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father issues

REVIEW:  Talk of the Town by Beth Andrews

REVIEW: Talk of the Town by Beth Andrews

Dear Beth Andrews:

Technically this had all the right elements of an interesting romance but I struggled to connect with the hero. Maddie Montesano got pregnant when she was sixteen with Neil Pettit’s baby. Neil didn’t want a child. He wanted to pursue a hockey career. His dreams came true and Maddie stayed in Shady Grove, joining her family’s construction business and raising her daughter. Neil came and went, missing birthdays and holidays, and basically being a shitty dad.

Talk of the Town by Beth AndrewsAfter winning the Stanley Cup, he returns home to do his obligatory duty visit with his 12 year old daughter and help his sister get back on her feet. Unfortunately he finds his daughter hates him and his sister in the midst of a deep depression, one that Neil doesn’t want to acknowledge.

Neil avoids believing that anyone has a serious emotional problem; perhaps in part because he was able to set aside all distractions and make himself into an elite pro athlete but also because he does not want to take on any responsibility of being tied to any one particular person even if it is his daughter or sister.

He is frustrated with his daughter’s unhealthy weight and believes that his sister’s depression will just evaporate with time. He’d really just like to fix everything and move on but no one is complying with his wishes.  It was sad to see Neil stand by and watch others criticize his daughter’s weight, not realizing the pain it was causing her.

Maddie’s character was portrayed as a bit of a sad sack too.  Her love for him led her to make harmful decisions for her, for him, and ultimately for the child that was created.  I wished she had moved on from Neil.  If a guy you love doesn’t return your feelings after 12 years, it seems really self destructive to continue to pine after him, wish he would change, and resent him for not being the perfect man you want him to be. Maddie’s entire purpose seems to be giving Neil the finger which prompts Neil to ask “Don’t you ever get tired of being so angry at me?”

I wasn’t sure why Neil wanted to avoid his home and family that much and I didn’t really understand why Maddie wouldn’t let the fire of her feelings for Neil to die.  I also didn’t understand why Maddie felt so hurt by Neil’s abandonment.  Yes, at the age of 16, I could understand it but not at the age of 28, particularly considering Maddie’s own actions. But what confounded me the most was the lust between Neil and Maddie.  It felt phony to me.  If they disliked each other so much why not just move on?

What I did like was the supportive family that Maddie had and how the issue of childhood obesity was touched on. It’s a difficult issue and I thought that it was portrayed realistically – from the well meaning grandmother who was always criticizing the young girl’s eating habits to the mother who believed that it was just a phase to the young girl herself who was beset with image issues and starting to believe that her value rested on her appearance, particularly when it came to earning her father’s love.

C-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Sold To The Enemy by Sarah Morgan

REVIEW: Sold To The Enemy by Sarah Morgan

Dear Ms. Morgan:

You’ve taken a number of standard fairy-tale and romance ingredients and turned them into something fresh and original in this book. I’ve always enjoyed your disadvantaged, yet plucky and intelligent, heroines, and in Selene Antaxos you’ve created a character that ranks for me with the heroines of Doukakis’ Apprentice, Twelve Nights of Christmas, The Prince’s Waitress Wife, and Sale or Return Bride. Selene isn’t badly off financially or an orphan, but her circumstances are pretty dire.

sold To The Enemy by Sarah MorganWhen we meet Selene, she is scheming a way to leave her isolated Greek island home and travel to Athens without her father finding out. Selene and her mother are virtual prisoners in a house that doubles as a fortress, victims of a man who insists on complete control over their lives in order to present to the world the picture of a perfect, virtuous family. He keeps them in penury and watches their every move, but Selene has turned a flair for creating handmade soaps and candles into a potential business opportunity. She uses her annual convent retreat as a means of leaving the island and approaching Stefanos Ziakas, who is her father’s enemy in business, but whom she remembers warmly because he was kind to her at one of her rare public outings. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s gorgeous.

