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REVIEW: Reason Enough by Megan Hart

Dear Ms. Hart,

Your Spice Brief, Reason Enough continues the story of Elle and Dan from Dirty. Since I loved Dirty, I was really looking forward to Reason Enough and I am happy to say I enjoyed it.

Elle and Dan have been living in the first home they’ve owned together just a few months when Elle gets an infection and her doctor prescribes antibiotics that interfere with her birth control pills. So for a few days, rather than use a prophylactic, they satisfy each other in other ways. But the temporary ineffectiveness of Elle’s pills raises the possibility of having a baby in Dan’s mind, and he asks Elle if she would agree to have a child with him.

As Elle says in the book’s opening:

It wasn’t the sort of question I could answer at once, without hesitation. It took me hours to pick out which bath mats to put in our new bathroom. How on earth could I decide in one split moment if I should agree to have a baby?

It’s not an easy decision for Elle because, as readers of Dirty know, she comes from a dysfunctional family and her own childhood was traumatic. She didn’t have great role models in her parents and since she views having a child as a big responsibility, she is not certain she is ready to take that step.

Meanwhile, Elle’s brother Chad and his partner Luke have adopted a little girl named Leah and moved from their former home in California back to Pennsylvania. Seeing Chad with Leah keeps the question of whether or not she herself should have a child alive in Elle’s mind, even as her mother’s bigotry toward Chad’s romantic relationship with Luke and toward their black little girl rears its ugly head and keeps Elle’s doubts alive, too.

At the same time, Elle’s friend Marcy is pregnant, and the emotions of pregnancy, which Marcy exhibits, make Elle keenly aware that she herself is more closed and would find it difficult to display her feelings in a similar way. When Elle mentions Marcy’s baby shower to her mother, Elle’s mother drops a not-so-subtle hint that she wants Elle to give her a grandchild.

But are these good enough reasons for Elle to have a baby, or to refrain from having one? That’s the question at the forefront of Elle’s mind, and at the center of Reason Enough.

There were times, while reading this novelette, that I felt that the close focus on the baby issue in the secondary storylines seemed just a little bit unlikely. I was also not in doubt as to what Elle’s final decision would be, so Reason Enough did not have the same level of unpredictability Dirty had.

I wondered too, since much of Elle’s past is not detailed in Reason Enough, whether readers who had not read Dirty would find Reason Enough as compelling as I did, since they would not be as fully aware of just how traumatic her growing up years were.

But for me, who had read Dirty and knew all Elle had been through, her emotional journey in Reason Enough was deeply moving, and I even shed a tear more than once. I was also satisfied with the way the secondary storylines were wrapped up in a little over fifty pages. For such a short piece, Reason Enough feels very robust.

While some part of me would have liked to have seen Elle’s fears and her inner questioning go a bit further than they did, another part of me was glad to see that she was in a much more secure and healthy place than she had been at the beginning of Dirty. I also liked that after bringing up the possibility of having a child, Dan never pressed Elle on it, but instead, gave her the time and space that she needed in which to make her decision.

On the whole, I enjoyed Reason Enough, and since I am generally not a fan of baby epilogues, it really says a lot about how much Elle has come to mean to me as a character. B for this one.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in ebook format only.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

11 Comments

  1. Jennie
    May 30, 2008 @ 19:21:18

    I would probably give it a B also. It’s been a few weeks when I read it, and my memory doesn’t retain details in romances at all any more, but I actually remember being most moved by the descriptions of Elle’s brother’s family. They were so sweet. But, I was sort of ambivalent on Elle in Dirty, even though I did like the book, so maybe it’s not a surprise that she wasn’t my favorite character in this one.

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  2. Jennybrat
    May 30, 2008 @ 19:42:10

    PS: There’s something wrong with your link to the ebook. It’s up for preorder hereI didn’t realise Dirty would have a sequel! Makes me wish there’d be one for Broken too since that’s my favorite.

