Dear Mrs Wells,
What happens when you take an intriguing idea and mix it with nice characters but throw in very standard plotting? A reader who ends up feeling manipulated. Oh, I know that’s what a romance book is supposed to do – get you to root for the characters and sigh at the HEA – but I just don’t want the strings to be that visible as they’re pulled.
How would you like to be Monica Lewinsky? For Real. And deal with white hot spotlight of public ridicule? Yet know you were innocent and still not be able to prove it? Emma is a detail oriented woman who’s made her way in life, built a business, takes pride in who and what she is and it’s all torn away. During a public relations trip, President-elect Ferguson visits the house where she’s the temporary hired butler. Her business supplies them but she also does some of the work herself, especially for long time clients. Ferguson is a sleaze who demands that the Secret Service supply him with a call girl for the night but the extended whoopee brings on a fatal heart attack. Circumstances fall just right and Emma, who conveniently resembles the call girl, gets tagged by the press then made into the fall girl by The Powers That Be. Despite all her efforts, no on believes her story of innocence and no one associated with the Ferguson debacle who’s in the know and could help her will help her.
Sick of being the national joke, Emma heads to the convenient small town in Louisiana where her grandmother lives in order to try and salvage what she can of her life. But of course no one will leave her alone. She’s snubbed, insulted, sneered and snickered at where ever she goes. Until the golden day when hardworking “straight as an arrow” town DA Max Duval comes to her rescue. Only Max is also engaged in a hard fought reelection battle with a local well-to-do, though sleazy, lawyer who will stoop to any level to win. This is only one of the many plot threads that any romance reader will recognize and know what’s coming during the final 1/3 of the book.
Emma’s grandmother, aka “Grams,” is a delightful, meddling old coot-ess. She truly loves Emma and does want the best for her though I don’t think she ever once stopped to think about how her little stratagems to maneuver Emma and Max together was stealing away Emma’s self determination just as the press/public did. But still she’s patient with Max’s grandfather Harold’s – also conveniently living in the same retirement home – forgetfulness. I applauded how she stood up for herself and defended those she loves but got terribly annoyed at the sort of patronizing humor gained by “Grams-speak.’ My mother isn’t that much younger than Grams and never mixes up slang and common turns of speech and after reading 5-7 Grams-speak slip-ups on one page, it got old. Really old. And we all know how Gram’s little manipulations on Emma’s behalf will backfire at the appropriate points in the plot.
After being treated like the town pariah to the point of tears, Emma’s public rehabilitation at the hands of the kindly town hair stylist begins. There is some initial resistance but then seemingly with no effort at all Emma’s kindness and saintliness start to shine through. Max is already on the Emma-didn’t-do-it bandwagon and engages the help of his friend the PI to look into things – and here’s another thread that will become apparent right when Max and Emma’s budding relationship needs to be nipped. But Max’s interference – excuse me helpfulness – sparks hope in Emma and she heads off for one final, and completely TSTL given her reputation, attempt to discover the truth after which all is fixed, life is rosy, the good guys win and the bad guys go down in public humiliation.
It’s not that I didn’t like Emma and Max. It’s not that I didn’t want Grams and Harold to assert their independence and find a secondary romance. I enjoyed seeing Emma rebuild her life, gain confidence and make new friends. I just didn’t want to know by page 200 how it was all going to happen. Exactly who would do what and how it would all be achieved. This isn’t a bad book. These aren’t horrible characters. The writing style is fine but as a 10 year romance reader, I’ve seen it before. C