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REVIEW:  The Return of Brody McBride by Jennifer Ryan

REVIEW: The Return of Brody McBride by Jennifer Ryan

RBM

Dear Ms. Ryan:

I bought your book on impulse. Generally speaking men in cowboy hats on the cover of books are not a selling point for me. But I do like soldiers returning from the theater of war, so I thought I’d give your book a try. What I found was a mostly entertaining book with a hero who self flagellates excessively, and a slightly over the top story device, but also a book I read in two sittings.

Brody McBride is back in town after multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. A now decorated war hero, Brody is determined to right the wrongs he did by leaving and win the heart of the girl he left behind. Rain Evans was devastated when Brody left town eight years ago. She was also pregnant. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Brody and Rain had fought badly before he left and they broke up. After which, Brody slept with Roxy, the town tramp and knocked her up too. Nice shootin’ Tex!

Of course, being right out of central casting, Roxy, evil bitch that she is, told everyone in town she was pregnant with Brody’s baby, and then threatened to terminate the pregnancy. Rain, needing every piece of Brody she could get, paid off Roxy to have the baby, and then paid her another lump sum to keep the baby (although never getting Roxy to sign over any papers – why, I don’t know). So Brody returns to town to the news that he has not one, but TWO secret babies. Although, Rain had been trying her best to track him down while he was gone, she’d never been successful, and finally gave up.

Brody is horrified to hear that he fathered two children and left Rain with them. She’s been raising them on her own, and doing a damn fine job of it. But she has no money, had to give up her dream of going to college to become a mother and is working as a mechanic at her dad’s autobody shop. Brody can’t seem to apologize enough (over and over and over). He’s sorry for everything: leaving Rain, sleeping with Roxy, he’s ashamed of the PTSD he is battling, he’s ashamed of the scars he bears from serving as an Army Ranger. He’s just so sorry. I know this, because almost every time he opens his mouth it’s to apologize. Amazingly though, the moment he sees his girls, Dawn and Autumn, he takes to fatherhood like a duck to water. He’s patient, he’s loving, he’s kind, he’s fun. They adore him, and he adores them. Even though Autumn, who is really Roxy’s daughter, is afraid that Roxy will come back and take her away from him and Rain. This would be because Roxy already kidnapped Autumn once for three days when she was three. And slapped her and locked her in a closet and gave her barely any food and water. So Autumn has issues. Brody has issues. Good thing for them Rain is the best person ever. She loves Autumn no matter what, and offers comfort and reassurance on a regular basis. When Brody “slips away” into a sort of fugue state from a flashback, she knows just how to bring him back. In fact, one time, she sexes him up to bring him back. Not what I’d do, but hey, this is a romance novel, so go with it, Kati.

As well as being a decorated service man, Brody also invested in a company that has netted him a ton of money. This means that it’s only a matter of time before Roxy comes after Autumn and after Brody’s money. The end of the story mostly focuses on how they outwit her (which didn’t really seem that hard to me, it’s not like Roxy was portrayed as nuanced or intelligent).

As you can tell, I had a number of issues with the book. First there was a lot going on in this book. I got to the point reading it where every new plot development cause me to say, “Because, of course.” It just seemed like too much. If the book had focused on the secret babies, OR Brody’s PTSD, OR battling Roxy for custody of Autumn, I’d have been good. But all of those plot points together really felt like you were trying to do too much. I also thought Rain was a Mary Sue. She was practically perfect in every way, which grated on my nerves. And I felt like Brody spent most of the book in an apologetic or desperate state. This was long after Rain had made it clear that she accepted his apologies and that they had a future together. It was tiresome for me to read him groveling over and over. I was already sold on Brody as a hero, I didn’t need him to self-flagellate to make me like him.

All of that being said, I like your writing voice. I think you introduced an interesting secondary character in Brody’s brother, Owen, who I am happy to see is getting a book. I think you develop a nice sense of place, and that your sex scenes were detailed and entertaining. Overall, I felt like you tried to do too much with the book, but somehow I enjoyed reading it anyway. The Return of Brody McBride is not without its issues, but I’ll most likely give your writing another shot. Final grade: C/C-

Kind regards,

Kati

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REVIEW:  Thrown for a Curve by Sugar Jamison

REVIEW: Thrown for a Curve by Sugar Jamison

thrown for a curveDear Ms. Jamison:

I picked up this book based on a couple of fairly shallow factors: 1) I liked the colorful, poppy cover, which seemed to signal to me that the book fell nicely in the convergence between chick-lit and contemporary romance and 2) your name. Why your name? Well, Sugar (Sugar Beth, to be exact), from Ain’t She Sweet, happens to be one of my favorite Susan Elizabeth Phillips heroines. I think there was an almost subliminal process that happened in my head that went:  sorta-SEP-style-cover+author with SEP-character-name=SEP-type book. What’s weird is that I don’t even always like *SEP* (she’s uneven for me), but still, the association (along with the book blurb) was enough to make me interested in reading this book.

