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REVIEW: Her Kind of Trouble by Sarah Mayberry

troubleDear Ms. Mayberry:

This story could have gone wrong in so many ways, and the fact that it doesn’t makes me appreciate it even more. Pretty much every time I feared it was going to go to a stupid or annoying or too obvious place, it didn’t.

Her Kind of Trouble is about growth and maturity and the ways people change — and the ways they stay the same. In the opening chapter, aspiring fashion designer Vivian meets her new brother-in-law by marriage at her sister’s wedding, and instantly recognizes a rebellious, good-time-seeking kindred spirit in Seth. A very sexy kindred spirit. Over champagne and a joint (Oh Harlequin! I hardly know you!), they share a passionate interlude in a limo, and then cheerfully part.

Ten years later, a lot has changed for Vivian. Her career has taken a different path, though one that’s still creative and her. She still loves sex just as much, but is less interested in one-nighters. And the woman who was once sure “there would be no cozy domestic arrangements in her future” and “there would definitely be no babies,” has discovered she’s quite susceptible to the charms of her nephews, though not to the point of giving up her career when her (now ex-) lover demanded it. She’s settled down in Australia to be closer to her family, and is honored when her sister asks her to be guardian to the boys, though surprised that Seth will be her co-guardian:

she was privately boggled at her sister’s choice. Being based overseas, she’d seen Seth only a handful of times in the past ten years, but the family grapevine had kept her up-to-date on the headlines of his life. She knew for example, that he’d given up on the band seven years ago and had been bumming around in various jobs in the nightclub and bar scene ever since. She knew that he was still a total pants man, showing up with a new girlfriend every six months without fail.

She’s even more surprised to learn the big news about Seth: he’s going to be a father himself.

A strange feeling gripped her. A little like vertigo, but not. In her secret hear of hearts, she’d kept a casual eye on Seth, ensuring she knew enough but not too much about his life. Not because she was interested in him romantically, God forbid, but because he was the male approximation of her on Jason’s side of the family — the younger sibling, a bit of a screw up, never one to color within the lines. In a strange way, he’d become the benchmark for her own success — or not — over the years. As long as he was still single, it was okay that things hadn’t worked out with Franco and she was alone again.

Seth actually is still single; he’s going to be co-parenting with his ex, Lola. (Although — be still my heart! — they did consider abortion. SuperRomances are truly a world away from Harlequin Presents.) And he’s just as boggled by his brother’s choice of flakey Vivian as she was by their choice of him — and makes the mistake of saying so. Which brings a furious Vivian to his door, just in time to be there for a shattering phone call.

The rest of the story is at times fun and sexy and at times desperately sad. Seth is left to bring up a daughter alone, a responsibility he faces with anxious but loving determination. Vivian is too sympathetic — and too drawn to him — to stay away. Inevitably, hotness ensues. (I’m not sure how believable all that sex is for the single, working, sleep-deprived dad of a preemie newborn, but eh, who wants perfect realism in romance?) They’re also getting to know each other as their more mature selves — no longer so reckless and irresponsible, but still striking wonderful sparks of humor, mutual understanding, and chemistry. It’s a relationship which has a lot of potential, but it’s innately limited:

That was the way it had always been between them, right from the start. A battle of wills. A game. A dance. Parry, thrust, advance, retreat. Neither of them giving any ground. Neither of them showing any weakness.

It had always been part of the fun. Part of the danger and challenge.

It has also stopped them from talking about what they were to each other, what place they held in each other’s lives. God forbid they let their guards down. God forbid they show weakness or risk hurt.

Still, neither Seth nor Vivian is obnoxiously stubborn. Both have good reason to be nervous about getting involved, but they don’t cling desperately to those reasons when it’s clear that something is developing between them anyway. Everything that happens feels right for who they are. And though what happens to Lola could seem terribly convenient in a romance, it’s so very clear that it’s not, for anyone involved. Although she barely appears, her character is given a great deal of narrative time and respect, and I wept for her.