Stefan is annoyed with his personal assistant for letting Selene in to see him, but his annoyance dissipates as he is intrigued and attracted to her. He hears out her business plans and decides to offer her the loan she seeks. Even more impulsively, he invites her to accompany him to a party that night. Selene can’t resist; she’s never been to a party where she can just enjoy herself, free from her father’s threatening presence. The only hitch is that she has nothing to wear, but Stefan quickly arranges a way to overcome that obstacle. One thing leads to another and Selene and Stefan wind up in a mutually agreed-upon and passionate one-night stand. The morning after brings guilt, but not for the obvious reasons. Selene’s realization that the party was attended by guests who then plastered her picture all over the tabloids makes her outraged with Stefan and leads to her flight back to Antaxos, where she correctly fears her father is waiting for her.

Stefan rescues Selene just in time, but once she is safely away she escapes him too, angry that he took advantage of her to get an advantage over her father and fearful she’s traded one uncaring man for another. When Stefan is finally able to convince her that he wasn’t behind the photos and that his rivalry with her father is about more than business, Selene does an about-face and decides to go all-in with Stefan. Stefan has spent his adult life avoiding anything that looks remotely like a relationship, so she has her work cut out for her.

For me, this story is all about the heroine. Oh, Stefan is very appealing and sexy. But Selene is even better. She wants, more than anything else, to be her own person, and you get the sense that as much as she wants Stefan, she won’t compromise what she’s finally achieved to keep him:

He took a deep breath. ‘I realise we have some obstacles to overcome, but it would be much easier to overcome them if I wasn’t worrying about your safety all the time. I want you to come and stay at my villa, at least for a while.’

The temptation was so great it horrified her. ‘No, thanks.’

‘I don’t want you living on your own.’

‘Well, I want it. I’ve lived under my father’s rules for so long I want the freedom to come and go as I please. I can wear what I like. See whoever I like. Be who I want to be.’

‘And who do you want to be?’

She’d thought about nothing else.

‘Myself,’ she said simply. ‘I want to be myself. Not someone else’s version of who they think I should be.’

‘So if I ask you—the real you—out to dinner, will you say yes?’

Selene swallowed, unsettled by how much being this close to him affected her. What scared her most in all this was how badly she lost her judgement around him. She didn’t want to be the sort of woman who lost her mind around a man.

Selene is a classic HP virgin heroine, except she’s not. In this story, the virgin heroine is virgin because that is how her life has unfolded.  When I was reading Sold to the Enemy, I happened to follow a conversation among friends on twitter about how romances commodify virginity. Curious, I searched to see how it was used here. I couldn’t find a use of the words “virginity” or “virgin.” Selen’s virginity is not “taken” from her, and she doesn’t “give” it to Stefan. Yes, it’s her first time, but everyone has a first time. She wants to make love with him, she convinces him she wants it, and the next morning she’s the same person, just one who has had a great night. It’s a passionate, wonderful experience for her, and after she realizes that Stefan is not using her, she coaxes him into continuing where they left off.

I also very much appreciated that each of them has a major, traumatic backstory but they are also their own people, especially in terms of their attraction to each other and how each approaches a relationship with the other. And their histories were truly traumatic. Selene’s father was a not a paper tiger. He was truly awful, a scary, oppressive character, and her scenes with him were quite dark.

There were minor aspects of the novel that didn’t quite work for me. Selene’s mother was important in the early part of the book and then faded off the page; I would have liked to see more of her. I liked that Selene was willing to let Stefan fund her startup business, but putting his employees in the middle of the negotiations was unfair to them. And I don’t think I ever figured out quite what Stefan did to mke his billions. Finally, there were some abrupt shifts in plot and character behavior that could have used smoother transitions. But these niggles didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment.

The Presents line is often criticized for stereotyped, unbelievable plots and characters. But regular category readers know that there are also novels that take familiar elements and make something fresh and interesting out of them. Here we have a rich, handsome hero, a virgin heroine who needs rescuing from an ogre, and a happily ever after they are guaranteed to reach. How refreshing that while Selene can’t entirely rescue herself, she still manages a lot of it on her own, she never loses her desire to become her own person, and she tells the hero that he has to get his act together if he wants to reach that HEA with her. Grade: B+

~ Sunita

 

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