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Marriage-in-Trouble

A Selection of December Harlequin Presents

A Selection of December Harlequin Presents

I haven’t had much luck with Harlequin Presents subscriptions of late. In December, I enjoyed three of my eight books. The problem is that I’m never sure what books I’m going to enjoy and thus the subscription seems worth it. I guess I’ll reevaluate mid year 2012.

The Trophy Wife  by Janette KennyThe Trophy Wife by Janette Kenny is the next to last addition in the Notorious Wolfe series (or Bad Blood series as it was originally labeled by Mills & Boon). It featured a model with an eating disorder and computer billionaire. While I appreciated that the story attempted to tackle the issue of anorexia and societal concepts of beauty which prizes thinness over everything, I felt that the story was overloaded with sex and dealt very little with the conflict between the characters. I wasn’t even convinced that they knew each other by the end of the book. They had been married for nearly two years but spent so little time together, wrapped up in their own jobs, that they hadn’t even seen their partner’s homes which may have been okay if the first time that they actually went to the other’s homes wasn’t by the 70% mark of the book. C-

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The Power and the Glory  by Kimberly LangThe Power and The Glory by Kimberly Lang. I bailed on this one after the second chapter. The hero is the campaign manager for his father, a Senator, who sounds like a dickwad and the heroine is a protestor for some environmental lobbying group. I am so sick of politics and politicians that I could not stomach reading more than about 20 pages of this book. Maybe in another era I would find this more palatable but, alas, could not. DNF

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The Man Every Woman Wants  by Miranda LeeThe Man Every Woman Wants by Miranda Lee. The heroine is a lawyer who does contract work for a sports agent. She confesses that she has been weaving a tale about their faux engagement to her dying grandmother and now her dyying grandmother wants to meet him. The hero agrees to do this favor for her and has a bit of fun with it. The heroine’s family is sports mad and the heroine showing up with a former star athlete and current sports agent increases her cachet. B-

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A Christmas Night to Remember  by Helen BrooksA Christmas Night to Remember by Helen Brooks. My main complaint about this story is that it takes place over two days and the couple has serious issues. The heroine is involved in a terrible car wreck. She’s maimed and scarred and has never felt secure in her husband’s love. He’s so beautiful and so rich and there are always dozens of women casting lures for him, all of which he has steadfastly ignored. The heroine was beautiful prior to the car wreck and she prided herself in being able to fit in with the fast and fashionable but now that her legs are less than perfect, she doesn’t know what will become of her and she’s sure that her husband will leave her. In order to prevent him from leaving her, she’ll leave him. He refuses to leave and in the space of two days (right before Christmas) convinces her anew of his steadfast devotion. I should love this story. It is the kind of Brooks’ story I usually enjoy but I wasn’t convinced that the heroine’s deepseated emotional fear could be assauged in just a couple of days. C

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On the First Night of Christmas…  by Heidi RiceOn the First Night of Christmas by Heidi Rice. Cassie gets splashed by a car careening around the corner while she is looking at holiday windows at Selfridges in London. Rather than be a doormat, she marches over to the vehicle, stopped at a signal and bangs on the window. She tells him off and when he fails to provide an appropriate response to her, she jumps in the car only to realize that the driver is a former high school classmate of hers, one she’s always had a crush on. Just off a broken engagement, Cassie’s confidence is at an all time low and when Jace Ryan comes on to her, it’s like a balm to her wounded ego. They embark on an affair, destined to only last until the New Year when Jace returns to New York. In that time period, Cassie falls hard for Jace but Jace is confused by his feelings. He doesn’t really believe in love and just wants to enjoy the moments as they come. I really enjoyed the ending because I felt like it didn’t force the issue. It does have a traditional HEA (provided by the epilogue). B

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Once Touched, Never Forgotten  by Natasha TateOn the First Night of Christmas actually had a similar conflict to Once Touched, Never Forgotten by Natasha Tate, a book that I didn’t like much. Once Touched, Never Forgotten is a secret baby story. The heroine decides that the hero won’t be a good father and more importantly, doesn’t want to be a father so when she finds out she is pregnant she leaves him. Five years later he rediscovers her and her secret baby. She had a terrible childhood and was abandoned by her own father. She projects her fears onto the hero that he too will abandon their child. Of course, she never gives him the opportunity to choose. The hero isn’t sure he knows how to love but he promises that he will be a good father. The heroine is relentless in her accusations that he will be a terrible father based on nothing more than her own fears. She was a bitch but then he later uses sexual blackmail to get her to marry him so I figure that they belonged together. And unlike the Rice book, the hero in this one belabored his inability to love over and over again. I got it. She was abandoned. He had crappy relatives. The melodrama was over the top. D

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The Marriage in Trouble Trope:  Love Is Hard Work

The Marriage in Trouble Trope: Love Is Hard Work

funny-pictures-marriage-after-years-all-mystery-is-gone

I’m not sure how I came across this article about Olivia Wilde.  I’m not a fan of hers and wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a pretty actress line up.  But in an interview with Marie Claire, Wilde spoke about her divorce. “I don’t think love should be work,” she said.  She acknowledged that her parents, married 35 years told her that marriage was hard work, but “When the relationship becomes about working to make it work, it’s lost that beauty and that optimistic bohemian sense that brought us together.”