Anyway, the plot: 22-year-old Charlotte “Cherri” Rudy has lived all her life in a small town in New York state. She lives with her grandmother and works in a dress shop with her best friends (one of whom was apparently featured in the first book in this series). She likes her life, but it has its stresses and disappointments. For one, her grandmother, who is the only mother Cherri has ever known (Cherri’s mother took off when she was a child) is getting older and frailer, and having episodes of dementia. Their financial situation isn’t great, and the house they live in is falling down around their ears. Also, Cherri got an advanced degree so she could teach art to children – a longtime dream of hers – but the only job opportunity she’s found is too far away; even if Cherri could commute she’d worry about leaving her grandmother alone for that long each day.

Then there is Cherri’s love life, or lack thereof. She is described as six feet tall with long blond hair and a curvy body. Yet she’s never been on a date and believes she’s fat, unappealing and freakish (due to her height). Yes, Cherri is one of *those* heroines – the clearly hot ones who are somehow convinced that they are hideous.

This aspect of the book annoyed me (it didn’t help that a lot of time was spent on it) – even if you accept Cherri’s self-esteem issues (which are tiresome but at least somewhat realistic), it’s hard to understand why she hasn’t attracted more (or any) male attention in her 22 years. The only thing that might explain it to some degree would be if she were super-shy and dressed in baggy clothes, but neither of those seem to be the case. Cherri actually has a somewhat bubbly, outgoing personality, and as far as I can tell, she dresses pretty much like an average woman her age – she wears dresses, jeans, etc. So I’m not sure how she’s managed to get to the age she has without apparently getting hit on at all.

Colin O’Connell is 34, an Irish immigrant and the best friend of Cherri’s boss’ new husband. He has a thriving business restoring antiques, and like Cherri, he doesn’t have a bad life but he’s not entirely happy. The woman he thought he loved turned out to be faithless, and in the two years since their breakup he’s gone through a period of being a man-whore and now an extended period of celibacy. He was also raised without a mother; the parallel here was a little odd to me, in that it’s never really examined or discussed between Cherri and Colin – do that many people have their mothers run out on them when they are babies and never contact them again? Colin was raised by his father, a feckless, charming skirt-chaser. He’s at the point in his own life when he’s thinking he should consider settling down and starting a family.

Colin and Cherri have known each other for a while (maybe a couple of years?), but, in one of those romance novel conventions that I just have to accept even though it usually doesn’t feel quite real to me, they’ve never admitted their attraction to each other. Cherri’s attraction to Colin is understandable: older guy, handsome, charming, Irish accent – what’s not to love? She’s never done anything about it, though – she believes Colin is out of her league (insert eye-roll here).

Colin finds Cherri’s figure luscious and her personality adorable, but he thinks he’s too old for her and she’s too innocent for him. That, at least, seemed semi-valid to me. He gets drawn deeper into Cherri’s life though when he meets Baba, Cherri’s feisty Ukrainian grandmother, and then later when he utilizes Cherri’s skills as an artist to help restore a piece he’s working on in his shop.

Before long, Cherri and Colin are working together and not-so-secretly lusting after each other. Each still has their issues (Cherri’s: I’m an unattractive freak and someone like Colin couldn’t really want me; Colin’s: she’s too young and innocent and I’ve been burned by love once already), and some of their friends don’t quite approve, but that doesn’t stop the inevitable from happening.

There’s a lot to like about Thrown for a Curve. I liked Cherri (in spite of her tedious self-esteem issues) and Colin. I liked the setting – small towns seem to work better for me when they aren’t rural and/or Southern. The prose style was smooth and readable (which sounds like damning with faint praise but I’m picky about prose so “competent” is really all I ask for or expect).

What didn’t work? The plot, kind of. Which is odd for me, because usually if the prose, characterization and setting are working for me, the plot doesn’t matter that much. In this case, the story started out fine, but got bogged down about halfway through. How many times can we hear about Cherri’s or Colin’s insecurities? Their situation changes, but the script is the same: he doesn’t really want me; she deserves to live her own life and figure out what she really wants. Wah wah wah.

I didn’t have a big problem with the age difference that bothered Colin so much until late in the book. The two fight on a couple of occasions, and Cherri lashes out rather nastily. She has a couple of reasons for being so vicious (to say more would take me into spoiler territory), but her inappropriate anger still felt like it could well be seen as evidence of immaturity.

I think I was supposed to be more charmed by Baba than I actually was. She wasn’t an unlikable character, but she had a pretty broad shtick that consisted of unlikely malaprops and inappropriate vulgarity (her ogling of Colin got old rather fast). The story of her mental decline was poignant, though. The few other secondary characters were likable enough, though my favorite was Baba’s cantankerous dog.

In spite of my criticisms, I think I may seek out the first book in this series when I get a chance. My grade for Thrown for a Curve is a B-.

Best regards,

Jennie

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