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  3. Robin
    May 30, 2008 @ 19:48:31

    I was really looking forward to this one, because I enjoyed Dirty so much and felt that Elle was such a compelling heroine.

    But I had a very ‘meh’ reaction to this piece. While I appreciated that Elle really struggled with her decision, that the conventions of the traditional Romance HEA were being questioned in a direct way, the means by which Hart had Elle make her decision felt manipulative to me at about the level of Terms of Endearment. That, not the decision itself, felt to me like a capitulation of everything she set out to avoid (vis a vis genre conventions) in Dirty. And honestly, I had the feeling several times that the piece was not much more than an excuse for Dan and Elle to have a ton of sex. I know that they have been a couple who has always communicated through sex, but I just didn’t feel the same intensity or depth in this short. For me it felt much more C-ish.

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  4. Janine
    May 30, 2008 @ 19:50:02

    I would probably give it a B also. It's been a few weeks when I read it, and my memory doesn't retain details in romances at all any more, but I actually remember being most moved by the descriptions of Elle's brother's family. They were so sweet. But, I was sort of ambivalent on Elle in Dirty, even though I did like the book, so maybe it's not a surprise that she wasn't my favorite character in this one.

    I agree about Elle’s brother’s family, and I also really liked the way the situation with Elle’s mother was resolved. I like Elle, and even more than that, I really like that Hart has the courage to write heroines who aren’t always immediately sympathetic. Dan was a little less compelling in this one. I realized as I was writing my review that I didn’t mention him a lot because he didn’t stand out in my mind as much as he did in Dirty.

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  5. Robin
    May 30, 2008 @ 19:59:55

    Dan was a little less compelling in this one. I realized as I was writing my review that I didn't mention him a lot because he didn't stand out in my mind as much as he did in Dirty.

    Interesting. I actually felt that Dan was a little more fleshed out here, in part because we get to see him interacting with more people, like at Elle’s brother’s house. The relationship, for example, between Dan and Elle’s mother, as well as meeting his dad, shed some light, for me, on why Dan was so drawn to Elle, and how quickly he seemed to cut through her defenses. Actually, that was probably the highlight of this piece for me.

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  6. Janine
    May 30, 2008 @ 20:01:25

    Jennybrat — Who knows, maybe you’ll get your wish.

    Robin — Are you talking about the last scene? I have never read or seen Terms of Endearment so the reference isn’t clear to me. Anyway, if you’re talking about the last scene, I wasn’t crazy about that, but it didn’t bother me as much perhaps because I felt that Elle had mostly made her decision before that, but just hadn’t articulated it to herself or to anyone else yet.

    For me, Reason Enough is definitley not a C because I found Elle’s interactions with her brother and her mother pretty powerful. As I said in the review, I would have loved for Elle’s questioning to go a bit deeper, though.

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  7. Janine
    May 30, 2008 @ 20:09:40

    Interesting. I actually felt that Dan was a little more fleshed out here, in part because we get to see him interacting with more people, like at Elle's brother's house. The relationship, for example, between Dan and Elle's mother, as well as meeting his dad, shed some light, for me, on why Dan was so drawn to Elle, and how quickly he seemed to cut through her defenses. Actually, that was probably the highlight of this piece for me.

    Maybe what I mean is this. In Dirty there was this dynamic where Dan was constantly pushing Elle to grow and change. I am glad he didn’t push Elle as much in Reason Enough, because the decision to have a baby is so personal. He suggested it once, and then gave her time and space which was what she needed.

    However, the outcome is that his character seemed a little less active to me; a little more like a side character and less like a hero. He was there for the sex, of course, but in his interactions with Elle and her family he seemed a bit too perfect to be completely real, which was not something I felt about him in Dirty. The result was a version of him that was a bit more bland, partly because he fit into Elle’s life and her family’s life so smoothly, and partly since, beyond his initial asking Elle if she wanted a baby (which took place off-screen, so to speak), he didn’t drive the action as much as he did in Dirty.