I cried again at the end of the story, this time happy tears because it felt so true and right. (Yeah, I was probably pretty softened up by the sad parts.) There were a couple of elements to the book I wasn’t crazy about: Seth’s self-consciousness about any “threat” to his masculinity is something I’m really tired of in contemporary romance. (He’ll wear a baby sling, but he just has to comment on it: “Yeah, I know, this thing is ridiculous, the most emasculating invention in the history of the world. But she loves it.”) And the writing style tends towards “tell,” though done skillfully through the thoughts of the characters. But I was genuinely happy to see these sharp, funny, unapologetically themselves people find their right paths and each other. B+

Sincerely,

Willaful

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Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. She finally gave in and started reading romance again in 2006, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at www.willaful.wordpress.com

6 Comments

  1. FD
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 09:03:09

    Sorry – can’t remember how to spoiler tag here, so take it as read this comment has spoilers.

    You know, I really wanted to love this. And on some levels, I did. Seth and Vivian are brightly, boldly coloured and characterised and felt ‘real’. As did the considerations they jointly and individually had and the choices they made, from the initial hook-up through to the denouement. (And just HOW aggravating is it that STILL, even those brief mentions of the joint and abortion are going to be seen as controversial by many? But I digress.)

    Two things stuck with me: the condom ditching. I’d be pretty happy if I never again read a scene where in the middle of foreplay/just prior to coitus, they decide to ditch the condom. It’s not a convo to have in the heat of the moment and frankly I don’t see WHY ditching the condom has become such a genre convention anyway. Won’t someone think of those who can’t use hormonal BC? #sarcasticplea.
    But seriously, yeah, for once I’d like to see realistic grown up characters have the serious realistic conversation in a serious, grown-up manner.

    The second leads in from this: fridging Lola. I just didn’t feel it was necessary to the book and it spoiled it for me. I can see the stylistic choices that might lead to it, the compression of the time frame, the heightened emotions, the forced intimacy, all of which are used to progress the relationship and manage it within the page count.
    However, there’s nothing in the main character’s arcs, to me anyway, that couldn’t have still been shown without her death; it didn’t feel like it was necessary to the romance. The drama of it sat uneasily with the realism of the story overall and as a choice felt uncomfortably like punishment in the old-skool style.
    So yeah, I liked, but didn’t love this one. Not sure entirely sure if I can articulate why it struck me so hard here – the character death in Within Reach didn’t affect me like that at all.
    I dunno, I just expect better from Mayberry. :/ A compliment of sorts I suppose.

  2. Isobel Carr
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 09:21:04

    Sold! Not big on babies in books, but since Her Best Worst Mistake is my favorite Mayberry to date, this one looks right up my alley.

  3. SusanS
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 10:32:58

    @FD: I agree with you on the Lola issue. I never got past the sadness (especially the gut-wrenching scenes with her parents) to feel excited about Seth and Vivian’s romance. I’m also not a big fan of babies in romances, so altogether it was not anywhere near my favorite Mayberry.

  4. Erin Satie
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 12:57:57

    About the baby sling comment–when I read it, I smiled. And I wondered if it might be the kind of comment designed to put OTHER people at ease. I asked myself, “Well, would I want him to remain quiet about it?” — it’s more fun to find humor in a situation, to laugh at yourself a little.

    I mean, take out the word ‘emascualting’ and I can imagine saying almost the same thing myself if someone tried to get me to put on a baby sling.

    Not saying it doesn’t hit a wrong note or that the comment isn’t a symptom of a trait that shows up all over the place in the book. Just a thought.

  5. Willaful
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 13:04:16

    @Erin Satie: Yeah, I used that particular line because it was the easiest to quote, but it wasn’t the one that actually bothered me the most. There were at least three, one a bit of a sneer at feminism, and though all can be taken as joking, the general attitude gets up my nose.

  6. Bronte
    Apr 02, 2014 @ 20:30:41

    @Willaful:
    It might get up your nose (and mine as well) but its an accurate representation of the Australian male. I can imagine that statement coming out of my brothers mouths fairly easily. I’m on the fence about this book. I do like Sarah Mayberry’s books but tend to avoid the ones with kids. Not sure :/

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