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REVIEW: Private Lives by Gwynne Forster

Dear Ms. Forster,

private-livesSeveral things about the back blurb for your book grabbed my attention.

After a bitter divorce, all cookbook author Allison Sawyer needs is some peace–and to lose herself in a kitchen, whipping up delectable meals. But the rustic retreat in the mountains offers more than seclusion. It offers one friendly and very fine neighbor.

Torn between her attraction to Brock Lightner and her reluctance to get close to another man–especially one she suspects might be working for her powerful ex–Allison keeps her distance. But the remote, idyllic setting and Brock’s rugged sensuality are an enticing combination.

A private investigator looking to make a fresh start, Brock is intrigued by Allison. Who or what is she running from? And how can he convince her that he’ll do anything to protect her…and to have the chance to love her?

I like characters who don’t automatically shut off all thoughts of finding The One just because of a past failed romance and the idea of a strong man who can entice trust from a wounded woman. Plus I love to cook – even if I’m not so hot on the cleaning up afterwards. But what I got is, I’m afraid, not what I was looking for in a romance.

Allison has endured a controlling first marriage with an older man. She was miserable and finally fled due to her husband’s abuse of their child and neglect of her needs. Yet…almost immediately Brock starts to push her. And push her. Sometimes gently but it always seems to be there. Yes, he’s a gentleman and he cares for Dudley and genuinely appears to care for Allison but even after he knows the facts about her first marriage, he pushes her.

And then, after having gotten a response from her and the almost certain feeling that he loves her and Dudley, he seems to pull back slightly in his own feelings and tells her he’s not sure of his emotions yet. This seriously pisses me off. Especially when both Brock’s brother Jason and his best friend Ross add to the pressure on Allison by telling her he’s such a catch and she shouldn’t let him get away. Ross might not know the details of her life but Jason certainly does.

I didn’t feel that he was helping her with her trust issues so much as gently demanding that she trust him. Setting tests for her to gauge if she was going to turn away from him or not. I’m not quite sure about these actions but I know I don’t care for them.

Dudley is a cutey. When the book starts, he’s acting like a boy who is loved, cared for but ultimately in need of something. You make it very obvious that what he needs is some male guidance and presence in his life. He responds well to Brock’s gentle corrections, almost turning into super child. I wondered how long this would last and feel that you made him seem more realistic to me when he slips slightly and pulls the ravine stunt.

If Brock is going to take his dog, Jack, with him to hunt for Dudley, then he needs to give Jack his head and trust the dog to search the boy out. Not yank back on Jack’s lead and not let the dog do what Brock hopes he will do – and that’s locate the missing child. But I like how Brock introduces Jack to Dudley and how he otherwise handles the dog.

Allison’s culinary creations sound marvelous. Though I would wish for a little more detail on how she works out the recipes and her trials testing them.

Allison’s hesitation to trust anyone she doesn’t know is well founded. She had reasons to run from her ex and given his threats, more reason to hide. I did wonder why she chose an isolated cabin near a small town. It would seem to me that this would make her stick out like a sore thumb whereas if she were in a larger city, she could slip into a neighborhood more easily and blend in.

When Allison discovers Brock’s past life as a PI, she panics and begins to freeze him out of her life. Brock then acts like a child in a sandbox. Jason immediately figures out the problem (and by this point Allison has told Brock all about her ex-husband and his threats so why didn’t Brock figure it out?) and suggests it to Brock but, oh no, he won’t listen. Allison has dissed him in public and Brock isn’t about to try to talk to this woman he claims he loves and figure out a solution to their problem. He says that she judged him in a snap instant. Well, what did he do? And at least she has good reason while he’s just in a pique. Which he holds onto for longer than a week.