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  8. K
    May 30, 2008 @ 20:26:45

    I’m glad you reviewed this. I’d been hesitating about whether to order Reason Enough because I thought Dirty was pretty fantastic.

    I’m cautious about these kind of epilogues because they can ruin the original book for me if the tone or the characters feel out of whack. If I loved the book I feel protective about my reading experience of it and Elle is one of my favourite depictions of an emotionally traumatised character. I know her emotional flatness and her ambivalence about love put some people off but I found her journey very moving. It’s good to know that she’s recognisably the same Elle in Reason Enough.

    Megan Hart is not quite an auto-buy for me (I disliked Tempted a lot) but she’s pretty close.

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  9. Janine
    May 30, 2008 @ 21:28:57

    K — I did feel that Elle was recongizable as the same Elle, but she was in a healthier and more whole place than she’d been for much of Dirty. That was also moving to me; it was good to see all the progress that she’d made.

    Megan Hart is not quite an auto-buy for me (I disliked Tempted a lot) but she's pretty close.

    I liked Tempted, but not nearly as much as Dirty or Broken. Still, Hart is pretty much an autobuy for me at this point. I really appreciate the fact that her books are so unusual.

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  10. Janet/Robin
    Jun 02, 2008 @ 00:22:28

    Robin -’ Are you talking about the last scene? I have never read or seen Terms of Endearment so the reference isn't clear to me. Anyway, if you're talking about the last scene, I wasn't crazy about that, but it didn't bother me as much perhaps because I felt that Elle had mostly made her decision before that, but just hadn't articulated it to herself or to anyone else yet.

    The last three or so scenes, actually. They felt manipulated to me, which is what I meant by the ToE reference (it’s a tear jerker of a movie about a woman who has an estranged relationship with her mother until she gets cancer).

    I think Hart was in a tough spot; she was tackling a traditional Romance epilogue topic but hadn’t written a Romance, per se, with Dirty. And while one of the things I loved about Dirty was the edgy romanticism, I felt that Reason Enough rounded off too many of those edges. Which may not have bothered me if the story had taken place YEARS rather than months into Dan and Elle’s marriage (and if it had been longer).

    Where I noticed that difference, for example, was in Elle’s relationship with her mother. On one level I thought it was interesting that Elle underestimates her mother’s ultimate behavior at her brother’s party, but on another level I felt it was a bit too easy of a solution to a problem that was introduced in the story and that seemed to be an extension of the situation in Dirty (with both Elle and her brother relative to their mother). Again, the months not years distance made it feel forced to me.

    It was strange because while I certainly rooted for Elle’s happiness in Dirty, I didn’t imagine her making this particular choice within months of her marriage. And while I didn’t want to be in a position where I was wanting Elle to be off-kilter longer than she needed to be, the person we meet in Dirty is pretty wounded. IMO Hart managed to avoid some of the “love heals” cliches in Dirty, but it felt to me like she gave in to them in Reason Enough. I didn’t hate it, and there were scenes I liked, but overall, I didn’t love it.

    Maybe what I mean is this. In Dirty there was this dynamic where Dan was constantly pushing Elle to grow and change. I am glad he didn't push Elle as much in Reason Enough, because the decision to have a baby is so personal. He suggested it once, and then gave her time and space which was what she needed.

    I see what you’re saying, Janine, and I agree with you here.

    He was there for the sex, of course, but in his interactions with Elle and her family he seemed a bit too perfect to be completely real, which was not something I felt about him in Dirty.

    I didn’t feel that way about him in RE, but I remember people having this complaint about Dirty, which is interesting, because I think it shows how enigmatic Dan still is as a character to some degree. The epilogue I would have loved to see, frankly, was one from Dan’s POV, because I wondered more than once if Hart was conscious of the criticism of Dan, the questions about why he would love Elle so much, when she was writing RE. In some ways it seemed a bit of an explanation to me.

