that needs to be cured…

    Great review! I’m definitely reading this book.

  2. Karen
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 10:45:14

    The Santangeli Marriage by Sara Craven is a Harlequin Presents that DOESN’T end with a a baby epilogue

  3. Lester @ Broshegroup
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 10:59:38

    Never read this book yet but based on the review it could be an exciting book to read.

  4. Janet
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 11:23:51

    Thanks for the review – I like the “no baby” twist. I haven’t read this book so can’t say if adoption was an option, but I am really truly puzzled why adoption often isn’t even considered, as just another normal route to parenting.

  5. Jayne
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 13:18:38

    Brie – I reviewed a book here years ago with this set up – heroine can’t have a child – but then the miracle happened!! and she got pregnant. I mentioned how I thought it might be painful for women who really can’t experience that miracle!! to read books where it always seems to happen. Quite a few posters replied that they knew of people who’d had the miracle!! I still feel that given the number of women who try everything and don’t get the baby they so desperately want to give birth to, there ought to be books for them.

  6. Kate Hewitt
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 13:19:52

    As someone who has experienced the joy of having a child as well as the heartache of losing one, I appreciate books without the ‘bonus baby’ epilogue. I’ve read some in the Presents line (and have written one too) but I do like the Romance line and I read the first chapter of this book when it was in the Mills & Boon writing contest last year–it was the winner and well-deserved of that honour. I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

  7. Jayne
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 13:20:21

    Janet – I wish adoption was considered more often in romance books, too.

  8. Estara
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 15:17:17

    Janet, that was exactly my first thought after finishing reading the review. Heh.

  9. Emily
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 20:32:29

    Mary and Rhage in Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward. She can’t have kids and while it isn’t important in most of the book it makes a huge reappearance at the end for a good reason. No magic miracle baby yet for them in the series but there is supposed to be a novella where they adopt later.

  10. Nikki Logan
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 21:59:05

    I can’t think of a way that introducing thoughts of adoption (or surrogacy, or any of the assisted reproduction options that are probably out there) at the HEA moment won’t read conditional. As though their HEA is reliant on them finding a solution to the question of no kids. Or, worse, the suggestion that their relationship is somehow harmed by the future absence of kids.

    The absolute strength in this story (and its ending) is the absence of the ‘it’s okay honey there’s lots of things we can yet do to get you pregnant’. Dan loves Sophie. She’s enough for him. And that’s really important to her entire character arc and — to be honest — mine! To have weighed down the ending with thoughts of how much wholer Sophie would be if only they could find a way to get a baby in her arms would have weakened the story, I think.

    Right ending for the right characters.

    And for the reader, nothing is ruled in or out at the end of the book–if you’re hoping for a happy ending that involves nappies for them then you can imagine a whole bunch of steps yet to come for them to perhaps lead to a non-biological/assisted family (and the A-word does even come up and go again in a breath). If you believe these two nice people can make a valid and healthy relationship without kids then you, win, too.

    End of the day, the moment at the end of the story is about these two people. Dan and Sophie, and their damage from the past being made a little less by each other’s love. I’m not sure there’s room for baby-makes-three in that moment. And should there be? They have a lifetime to get their heads around that stuff.

  11. Kaetrin
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 03:31:22

    I’m another reader who appreciates the no miracle baby epilogue. Even though it’s fiction, it does seem a slap in the face. There are many of us who have lost children and struggled with fertility (even though I am fortunate enough to have one healthy child, it does not diminish the pain of the lost ones) – we have to work out our own HEA when that means no (or in my case, no more) children. It’s nice to see other heroines doing just that in fiction; it reminds us that it can be done, that we are worth loving even though we are fertility-challenged. I don’t mind the baby epilogue in some books, but where fertility is an issue, I’d rather not, thank you.

  12. Julia Broadbooks
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 06:23:22

    @Nikki Logan: I’ve not read this Leah’s book yet, but I love the idea that the romance is enough. Sometimes that miracle surprise baby epilogue can end up making me feel that the romance wasn’t enough for the couple’s HEA. I love the idea that Dan and Sophie are sufficient, just as they are. If they have babies in the future – however they have them – they’ll be a bonus.

  13. Donna
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 06:38:35

    Great review! I’m not a big believer of miracle cures either, and try not to use them in my books. I’ve got one where the heroine can’t have kids and the adoption option is mentioned at the end (but no miraculous pregnancy), a heroine whose treatment means getting pregnant could be difficult or impossible, and a hero who lost a limb who, at the end of the story, still does not have a prosthetic.

    Maybe I made those choices because life isn’t like that, you know? And like Nikki said – the romance has to be enough. I think HEAs aren’t necessarily to solve all those problems but to give the reader a couple who believe that the characters can face whatever comes their way together.

    Great dialogue here guys! :-)

  14. Ros
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 06:48:10

    India Grey’s The Society Wife/Spanish Aristocrat, Forced Bride has an adoption happy ending which works really well in my opinion.

  15. CathyShouse
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 13:20:23

    I’ve read “Speed Dating” and enjoyed that she “completed him” without their own babies for the future.
    I liked how she came to accept her situation. Initially, the first thing she tells potential speed dates is “I can’t have kids,” making it the most important thing about her. By the end, she knows not being able to give birth to her own children is one reality of her life and they both see it doesn’t define her and negate her beauty, both inside and out. Great discussion!

  16. Anna Cowan
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 08:31:09

    @Brie: Ruthie Knox’s latest About Last Night is a great read and has a heroine who’s physically incapable of having kids.

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