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REVIEW: Stranger at the Door by Laura Abbot

Dear Ms. Abbot,

book review This is an interesting mixture of contemporary and historical romance. Though I still have a hard time with the idea that stories set before the turn of the 21st century are considered “historical.” I also see this is where Harlequin’s “Everlasting Love” line has ended up.

“Because happily ever after is just the beginning.”

That certainly applies to Sam and Izzy and you drop us right into a crisis which will test their HEA. Izzy fondly imagines that Sam has always been faithful to her despite the ups and downs and separations of their married life. She’s rudely jerked out of her idyllic belief when a young man claiming to be Sam’s illegitimate son arrives on her doorstep. “WTF?” she thinks. Okay, maybe Izzy wouldn’t use that term but she’s definitely floored by what’s going on here. And she’s got some pointed questions to ask Sam when he gets home from their daughter’s house.

Except Sam stonewalls the discussion and announces he needs time to think. Yeah and he’s going to do that at a friend’s cabin in another state. I’m thinking Sam’s an asshole here. But then I’ve not been married to him for over forty years as Izzy has and don’t have a vested interest. So poor Izzy now has to deal with two issues: she’s got a husband who strayed then – really there’s no contesting that since Mark looks exactly like Sam – and is denying all knowledge now. And once again Izzy has to tend the home fires by herself.

So while she’s covering for Sam with their daughters, she decides to finally give in to their elder daughter’s request that she write her life story in a journal. It’ll give her time to reflect on why she still loves Sam, despite what he did. Though she ruefully acknowledges that the girls might get an edited version once she’s finished.

Izzy’s journal entries are my favorite parts of the story. The sections of the book dealing with Izzy and her BFF Twink’s childhood remind me a lot of my mother. Small town Southern girls growing up in the 40s/50s. Going to college when the Mrs. Degree was what most women aspired to. Living up, or down, to a small town’s expectations of what a good marriage is. And sex-education is certainly different today!

Izzy’s aborted engagement to a perfectly nice man, just a man who wasn’t The One for her, gives us not only the main source of conflict between Izzy and her mother but also shows why she was willing to elope with the handsome Air Force pilot who swept her off her feet. Nice is okay but when you’ve met the love of your life, nothing less will do. Sam is intelligent, passionate, strong and determined to win this woman. It looks like rainbows and happiness forevuh in spite of every obstacle provided by Air Force life.

That is until a few very important things go wrong and Sam finally gets shipped out to Vietnam. I can understand why he strays. I truly can. I don’t like it but life sucks sometimes. The death of one of their children followed by Sam’s immersion into the “live for the moment and show no fear” environment of an Air Force pilot explains what he did.

But I got tired of Sam running off throughout the book. Izzy is right to call him a coward and nails the fact that he does a runner whenever things go bad. But then who’s the strongest person in this relationship? Is it Sam for facing danger in the skies and being willing to face his nation’s enemies? Or Izzy for waiting at home for him, for making a home all those years when he was away or training, for facing up to what Sam did before he did? There were plenty of times I just wanted to smack Sam.

Three cheers for Izzy telling Sam that a child is not ever “nothing.” I can understand Jenny’s response to learning she has a half-brother. She’s been the one to idolize her father for so long and this news would be hard to handle. I like that Jenny and Lisa aren’t perfect children or adults. That Sam and Izzy’s marriage and Air Force life does affect them growing up and has shaped them as grown women.

I’ve said I appreciate you including some tough subjects here. Infidelity, SIDS, child-parent relationships, views on marriage. And as Izzy reminisces about her life, she doesn’t make them more aware of the issues in their lives than they would have been then. No one is preternaturally “wise.” But her telling of the events of her past allows her to view them through the lens what we know today.

And yet, when Izzy and Sam finally sit down and begin to discuss their problems and issues, I couldn’t help but feel I was watching a Lifetime Movie Network film. Heightened drama, dialogue intended to ensure that all the angst is included but also sounding like something out of a textbook or women’s magazine. Call me picky and I know that all of a book is staged but I don’t want to see too much of an author pulling the strings when I’m supposed to be immersed in the moment.

You tackle some tough subjects here. And I certainly appreciate that. Books which pussyfoot around issues or include them as just superficial window dressings annoy me. I know most of us are in it for the HEA but if authors are going to add these elements to the plot, make them important and relevant. You do both and I thank you. I just wish the overall presentation had worked better for me. B-

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from Harlequin, 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.