Even after he acknowledges the reason for her fear, he still won’t try to meet her halfway – nope, Allison has to do all the apologizing and bending. Yes, I can see that, as an upright man he would insulted that she could think he’d acted in any underhanded way, but his reaction would annoy the shit out of me. The image I’ll take away from this book isn’t a warm, caring, willing-to-meet-Allison-halfway man but as a rigid, unbending person.

Was she wrong to distrust him? Well, since he’s the hero and we know he’s wouldn’t kidnap Dudley, yes. Did she have reason to mistrust him? IMO, yes she did. And I didn’t like the use of the word “capitulate” by Brock to describe what he wanted her to do.

Once I started down this path of thought with Brock, I was never able to turn away from it. When Allison expresses her fears about living anywhere that Sawyer could easily find her, Brock thinks that he walks as a free man and – now here is where I expected him to say that Allison deserved to as well – but no, his finishing thought is that he deserves a woman who would walk with him. It seems to subtly put the blame on her for being to afraid and says that his first thought is of what HE deserves, not what she deserves.

Even Allison’s sister Ellen harshes on her for not giving into Brock’s demands that she capitulate. And why does Brock think that all women associate PIs with being studs? I would think of sleazy stake outs, heartburn from fast food while waiting to catch cheating spouses and boredom – but not stud.

I do like that Brock wanted to explore a relationship with Allison outside of and apart from one with Dudley. They both needed to be sure that it wasn’t just the child who would keep them together. He wanted to know about her, her likes and dislikes and their compatibility

Why add the bit about Lawrence Sawyer at the end? After an entire book of Allison fearing him, the resolution of that plot part was a disappointment as well.

Brock seems to be making a lot of decisions for their future when he shows Allison his townhome and tells Dudley about schools in the area. I suppose he feels that he’s providing for these two people he loves but again, the cumulative effect of the whole book strikes me as controlling. At least ask Allison if she’s ready to make the move and do so without Dudley present.

Everything is Brock, Brock, Brock. What he needs, what he deserves, what he will and won’t stand for. Allison was controlled in her first marriage and it looks like Brock will smother her with controlling protection in her second one. Were I she, I would enjoy knowing that my husband was there to help support me in all aspects of my life, but I wouldn’t want to just sink into passively allowing him to run my life. C-


This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

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.


  1. Evangeline
    Mar 23, 2009 @ 19:28:48

    Sounds a bit interesting. I love the culinary angle, but the issues you detailed may irk me as well.

  2. SonomaLass
    Mar 23, 2009 @ 23:12:03

    I’m afraid this one would push my buttons. When a character is recovering from a bad relationship, I’m very sensitive about any new relationship having overtones of the bad one. Especially domestic violence and control/consent issues — if I can’t see the heroine breaking the pattern and rejecting controlling behavior, I can’t really see an HEA. And for me, sensitivity is an important hero quality, so if the guy isn’t sensitive enough to realize that she needs space and choices, I probalby wouldn’t want them to get together.

  3. Anion
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 03:11:02

    Sorry, Brock Lightner? It’s only a few letters away from being a Boogie Nights joke.

    I freely admit I may be one of the only people who giggled when she saw that, because Boogie Nights is one of my favorite movies and my husband and I quote the “Wow, you really are Brock Landers” line all the time. But still.

    Aside from that, yeah. I have an issue with insensitive heroes (of course, I also have an issue with too-sensitive heroes. I’m damn hard to please, I guess.)

    That’s a lovely cover, though.

  4. Jayne
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 05:44:20

    Sonoma, the book didn’t start out pushing my buttons but it certainly did by the end. Allison married young and didn’t seem to realize what her first husband was doing for a long time. Then she did and got out. But here she seems to be headed down the same pathway again. Sure, Brock looks after her sexual needs much better than did her cold, first husband but in terms of equality in control – she doesn’t look like she’ll have as much as I would hope she would demand at this point.

  5. Jayne
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 05:45:22

    LOL, Anion. I’ve never seen that movie but now I just must!

    And I agree that it is a wonderful cover.

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