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REVIEW: His Secret Past by Ellen Hartman

Dear Mrs. Hartman,

I’m so glad you offered DA a chance to read your latest release “His Secret Past.” I gotta be honest and say that when I look at current and future offerings from Harlequin lately, I’m desperately trying to find books that don’t feature a cherubic child or knocked up heroine in either the cover art or the title. Not that I don’t like children but gimme a break here Harlequin.

When I read the blurb for your book what stood out for me was the lack of those elements. When I read the actual book, what stood out for me were so many other wonderful things. This is a book packed with a lot of great conflict, emotion, and secondary characters. There are no standard romance tropes to turn away the jaded romance reader. It’s romance with a great beta guy, an intelligent heroine and un contrived personal problems as the center of the conflict.

Mason Star and Anna Walsh are on a course for conflict before they even know it. He wants nothing to do with his past as an up-and-coming and then downwardly spiraling rock star. She has wanted to know what happened 15 years ago that caused the death of her best friend while on the band’s tour bus. He’s put all that behind him to start and run a nonprofit organization to give a second chance and/or helping hands to those down on their luck and she’s the documentary film maker who could help him save it from the do-gooding efforts of the neighborhood association determined to put it out of business.

Mason’s got more on his plate than just keeping Mulligan’s alive. His teenage son seems bound and determined to follow in his dad’s footsteps as a rock singer while Mason is horrified at the thought that Christian could fall into the drugs and alcohol that nearly cost Mason everything. For Anna, this film marks the last collaborative effort with her brother and the end of their production company “Blue Maverick.” What’s she going to do now when all she’s known for years is a life on the road and planning for the next film?

So many people, including Anna at first, seem to think Mason is still the famous hard rocker he used to be. As he tells her when she arrives to pitch her idea of a film about Five Star, his old band, that man is dead. I love how you show the man he is now. And how Anna picks up on this and uses it in the film. But even she doesn’t initially catch how afraid he is of saying the wrong thing to Chris. How terrified Mason is of making a mistake with Chris.

That relationship, the one with Chris, is so great in this book. Any one can take classes or read about being a parent and have all the right answers – if it isn’t your child. But when you’re in the hot seat, it’s hard to know what to say right then. And poor Mason has almost nothing to fall back on from his own messed up childhood. He’s made a career of trying to fit into the average suburban lifestyle. Something which you show in Anna’s past as not all it’s cracked up to be. I adored the golf scene where Anna reveals her past as a country club kid while showing Mason how to finally relax and truly enjoy the game.

Another thing I appreciate is that there is no inappropriate sex. In fact, I’m not quite sure whether or not these two did the dirty at all and frankly the story is just fine that way. It’s nice to see a couple growing together emotionally before jumping into the nearest bed. The secondary characters are many but each has a place and a reason. They fit this story and add to it without hogging room for any sequel.

Thanks for not pulling any punches as far as Mason’s former life/actions – he did screw up, he did do the ‘rock’n’roll’ lifestyle but he’s learned from it and is determined his son won’t suffer as he did. Just when I was wondering how you were going to pull together all the different threads of the story, you managed it beautifully with a powerfully emotional scene in which Mason finally tells what happened that night on the tour bus and Anna’s heart breaks for the lost soul he was and how far he fell before catching himself. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year and one I highly recommend. A-

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

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.

19 Comments

  1. Jia
    May 15, 2008 @ 15:24:01

    I normally don’t read straight contemporaries, but this sounds lovely.

  2. Francois
    May 15, 2008 @ 15:48:10

    He was in Five Star? No wonder he wants to forget!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Star

    (ok, so you wouldn’t have heard of them in the US, but look at the picture and you’ll get the idea)

  3. Kris
    May 15, 2008 @ 15:54:57

    I stopped reading the review at “his past as an up-and-coming and then downwardly spiraling rock star” and bought the book :-) Thanks!

  4. Shannon Stacey
    May 15, 2008 @ 16:36:00

    Another great Super on shelves right now is The Man Behind the Cop by Janice Kay Johnson. I don’t usually read a lot of Supers (too many category lines, not enough book dollars) but I picked that one up after reading a review at TGTBTU and now I’ll grab this one, too.

  5. Jayne
    May 15, 2008 @ 18:26:40

    Haha Francois. No I’d never heard of this group but the fictional Five Star has a similar rise up the charts and crashes as the drugs and alcohol kick in.

  6. Jayne
    May 15, 2008 @ 18:27:35

    Shannon, I was eyeing that book as well. There’s another set in Australia that looks interesting too.

  7. Gail
    May 15, 2008 @ 19:11:38

    Picked it up this evening because I read this review this afternoon… I’m not usually a big fan of Supers, but this one sounded good.

  8. Mary Winter
    May 15, 2008 @ 19:31:24

    Wonderful! I have this coming from eharlequin and I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for the review.

  9. Gwyneth Bolton
    May 15, 2008 @ 19:48:48

    I read this book and LOVED it. Ellen Hartman did a wonderful job showing the love and the tension in the father son relationship. And I love the way she developed the relationship between Mason and Anna. Hartman writes characters that you just don’t want to stop reading about. Great book!

    Gwyneth

  10. Julia B.
    May 15, 2008 @ 20:26:24

    I have to confess that I didn’t know the author before, but reading your review I want to read it. Sounds like a good, emotional book.

  11. Julie H
    May 15, 2008 @ 20:42:39

    I picked this book up on a whim and I totally agree with the review. Lovely and engrossing. I read it in one day and I don’t normally enjoy Harlequin Superromance but this one was definitely the exception. Definite must read!

  12. Jayne
    May 16, 2008 @ 07:50:27

    And I forgot to mention that most of the action is set in New Jersey. How many books are set in NJ? ;)

  13. Chicklet
    May 16, 2008 @ 09:02:25

    Could anyone who’s read the book explain the tuxedo on the cover? Is this just another case of artistic inaccuracy on the part of the publisher? *g*

  14. Jayne
    May 16, 2008 @ 09:52:03

    It’s from a scene where his lawyer (for the nonprofit group) gets married to one of their early success stories. It’s held at the center and the whole group gets involved.

  15. Chicklet
    May 16, 2008 @ 12:36:11

    Ah, thanks, Jayne! Also, I’m seconding your wish to Harlequin for fewer babycentric stories — Sometimes I think their advertising slogan is “Harlequin SuperRomance: Because a Woman Isn’t a Person Until She Has a Baby.” *g*

  16. Kelly
    Nov 09, 2009 @ 19:07:07

    So, she’s not knocked up and they aren’t making a baby, but it does sound like being a parent is a large part of the story, which will probably be what stops me from picking it up.

  17. Jayne
    Nov 10, 2009 @ 04:10:34

    @Kelly: Yep, being a parent is very important for Mason.

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