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REVIEW:  No Matter What by Janice Kay Johnson

REVIEW: No Matter What by Janice Kay Johnson

Dear Ms. Johnson:

HSRs are known to be issue books and sometimes the issues are so prominent that they overtake the book and that was the case for me in “No Matter What”.

No Matter What Janice Kay JohnsonMolly Callahan has a fifteen year old daughter, Caitlyn, who is dating Trevor Ward whom Molly views as a trouble maker from her position as Vice Principal at the high school.  Trevor walked in at the start of the school year and turned everyone’s heads, even a few of the younger female teachers.  Fights with other students and a problem with authority makes him Molly’s last choice as a boyfriend for her good girl daughter.

Caitlyn becomes pregnant by Trevor, a replay of Molly’s own teenage pregnancy.  Caitlyn is told that she can make whatever decision she likes but Caitlyn’s decision to keep the baby is made fairly early on and any talk of abortion I felt was just a pacifying nod.

Ironically, I found this issue book to be both overwhelmed with issues that weren’t actually addressed and dominated by one.  For instance, Trevor’s issues of rage and internal anger expressed through sometimes violent fisticuffs are not really addressed. Wouldn’t Trevor’s loss of freedom, his impending fatherhood, increase his violent tendencies?  But Trevor’s troubles are subsumed by the larger issue of the pregnancy.

In an “issue” book, I feel we are being asked to assess the believability of the characters and journey with them through the various options, arriving at the one that is most suited to their characters. I did find the end resolution fitting to at least a couple of the characters, but the romance between Richard Ward and Molly never took off for me. It was convenient that the two fell for each other but I didn’t buy it. All the lusting they shared seemed forced while the end result of Trevor and Caitlyn’s felt more realistic.

One of my biggest problems was viewing Richard as a good parent. He’s been happy to allow his two kids live with their mother across the country. He’s had very little say in how they have been raised. Now he’s responsible for Trevor. Trevor’s issues aren’t his father’s slap dash fathering techniques nor having to move across the country to a brand new school for his senior year nor being away from his sister, whom he cares about. Trevor’s issues are all about his mom.

I felt the ex Mrs Ward was vilified to make Richard Ward look better. I.e., she had a revolving door of men where he was a careful bed partner. She liked expensive things and he was only an electrician, albeit one who had a good business and employed others. She was a good mother, her one good trait, and this allowed Richard to be completely hands off until this senior year which provides the conflict for the book.

Even though Caitlyn’s pregnancy dominates the majority of the storyline and we get scenes from both teens’ points of view, the repercussions of the teen pregnancy were downplayed and thus the possible trauma caused by such a seismic event had little power.  The primary focus was Molly’s reaction to the pregnancy and how that worked to push her together with Richard and pull them apart.  But the romance felt forced.  I never really got a sense of Molly and Richard as people, just as parents.  C

Best regards,

Jane

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Dear Author

REVIEW: So Into You by Sandra Hill

Dear Ms. Hill:

I get the sense from this book that there is a whole series of stories on the LeDeux family led by Tante Lulu, a ninety two year old woman seeking to bring the thunderbolt of love to the LeDeux menfolk. Only this time, the target of the love match isn’t a LaDeuxs but former poker playing Champion, one time Playgirl model, and current treasure hunter/construction owner, Angel Sabato.

Actually the person who needs the shaking up is Grace O’Brien, the object of Angel’s love and lust. He proposes to her in the first chapter of the book and is soundly rejected. Angel decides his next treasure hunting endeavor will not be with Grace and takes himself away, the just friends offer from Grace left behind in the gravel along with the remnants of his pride and heart.

I think the first chapter really demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of this book.   So Into You is full of fun and laughter and steamy sexual tension but it’s also disjointed in its characterizations.

Angel’s proposal to Grace came out of nowhere. It seems that while they have known each other for a decade, they only kissed maybe once, and they’ve never actually dated.   It’s hard to say what led Angel to believe that proposing to Grace made sense.

Then there is Grace.   Grace tells Angel that if she could love someone, she would choose to love Angel.   Grace’s explanation for why couldn’t love Angel had to do with her complicated past which included a child given up for adoption, an abortion, a stint as a nun, playing poker, and treasure hunting.   Grace is now apprenticing herself to Tante Lulu to become a faith healer.

Grace had such potential to be an interesting character. She was a wild teenager who slept around and got pregnant more than once. She had made both the decision to give up a child for adoption and to have an abortion. Her wild teenage ways led her to the nunnery but the yen for poker playing required her to leave the order. She was a character rich with flaws but those were never fully explored. They were simply part of her past as meaningless, at times, as if she had blonde hair that turned brown as she aged from childhood to pubescence.

Tante Lulu decides that post Katrina, she needs to do more to help families and with the assistance of Samantha Starr, another prominent Louisiana family, sets up a foundation: Jude’s Angels.   Jude’s Angels will build houses for needy families.   Angel is lured back to Louisiana by Tante Lulu’s pleading and the fact that Grace is still single.

Part of the book is like a guide to readers of the North in the charm of a mysterious culture known as the South.

“Hey, y’all watch this.!”
Everyone know that when a southern male called that out, he was about to do something stupid, likie stick a hand in a gator’s mouth, or jump off a tall tree in a shallow bayou stream.”

or

“Grace was beginning to learn that in the South you could toss out any kind of insult as long as you attached ‘bless his or her heart’ to it. … Grace also knew she would never be considered a true southerner, best explained by that famous saying, ‘I’m a southerner born and a southerner bred, and when I die, I’ll be a southerner dead.’”

That Grace   just couldn’t find it in herself to accept Angel’s love because she was searching for something, someone (who she is searching for is fairly obvious) was frustrating over time.    I needed to see more  about what made Grace and Angel tick in order to accept the conflict.   The more that I read of Grace’s inability to allow herself to love Angel or accept his love, the more I needed to know why and the why that was provided simply wasn’t sufficient for me.

The story felt rushed many times as every LeDeux tried to jockey for page time in order to set up the future romances or help us reminisce about past ones.   I do appreciate the humor, the Southern charm, and the big family dynamics but the romance fell largely flat for me as the focus seemed more on crazy Tante Lulu and her machinations than on Angel and Grace. C+

Best regards,

Jane

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.