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REVIEW:  One More Valentine by Anne Stuart

REVIEW: One More Valentine by Anne Stuart

When Chicago gangster James Sheridan Rafferty died in the famed St. Valentine’s Day massacre, he had no idea that Cupid’s wicked angels would give him a second chance…more than 60 years later! All he had to do was fall madly in love within 48 hours. But could a real Chicago gangster with a good heart, but a big chip on his shoulder, truly fall in love?

As far as Rafferty was concerned, lawyer Helen Emerson only complicated matters. Rafferty didn’t have time to save a damsel in distress, even if she was easy on the eyes. No doubt Helen would make a fabulous lover, but she was no gun moll. Still, with time running out, she was Rafferty’s only hope.

Dear Ms. Stuart,

I’d heard of this book years ago along with several of your other categories that seemed to break the mold of “standard Harlequin contemporaries.” But unfortunately, I got back into reading romances after they were initially released and finding these books – now remember this was in the mid 90s and it wasn’t as easy to find paper books online and ebooks were just a gleam in someone’s eye – was a crapshoot. “One More Valentine” was one I never managed to track down. Fast forward to ebooks and Harlequin reissues – and God bless reissues – and it’s an easy online purchase and download.

One More Valentine by Anne StuartWhen we had our recent discussion on unusual historicals, this book came to mind. Not because it’s really a historical – it’s not – or a time travel – because again it’s not – but because the hero comes back to corporeal being for 2 days each year after he was gunned down during the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre. It’s also not set in the Romancelandia Small Town America but in Chicago so it scores points for that too.

It has a way cool premise – even if a few details gets smudged around the edges and some things aren’t explained very well. The heroine is a smart and respected lawyer while the hero is a “rough around the edges” former gangster. Had I read this back in the day, there’s no doubt in my mind I would probably have loved it for these reasons. But now…well let me explain why now I have problems with it.

The book opens with a cool, cynical, menacing hero who can stop any questions just by his intimidating presence. At first Helen is equal to him. She’s calm under pressure, and appears to know, enjoy and do her job well. Some of the mechanics and reasoning behind what happens each year on February 13 and 14th is glossed over but I’m still enjoying the Idea of it and Rafferty’s observations of how life has changed over the decades. So far, so good.

That is until Helen’s hormones and virginity get in the way. Then she turns almost TSTL. Someone’s out to kill her, she actually believes that even if she’s still wary of what Jamey has told her about himself but when faced with a gun barrel her first thought isn’t that she won’t see her family or she’s too young to die or any normal thing. Oh no, her first thought is “I’m gonna die a virgin!” Then she gets saved and still acts like a ninny. I joined with Jamey in his frustration at her thoughts and actions.

Then there’s the ‘push him to have sex with me’ for various reasons and his noble resistance and her puppy dog “he doesn’t love me enough” or “he doesn’t want me enough, boo-hoo” scenes. Just shut up Helen. She’s definitely in the category of heroine who’s time has passed and thankfully so.

Meanwhile Jamey goes all noble over and over and I can almost hear the “Romeo and Juliet” overture as he once again puts Helen and her needy clinginess aside for her own good because he’s just not good enough for her. Oh just fuck her already Jamey. He’s seen the late 60s, the free-for-all sex of the 70s – just do her so she’ll stop whining!

And how does he get half the Chicago police force to leave him alone with her after they’ve hauled off the body of someone they saw trying to kill her? Really?? I actually enjoyed reading the gooey sweet epilogue if only because we were past all these things.

I wanted to like all of this book. I still do like the idea behind it and the first half of it. But the second half jumps the tracks and the whole balances out as a C-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Secrets and Saris by Shoma Narayanan

REVIEW: Secrets and Saris by Shoma Narayanan

Secrets-and-Saris

 

“A secret that could cause scandal!

Jilted at the altar, Shefali Khanna should be humiliated. Instead she takes the opportunity to start again. Top of the priority list: do not tumble headfirst into another relationship!

But even moving from the city to the country can’t keep Shefali out of trouble–especially when she catches the eye of local celeb Neil Mitra! There is no way she can risk a scandal already! He might be gorgeous, but he’s totally off-limits…right?”

Dear Ms. Narayanan.

My goodness doesn’t this blurb have a lot of exclamation points? After reading and enjoying “Monsoon Wedding Fever” last year, I was excited to see another book of yours – this time in the Harlequin “KISS” line. I enjoyed your voice again, as I did in “Wedding,” and loved delving into life in contemporary India but though I could understand the confusion and hesitation both Neil and Shefali had about their feelings for each other, the numerous flip flops in their actions caused by their confusion didn’t leave me with a solid feeling about their future relationship.

There is no mistaking that these are Indian characters living in contemporary India. Details of their daily lives are smoothly worked into the story without tedious explanation to interrupt the flow of the scene. This gives a nice feel for the setting and people. We can see how conservative the smaller city is that Shafali is now living in compared to Delhi and how being known to have slept with Neil would damage her reputation as the manager of a pre-school. I could also grasp how unusual it was for Neil to be a single, divorced parent with custody of his daughter. The differences in languages and in religious observation of the same holiday show both the vastness and nuances of India.

There is a casual acceptance of arranged marriages which agrees with what I read a while ago in a news story. In it, a young Indian woman said she didn’t waste time trying to find Mr. Right – that was her parent’s job. Shefali grew up expecting her parents and aunties to find her someone suitable and acceptable to marry. As such, it’s not unusual in this social class and setting for her to still be a virgin but at least she’s not hung up about it or screeching for Neil to marry her once she’s not anymore.

Shefali might not have what people consider a high powered executive job but she’s no dummy either. I loved the way she coolly sold her engagement ring and got the best price possible. She also didn’t fall apart when Pranav was a no-show, deciding to leave Delhi and not stay under her parent’s thumbs anymore. Moving away was also a means for her to escape the pointing fingers and pity. She enjoys the smoking sex she and Neil have but isn’t trying to hang onto him like a life preserver after the ship has gone down. When she realizes that she just isn’t into something this casual she has little hesitation about cutting her losses, especially with the way Neil is bungling their relationship.

Neil’s first marriage and its aftermath aren’t typical which is shown in how Shefali reacts with shock to its telling. Neil and his first wife were childhood friends who started dating at an astonishingly young age for India, were in a sexual relationship and got caught by an unintended pregnancy which ended up with Neil pushing the reluctant mother of his child to marry him. When the marriage ended, Neil bucked the expectations of his family in order to raise Nina by himself. With this in his background, I wasn’t surprised that he has little interest in marrying again.

With both hero and heroine being reluctant to jump into anything permanent but society demanding it due to Shefali’s job and the small town mentality, the shift into first an engagement and then a marriage of convenience seems like a plausible plot twist. What annoyed me was the quicksilver shifts from then on. One minute Shefali is complaining that her reputation can’t take another broken engagement and then she wants to break it. Neil states that he doesn’t want any more children and then changes his mind but only to make Shefali happy. Back and forth and back and forth. It’s as if now that you’ve gotten them together, you’ve run out of conflict.

It’s not that I don’t understand the way these characters think and what is motivating them but for both of them to whiplash back and forth gets tiresome. When they both announce their undying love for each other, I’m afraid I’m still holding my breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. The conflicts here are plausible and there’s certainly enough to go around but the resolution just doesn’t quite convince me in the end. B-

~Jayne

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