REVIEW: With a Little Help by Valerie Parv
Dear Ms. Parv:
Emma Jarrett knew exactly what life with a surgeon would be like. Her mother was one, her father was one, and her brother was one too. From personal experience, Emma knew that life with a surgeon meant missed birthdays, false commitments and taking a backseat to the operating theater. Emma made it a practice to stay far away from medical set when it came to her personal life.
Instead Emma started her own catering company. Her mother, intent of hooking up Emma with a doctor, gets her to plan the 35th birthday bash of star surgeon, Nate Hale. Nate is an extreme gourmand. His gourmet group has eaten everything from caviar to grubs.
He leaned forward. "That's the point. Knowing we were dining on a man eater in its territory was a real buzz. The indigenous community hosting the dinner obtain all the ingredients in and around the river. They supplied the crocodile meat and showed us how to hunt goannas, dig for yams and climb trees to harvest wild honey." He brought his fingertips together. "Have you eaten live witchetty grubs?"
She couldn't suppress a shudder. "It's not high on my list of foods to try."
His lopsided grin was oddly appealing. "You should. The texture is soft, and the taste reminiscent of a gamey veal pÃ¢té. You hold the grub by the head and kind of suck the meat off." He mimed the action.
The last person Emma wants to see is Nate Hale (and not because he ate grubs one day). One night six months earlier, Emma threw herself at Nate Hale who caught her but rejected her advances (which doesn’t really make sense given that Emma is so anti medical professional, but I guess it provides conflict).
Nate has been intrigued by Emma ever since her fumbled advances toward him and his birthday party gives him an opportunity to explore this attraction even if it is against his better judgment. His mother couldn’t stand being second to his father’s first love – medicine. Emma clearly has a thing against doctors. But both Emma and Nate are fairly stubborn individuals and they both like a good challenge and thus, Emma throws herself into catering the most unforgettable event that Nate and his foodie friends have experienced.
I was a little frustrated with Emma, not about her anti doctor dating rule, but her lack of self confidence. She felt like an outsider in her family of medical professionals yet her grandmother was a fairly well known chef. She also carries around a childhood emotional trauma that has left deep scars and when the truth of this comes out, it’s almost a caricature, rendering the trauma a bit ridiculous. Why didn’t she connect with her grandmother at an earlier time in her life? Emma talked of being nurtured by her grandmother, but she never allowed herself to feel security in that. I wasn’t fully on board that the childhood trauma as the root cause of all of Emma’s life problems probably because I didn’t really get a sense of recovery from that childhood trauma. In fact, I thought that part of the character arc was forced drama.
I also thought that Nate’s storyline had a lot going on. He resented his father’s abandonment of his mother. He resented the new life that his mother made with his stepfather. He resented that his mother and step father didn’t provide the parental guidance that his young half brother needed. Why was Nate always stepping into that gap? Where was Luke, the half brother’s, father in this? Why was Nate the enforcer of curfew, the springer of bail?
Yet despite these questions about the characters, I found Nate and Emma entirely engaging as a couple. I believed in their romance (less so in their individual character arcs). The prose kept me turning the pages and there were great lines throughout. In one part of the story, Nate and Tony are having a short discussion over Tony having made some moves on Emma:
Troy nodded. "You became a doctor so you could fix the world. This woman has a problem you're afraid you can't fix, so you're going to back off."
"How the hell do I fix a lifelong dislike of the medical profession?"
"By showing her you aren't all alike. And making her want you as much as you want her."
"Is it that obvious?"
"Painfully. Look, when I started to race, a more experienced driver told me you can't set records with your foot on the brake. It's time you took your foot off the brake, too. Either that, or pull into the pit and let the better man lap you."
The romance arc worked so much better for me than the individual character arcs. It was one that I could grasp onto and that I felt was consistent throughout the story. Nate had to find a work / life balance that his father never could. Emma had to overcome internal prejudices and be more secure in herself. These emotional movements toward each other made the romance believable. This is an easy to read book and I wanted to really sink my teeth into these characters but I never really got them as individuals. But the food sounded delicious. Other than those grubs of course! C+