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REVIEW: The Boyfriend’s Back by Ellen Hartman

Dear Mrs. Hartman,

book review After the A grade I gave the last book of yours I read, I had high hopes for this one. Perfect heroine and slacker hero find love fifteen years later despite having to overcome the mistaken images they’ve maintained of each other over the years? Okay, I can go with that. Heroine who lies to the people for fifteen years, including her own daughter? That, I had trouble with. Lots of trouble with.

Hailey Maddox was always seen as perfect. A popular cheerleader who had all the boys in knots over her, no one was more surprised than JT McNulty when Hailey agrees to go out with him. But Hailey is keeping secrets including the fact that she’s sleeping with someone else.

After she gets pregnant and the father renounces their clandestine relationship, she turns to JT who lies to both sets of their parents about being the father. But when Hailey rejects his offer of marriage and his parents throw him out, JT leaves town.

It takes the death of his mother to bring him back. Then dealing with his father’s injuries to induce him to stay for a few days while he tries to get Jack McNulty into physical therapy. The realization that Hailey has let his lie stand for that many years and her daughter is searching for her real father is the icing on the shit cake for JT. Will these two ever really know each other and is there a HEA to be found?

I like JT more than I do Hailey – well, most of the time. He does have a decided lack of.. ambition? Drive? Something. After all the alpha heroes I’ve read, JT takes some getting used to. But he does know when to step in with relationships and would be a great dad – as we see by his interactions with Olivia. JT has to learn to take some risks, in his job and in his personal life. Jack does tell the truth when he says JT avoids things where he thinks he could lose. His major risk as a teenager was asking Hailey out and then standing by her. He lost a lot with his decision to do that and has played life safe since then.

Olivia works better for me – she seems like a 14 year old. Getting wise in the ways of the world yet still vulnerable to its slings and arrows. Wanting independence yet still needing to know that home will protect and shelter her if and when she needs it. She’s got guts, I’ll say that for her. It was hard for her to keep pushing past a mother who, with the best of intentions, withheld the truth from her about something so vital and important. She’s also got Hailey’s number about her mother covering herself with a “perfect” front.

Parts of the relationship between Hailey and Olivia are fantastic. There’s respect and love. There’s Hailey trying to look out for Olivia’s best interests based on what she knows about the people involved. It’s unfortunate that this all blows up right when Olivia is in the age when teenage girls want more independence and are already rolling their eyes at their mothers. But the love is obviously there and keeps the two of them from saying or doing anything that would be hard to take back later on. If only it weren’t for those lies…

Jack is harder to grade. I can understand what Hailey says about how men feel it an insult for their bodies to fail them but he and his wife put their sons though a lot. And he continues to work JT over even as JT tries to help him. However, Jack is also facing his demons and the mistakes he’s made with his life. Which can’t be easy for a man of his age who has been used to being in control and having physical strength. To be in a wheelchair and dependent upon others would be frightening.

It’s Hailey who pushes my buttons. She knew what she was doing was wrong but still did it and kept on doing it. She felt some degree of shame when the truth came out but never seemed to truly apologize to JT for allowing the town to think of him as a schmuck. She just kept wailing and whining about how no one saw the “real” her and that people would hate her for what she had done and not think her perfect. But once she was an adult, she didn’t want them to think that so…why not fess up, to a degree, since she wanted to keep Olivia’s real father’s i.d. a secret? But no, she pulls a martyr routine a few too many times for my liking.

Along with Olivia, JT and Charlie’s relationship helps to balance Hailey for me. Charlie says “breasts” and his big brother casually instructs him to call them “tits.” Both brothers are squicked out by their mother’s choice of self portraiture. As am I. And poor Charlie gets stuck with the scut work just because he’s the youngest. However, their relationship is probably the soundest of the whole bunch of them. Plus Charlie is always there when needed, no questions asked. Or few questions asked but he’s still willing to pitch in and help anyway. His first loyalty is to his brother and he obviously doesn’t want to watch JT be hurt again.