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  11. Janine
    Jun 02, 2008 @ 13:36:39

    The last three or so scenes, actually. They felt manipulated to me, which is what I meant by the ToE reference (it's a tear jerker of a movie about a woman who has an estranged relationship with her mother until she gets cancer).

    I believe the movie was based on a novel of the same title by Larry McMurtry. I did know what it was about, but I have never seen the movie or read the book, though I had assumed that since McMurtry is a Pulitzer-winning author (for Lonesome Dove), the story was probably at least halfway decent.

    I think I agree with you that some parts of Reason Enough felt manipulated (at least, if I understand what you mean by that correctly). That is what I was trying to get at when I said in my review that there were times I felt that “the close focus on the baby issue in the secondary storylines seemed just a little bit unlikely.” What I mean by this is that it felt to me like the secondary characters’ storylines were geared at pointing Elle toward her ultimate decision, as well as at highlighting her issues. I actually felt that way from very early on, when Chad visited Elle with a daughter and Marcy was revealed to be pregnant.

    But maybe I was more sensitized toward that because I felt that there was some of that in Tempted, also — in that book, I felt that the storylines involving the heroine’s sisters and her parents were there to point out the issues the heroine was struggling with. I’m not wholly opposed to that — there are times when minor characters’ storylines echoing the major ones can be a wonderful thing. But there are times when it starts to feel a little bit less than completely natural or realistic. And in Reason Enough, it felt like it was geared toward pointing Elle in the direction of her ultimate decision.

    I think Hart was in a tough spot; she was tackling a traditional Romance epilogue topic but hadn't written a Romance, per se, with Dirty. And while one of the things I loved about Dirty was the edgy romanticism, I felt that Reason Enough rounded off too many of those edges. Which may not have bothered me if the story had taken place YEARS rather than months into Dan and Elle's marriage (and if it had been longer).

    That is a good point. But how old is Elle? Perhaps one consideration is that the characters start their family while they were still young enough to do so.

    Where I noticed that difference, for example, was in Elle's relationship with her mother. On one level I thought it was interesting that Elle underestimates her mother's ultimate behavior at her brother's party, but on another level I felt it was a bit too easy of a solution to a problem that was introduced in the story and that seemed to be an extension of the situation in Dirty (with both Elle and her brother relative to their mother). Again, the months not years distance made it feel forced to me.

    I didn’t really see it as a solution, but more as a temporary truce. I actually thought that what happened with Elle’s mother and Leah was very much in keeping with Elle’s mother’s reaction to Dan in Dirty. But with regard to Elle’s mother and Elle and Chad, I really didn’t think it was a resolution, or that the problems were being swept under the rug in any permanent way.

    It was strange because while I certainly rooted for Elle's happiness in Dirty, I didn't imagine her making this particular choice within months of her marriage. And while I didn't want to be in a position where I was wanting Elle to be off-kilter longer than she needed to be, the person we meet in Dirty is pretty wounded. IMO Hart managed to avoid some of the “love heals” cliches in Dirty, but it felt to me like she gave in to them in Reason Enough. I didn't hate it, and there were scenes I liked, but overall, I didn't love it.

    I see what you are saying, and I think it ties in to what I said about my wanting Elle’s struggle with her decision to go deeper than it went. But for me, the story was still above average and quite moving, so I think it didn’t bother me to the same degree that it bothered you.

    I didn't feel that way about him in RE, but I remember people having this complaint about Dirty, which is interesting, because I think it shows how enigmatic Dan still is as a character to some degree. The epilogue I would have loved to see, frankly, was one from Dan's POV, because I wondered more than once if Hart was conscious of the criticism of Dan, the questions about why he would love Elle so much, when she was writing RE. In some ways it seemed a bit of an explanation to me.

    Interesting. I never wondered why Dan would love Elle — it always felt to me like there was a lot there to love (although I realize that not every reader loves Elle). But I would have liked to have seen a flaw or two in Dan in Reason Enough. In Dirty, I felt that there were a few flaws, but in Reason Enough, he seemed like the perfect husband to me.

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