Unlike Wilde, I see beauty in the relationships that persevere and it is one reason why I like marriage in trouble romances.

Broken marriages come in all shapes in romance.  They are created through immaturity, sometimes through indifference, and even through cruelty.  In Erin McCarthy’s Hot Finish (reviewed here), Suzanne and Ryder’s marriage broke up because of a lack of communication and fear. Suzanne was insecure and married to a celebrity racecar driver whose default setting and “on” setting is laconic, those fears of self worth were heightened.  She began to lash out and Ryder, obtuse and unobservant, lacked any meaningful response.   The situation exacerbated until neither was happy and they divorced.  Two years of being within the same social circle, however, brings the two to the realization that their connection hasn’t been severed, only strained and because of their desire to begin anew, they begin to communicate in ways that they hadn’t before.

Perhaps the modern queen of the marriage in trouble trope is Sherry Thomas.  In Not Quite a Husband and PrivateArrangements, Thomas explores long time separations between married couples in the late 19th century.  In Private Arrangements, the duke perceived his newly obtained duchess deceived and abused his regard for her.  He leaves her and they live apart, literally separated by an ocean, for almost a decade until the duchess petitions for divorce.  In Not Quite a Husband, the heroine and hero made an improbable match.  She was barren, a surgeon, older.  He was a celebrity of sorts, well favored, younger. Yet they were so much in love until the heroine discovered something about the hero that ruined their marriage and they too spent several years physically and emotionally distant.

In both stories, the characters had to learn forgiveness both of themselves and each other.  Perhaps the greatest character trait they acquired in separation was tolerance. I asked Sherry Thomas what she thought about the Marriage in Trouble trope:

It is not marriages-in-trouble that interest me so much as disillusionment, which is a major theme in my writing, even when there is not a glimmer of a marriage is sight. We as a society have celebrated falling in love for a long time. But as anyone who’s been in a longterm relationship–the end goal of romance–can testify, the initial infatuation is the easy part. There are probably a few couples who never leave that state of pink hazy happy glow, but for the vast majority of us, it is what we do after the initial infatuation has worn off that determines the longevity of our relationships.

I’m a firm believer that disillusionment is not only something that can be dealt with, but a good thing. It means you look at your beloved not with lust-goggles, but realistically; not as an extension of yourself and your own wants and needs, but as a person in his/her own right. But it is not easy to arrive at that point of zen. Can you deal with another person’s flaws? Can you understand that it is by the same discomfiting process that they are dealing with your flaws? Cuz chances are, no matter whom you end up with, you’ll have to go through these stages.

So I explore these questions in my books, with much huger kinds of disillusionment than folks normally encounter. But the process is the same. Characters who first think of each other as all kinds shiny and perfect realize that holy cow, not only are they not perfect, they are all kinds of problematic. They sulk. They agonize. And then they man/woman up and say, “You know what, you are not perfect–and neither am I. I still love you and want to commit to you and I hope you feel the same way.”

And that makes me happy.

In Beth Andrews’ Feels Like Home, the heroine is a completely different person than who she was when she first met and then married the hero.  She had tried to be the perfect southern belle daughter and then the perfect beauty queen wife, but inside she felt empty and powerless and so she left her husband. In the period leading to their reconciliation, the heroine is sorry that she hurt her husband, the hero, but that she didn’t regret leaving him.

Tightening his hold on her, he yanked her to him. She pressed her palms against his chest, and could feel his heart beating strongly. “You left,” he growled, lifting her to her toes. “You. Left.”

“And you can’t forgive me. You want to stay angry, that’s your choice. You want to put the failure of our marriage squarely on my shoulders? I’ll carry that burden, because I did leave. You want honesty?” she cried hotly. “You want the truth? Leaving you was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was also the best decision of my life.”

The heroine had changed and thus, in order for their marriage to work the second time, the hero had to not only accept the change but fall in love with a different person.

In all marriage in trouble stories, I am looking for the author to convince me that these two individuals that the characters have learned from their past mistakes, grown as individuals, and still love what the person has become.  I particular like seeing how an author can bring that couple back together again without a near death experience or reveal of a big secret.

Most romance stories end at the beginning of the happy ever after.  The marriage in trouble explores what happens during the ever after.  It’s the struggle and hard work that make these stories beautiful, contrary to what Ms. Wilde may think about love, marriage and beauty.