Happy New Year! To start the year with a bang I’ve chosen a great book, because the first post of the year should be all about the good books, right? I’m excited to be back, and I’m very happy to see you all.
I’m running out of original ways to explain why Sarah Mayberry is one of my favorite authors. So I’m going to skip the obvious and go directly to the review.
The Other Side of Us is the story of two people dealing with emotional and physical wounds. Oliver was crushed when he learned that his wife cheated on him throughout their whole marriage, and Mackenzie was crushed, literally, during a car crash. They are struggling with pain and with the fact that the life they had envisioned is over. She deals with it by being cranky and living in a denial that forces her to push her body until it has nothing left to give, while he does it by being sad, depressed and feeling emasculated. All they want to do is hide and be alone, but life –and their dogs-- have different plans, and they end up meeting and, after terrible first, second and third impressions, falling in love.
I think this is Ms. Mayberry’s more understated romance. It’s almost completely devoid of angst and external conflict because Oliver and Mackenzie are mature people who actually know themselves and think before reacting (or immediately after). It’s a love story between two intelligent adults who must figure out a new life for themselves individually as well as together. I’m sure some will find it boring, but to me it was perfect.
As in any other genre, Romance often has strict expectations for its heroes, and their characters must follow certain rules in order to be heroic and romantic. When these heroes don’t follow the norm or don’t behave or look the way we expect, we label them as beta or unconventional. But the real heroic traits can be found in normal men, who incidentally make for complex, layered characters, and when a hero makes me feel like I could love someone like that in real life, the author should get extra brownie points, because Romance heroes are great for fantasies, but real life is a whole different kettle of fish. Oliver is someone I could love in real life.
I’m less sure about Mackenzie, though. Her personality is somewhat grating, and the shift from the obsessive focus to regain her old life to the acceptance of her new limitations, was almost magical. The transition happens suddenly, and in a book where subtlety is everything, her change of direction was clashing. That being said, she is the one who holds the power in the relationship, not only in terms of sex and romance, but also economically. In fact, the role reversal is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel. If both characters were described without mention of gender, and based on genre conventions, I would probably identify cranky, successful, damaged Mackenzie as the hero, and sweet, betrayed Oliver as the heroine.
These two characters are nearing 40, have reached financial independence, and are committed to being committed, meaning that they want to be in a relationship, and want to make it work. Yet there’s not even a mention of babies or kids in general. I wanted to cry with baby-less joy. Maybe they will have kids, maybe they won. The absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, so even though they don’t talk about it, it doesn’t mean they don’t want it. But their happiness isn’t tied to the kids they will eventually have, and I found it refreshing, especially considering this is a category romance.
In case you couldn’t tell, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and was completely charmed by the lovely romance and interesting characters. Some will find it slow, or think the characters are too old, or that nothing really happens in it, but it gave me a lot of joy.
Review by Brie
The best thing between Oliver Barrett and Mackenzie Williams is a fence. Ever since Oliver's new-neighbor gestures were met with unfriendly responses, he's decided to keep his distance. After all, he's in this seaside town to get his life on track again. That doesn't include working hard to get on Mackenzie's good side—no matter how intriguing she may be. His intentions are put to the test, however, when his dog becomes infatuated with hers. The two crafty canines do their best to break down the barriers between the properties. And where the dogs go , well, the humans must follow! It doesn't take long for a powerful attraction to build between Oliver and Mackenzie. They soon discover that the worst of first impressions can lead to the best possible outcomes.
The Other Side of Us (Harlequin Superromance) by Sarah Mayberry
Harlequin Superromance. January 01, 2013