Source: Review copies of the books were provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
What follows is a list of some books I've been struggling to finish for the past few months. One is by a new-to-me author, while the rest are from authors I enjoy and series I love. The thing they have in common is how disappointing they were, and that all of them are Contemporary Romances. Instead of writing individual posts for each, I've decided to list them here because life is too short to waste it on bad books, and I already spent too much time on these.
After the Storm by Amy Knupp
Penn gets seriously hurt while trying to save Nadia from a storm. He’s a firefighter and rescuing people is his job, so the injury and the pain make it impossible for him to work. They know each other because they tried to date, but she kept cancelling because of her work. So he labels her a workaholic, and deems her unworthy of his attention. But she feels so guilty that she keeps trying to take care of him.
Nadia’s journey is about learning to balance her life, or to work less and love more. I have a problem with a book that portrays a heroine whose main flaw is that she is committed to her work to the point of giving is preference over her romantic life. To be fair, his journey is adapting to not being able to do his job, so there are some similarities between them. But while his work ethic makes him heroic, hers makes her flawed and not worth the trouble. I believe that we should learn how to balance every aspect of our lives, but I don’t like double standards.
Return to Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs
Zach and Willow grew up together and were best friends in school. But then life happened and it brought them apart. They reunite during a wedding, and have a one-night-stand. She goes back to her life, which includes a boyfriend and father she wants to impress, and he stays in Willow Lake wondering what happened. Then her mother gets pregnant and she has to go back.
The first thing that bothered me was that Zach, who has been ugly ever since we met him in the first book, suddenly grows into a hunk. The rules of romance demand that its heroes be gorgeous, so Zach got an extreme makeover. I thought it was a missed opportunity to push some genre boundaries, unfair to the character and a boring to me as a reader who wishes authors took more risks.
Sonnet was whiny, spineless and completely different from the girl we used to know. She cheats on her boyfriend and bends over backwards to please a father who never wanted her, and is only using her to further his career.
We have two main characters that are unrecognizable and whose chemistry has always been strong, but only as friends. In fact, they almost feel like siblings. So add a rather unpleasant romance to the list of reasons why I couldn't finish the book.
Barefoot in the Rain by Roxanne St. Claire
The prologue was fantastic and when I read it I was sure the book was a keeper. Jocelyn and Will were best friends, but when their relationship was about to become something more, her father got in the way. She left town and never came back. That is until now, when a scandal forces her to go into hiding and to seek refuge in her hometown.
I had two issues with this book: the plot was bland and the main characters didn't have chemistry between them. Barefoot in the Rain is a mediocre book with a great start, and that is the best I can say about it.
My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr
The book wasn't only disappointing, it was borderline infuriating. The setting is a bit ridiculous -- the hero’s friend dies, and he decides that the only way to take care of his widow is to marry her. I guess this is a way to portray the hero as honorable and selfless, but instead he came across as an idiot.
However, that’s not the reason why I didn't finish it. There’s a little girl in town, she’s poor and her face is scarred. Her father is unemployed, and the mother is helpless. So of course our heroine takes one look at the girl and decides to help her get a new face. This girl is nothing but a prop. The only reason she’s in the book is to make the heroine look good; a heroine who’s young and doesn't know what she’s doing. Of course this is a Christmas story, so the miracle is guaranteed, but using a kid’s misery as a cheap plot device is offensive.
My Kind of Christmas is one of the worst books in the series. The plot was contrived, the characters annoying, and the romance lacked emotion. Read A Virgin River Christmas instead.
I expected more from every single one of these books. There’s no excuse for such poor storytelling, weak stories, offensive plot devices and flat characters. Contemporary Romance is currently one of the most successful sub-genres, but it seems like all I see is the same formula repeated over and over. Success and quality shouldn't be mutually exclusive. Are we willing to sacrifice great storytelling in order to get more of the same?