11 Comments

  1. Sarah
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 22:32:16

    This sounds rather uncomfortably like another Harlequin Everlasting Love I read by Janice K. Johnson. The heroine grows up in the 50s, marries a man who goes to Vietnam, they lose a child, he goes off to think, they separate, etc.,etc.

    I’ll definitely be giving this one a miss.

    ReplyReply

  2. Jayne
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 12:43:06

    Well, Sarah it sounds like you’ve already read it anyway so no need for a repeat. ;)

    ReplyReply

  3. GrowlyCub
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 12:50:21

    I just don’t see the attraction. I’ve read several Everlasting titles and they were all blah to bad, except for the one about the death camp survivors/divorcing couple that I had to read for a contest, which was so godawful I cannot for the life of me figure out why anybody would want to publish this as a romance or anybody want to read it, period.

    I was glad to hear HQ gave up on the line, not so glad to see they are putting this into the Superromance line, because they are taking slots away from better books.

    And that diary thing is getting old fast, as is the older couple/younger couple thingie they have going on in a number of these books. So, either you get a story told by a dead person via diary or a story that’s divided between two couples with neither getting the attention and story time they deserve or both.

    Everlasting is an epic fail for me.

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  4. Jayne
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 12:57:39

    This is the second “journal” type book I’ve read recently and, guess what?, they were both Everlasting Love books. I didn’t mind so much with this one but a steady diet would not work.

    ReplyReply

  5. Jayne
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 12:59:40

    except for the one about the death camp survivors/divorcing couple that I had to read for a contest,

    Oh Lawd. Tell me no. That just is so not a a topic for a romance book.

    ReplyReply

  6. GrowlyCub
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 13:06:14

    I think my problem is with the concept itself. To make it believable you have to have conflict, but I don’t want to read about how couples work through infidelity after they promised each other forever.

    I know a relationship is hard work, requires compromise and sometimes bad things happen, which the relationship either does or does not survive. I just don’t want to read about that aspect. I want the part before the disillusion sets in.

    I’ll keep to the HEA stories, thank you very much (which in my book does not have to include marriage and/or babies to be fulfilling). You know, I hadn’t realized how scarred I was by that EL I had to finish for that contest… the negative feelings foaming up are quite unpleasant.

    ReplyReply

  7. Jayne
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 13:15:18

    I know I haven’t read too many books about adultery (and don’t really want to) so your feelings must be widely held

    ReplyReply

  8. GrowlyCub
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 13:29:22

    It’s not just infidelity, though. I’m kinda reluctant to say so for fear of being accused of craving escapism, but these books are just too damn realistic in the unhappy department.

    Let’s see, one had the hero more interested in caves and caving than the heroine. He marries her sister, she dies, then he has another woman but still expects the heroine to stick around. I still don’t know why I finished that book.

    Another starts with the woman’s husband dying on her and another guy becoming the stand in.

    The death camp survivor grandparents with the divorcing grand daughter who gets back with her husband through reading her grandma’s diary. Huh?

    The one where a woman’s ex shows up requesting her (adult in their 30s) kids be told that they have a dying half brother, so they can be tested to see if they can help him…

    I can’t believe I read all these downers…

    Thankfully, there are so many much happier books that are full of realistic, non-escapist relationships between people that have to overcome external or internal obstacles that don’t make me want to shoot myself. :)

    ReplyReply

  9. Corrine
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 08:05:57

    I’m with you, GrowlyCub. Real life is too damned sad and hard already; I don’t want to find it in my books, too.

    ReplyReply

  10. Sunita
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 13:05:26

    Oh dear. I think I have one or more of GrowlyCub’s books in my TBR. I’ve read a couple of recent Superromances and really enjoyed the more real-life aspects, but I agree that the Everlasting Love series got too carried away with the intergenerational misery thing. Presents and Modern Heat may not be all that realistic, but they are not Lifetime TV-ish, which in my book is much worse. Thanks for the review, though, because aside from passing on this one, I’ll be on the lookout for stories which look as if they would have gone in the EL line if it were still around.

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  11. Yasmine
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 08:36:06

    I'm with you, GrowlyCub. Real life is too damned sad and hard already; I don't want to find it in my books, too.

    ReplyReply

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