I do hope that Hailey and Olivia “see” to Olivia’s father. That man doesn’t deserve the position he has.

You write characters who genuinely have issues and not made up, whiny faux problems that are easily solved. Though I hated to see Olivia suffer and search for her father, I could see that – given what a schmuck her real father is – Hailey was trying to do the best for her. JT and his risk aversion – hmmm. But it goes back to his laid back personality and the way he had to deal with the fall out from Hailey’s lie.

JT finally “deals” with his mother’s death and the guilt/lack of resolution he feels by pushing Hailey to spill the beans to Olivia. Time is short and we never know what will happen 10 minutes from now so don’t leave important things undone. Hailey tried to break out of the image that she feels cages her in but gets hurt badly so…she’s gone back to tight control in her life. Again it all fits with the personality you’ve given her: controlled perfection. This doesn’t make her continued lies any easier to like, though.

One thing I noticed and liked is that while JT urges Hailey to tell Olivia the truth, he never pushes Hailey to tell him. He trusts her when she says the truth would hurt but still feels that Olivia deserves to know it now instead of continuing to live as she is. And he won’t lie to Olivia. I guess he feels she’s been lied to enough and he won’t add to it.

If they had married as teenagers, maybe they would eventually have learned the real people behind the facades they wore and fallen in love. But who knows, perhaps the strains of young parenthood and the secrets would have ruined it all. I hope JT gets his little scraps of silk.

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in mass market from an independent bookstore 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.

7 Comments

  1. Jody
    May 26, 2009 @ 19:45:38

    I love Ellen Hartman’s books thanks to this site! I’ll be getting this one for my Sony even though “second chance at love” is one of my not-favorite plots. I just like her stuff.

  2. Jayne
    May 27, 2009 @ 02:43:13

    There’s a sequel to this book due out in (I think) November about Charlie and Hailey’s BFF.

  3. Denise
    May 27, 2009 @ 05:43:35

    Unfortunately, the description of the heroine’s actions and their resulting fallout turned me off to her so completely, I’d pass on this book. I like reading about flawed heroes and heroines, but not ones who seem to lack a certain core strength of character.

  4. Jayne
    May 27, 2009 @ 06:11:56

    I can understand why Hailey wanted to keep Olivia’s true father’s id a secret from her. The man is an asshole. But the fact that she allowed this lie to stand for 15 years and even furthered it by sending Olivia supposed birthday cards from JT each year for the child’s birthday really got to me.

  5. Sunita
    May 27, 2009 @ 08:33:36

    I appreciate this review Jayne; it’s really informative and lays out the strengths and weaknesses as you see them without giving away everything in the book! Ellen Hartman is an autobuy for me, so I already have this on my reader. It’s a bit disappointing, because I’ve really been looking forward to it. But I agree that she does an excellent job working her characters through real-life situations rather than contrived setups. In her other two books I’ve found Hartman’s heroes to be extremely appealing and well-drawn, while her heroines are more uneven. This seems like too much questionable behavior to redeem, but I’m glad the mother-daughter relationship is done well. I thought the father-son dynamic in His Secret Past was one of the best parts of the book.

  6. Jayne
    May 27, 2009 @ 13:07:02

    The TRR reviewer didn’t “get” Hailey either and graded down even further than I did. I have my fingers crossed for the next book.

  7. Margie
    May 31, 2009 @ 19:20:33

    I was a little disappointed by this book as well because I loved her previous books. I had many of the same problems you mentioned. I didn’t mind JT’s laid back attitude, but I thought he acted like a doormat sometimes. For example, when he finds out Haily lied and everyone in town thinks he is a no-show father, instead of being angry he wistfully lusts after Haily. It didn’t seem like a genuine response. On the other hand, I loved JT’s relationship with his brother (can’t wait for that story) and how his laid back character was demonstrated through everything- even his choice of sports. Ultimate Frisbee is the quintessential “just for fun” game, IMO.

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