December 17, 2014

Romance and the Other Woman: Maybe this Christmas by Sarah Morgan


Cover description: A man carries a woman while they kiss. They are wearing winter clothes and it's snowing.
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Warning: Unannounced spoilers, proceed with caution.

This post should be my “Best of/Favorites” list, but I just need to accept that, if the list is happening, it will be in January. I read many great books this year, but I don’t have the energy or time to put a decent post together. So instead, you get a review that I’ve been trying to write for over two months, but hey, it’s a Christmas books, so at least there’s that.

Here’s the deal: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that in a series featuring a bunch of hunky brothers, the most compelling one always goes last. This means that even though I loved the first two books (book one being my favorite) Tyler, the final brother, was always there, lurking and tempting us with the promise of a great final book. And although yes, the book was compulsively readable and almost impossible to put down, what started as a combination of anticipation and joy, slowly transformed into a ball of uncomfortable feelings, to the point where I’m not sure whether the unputdownable (<-- a real word, believe it or not) qualities of the book came from my original expectations or from the sheer trainwreckiness (<-- not a real word, sadly) of the story.


Yeah, that came out more hyperbolic than intended and needed, because this book is far from a mess, but the gist of the issue is that all that promise and quality got a bit lost when the story took a wrong turn into NOPE-land.

Maybe this Christmas presents us the Vicious Circle of Doom of how the lack of communication can cause a lot of pain, but also how pain sometimes forces us to stop communicating. Brenna, our heroine, was always in love with Tyler, but never said or did anything for fear of ruining the family that their friendship brought her, and because he got someone else pregnant and unknowingly broke Brenna’s heart. And yet, she remained a constant in his life, even though he kept taking her for granted and treating her like a friend and nothing else. Until, well, nothing, because Brenna is the type of heroine who never gets over the unrequited love and waits patiently for the third book in the series to finally get her HEA.

Now, I don’t have a problem with heroines who wait, beyond the fact that, sure, it’s not the healthiest representation of romantic love. But once, I accidentally spent four years waiting for someone, and although, THANK GOD, I eventually moved on, I have the softest spot for this trope and the heroines who suffer through it. And Brenna was a fun, hard-working woman who (kind of) wanted to get on with her life, even though she shelf-sabotaged a lot. And, of course, the moment she made the decision to finally move on, Tyler developed a feeling in his pants and, okay, in his heart, because Sarah Morgan is an excellent writer and knows how to develop relationships outside the bedroom.

Brenna wasn’t the only one having trouble communicating, however, and it soon became fairly obvious that Tyler was struggling with feelings of inadequacy as a parent, as a professional athlete whose career was cut short by injury, and perhaps even as a brother and a son. So the idea that these two would take forever to make decisions made a lot of sense and felt organic instead of contrived.

So far so good, right? Here’s where things get tricky, though. Tyler never truly communicates his issues, and I sat there waiting for them to have an honest talk about how the premature ending of his professional career affected him. But I guess there weren’t enough pages to develop and present a satisfying conclusion to a character whose story had been building throughout three books. I mean, the villain needed to evil (<-- not really verb, but whatever) so she got the page time.

Janet is Tyler’s evil ex, the same one whose pregnancy broke Brenna’s heart. In book 1, Jess, their adorable and Not-Pet-Moppet teenage daughter came to live with Ty, in what was the first signal that there was something wrong with the ex, because no good mother sends her child to live with someone else, right?  The father-daughter relationship was a joy to read, but the mother-daughter relationship was a bit of a nightmare, because while I would never dare think that women who don’t want to be mothers are evil, in this case the way she neglected her daughter served as item number one in her list of moustache-twirling villainous qualities (and that she sent her to live with her loving father was still portrayed as neglect).   

Item number two was that Janet used to bully Brenna, who, of course, kept the bullying a secret, even when her tormentor seduced the object of her unrequited love. See where am I getting at? This woman was made of evil. She only existed to cause problems, and at one point she used sex and motherhood as a weapon to punish someone else. When Ty found out about everything, he got violently sick, a reaction that closely mirrored mine.

I have said before that Romance is very unkind to the Other Woman (and others have said itbetter and louder than me). There are exceptions, of course, but as a rule, she tends to be a narrative shortcut and never a fully-fleshed character deserving of depth, even if her ultimate role will be that of the antagonist. And it makes me angry, especially when I look around and see that we also treat heroines quite badly. Isn’t this supposed to be The Feminist Genre? So what are we doing? Shit like this is why is no surprise that nowadays I see the “feminist genre” line used to shut down conversation more often than I see it used to foster critical discourse that takes a hard look at these pervasive issues.  

I have to admit that this book was emotionally effective, in part because of that character, but I don’t want to get my emotional high at the expense of a female character, or at the expense of any one-dimensional, plot-device-y character, for that matter. The genre deserves and needs better.

So there you have it. I’m disappointed, but hopeful.


Happy Holidays! I hope you all have a great New Year, and that 2015 brings you (and yours) joy, health and many great books. I’ll see you again in January, hopefully with a list or two. 

12 comments:

  1. I just re-read this review and I think I'm really into using "even though" *sigh* Oh, well. Merry Christmas! ;-) And now I've been reduced to being the 1st person who comments on my own posts *double sigh*

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  2. Hey hey, I loved this review & I agree with what you say here. Morgan did try for some subtlety in this character's treatment at the end, but it lacked development, as did Tyler's change of heart, as did Brenna's halcyon HEA. I think she bit off more of the Christmas cake than she could chew, did our Morgan. And yes, like you, I still read it like a fiend.

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  3. "Even though" is a blogger's nemesis: I edit to "thought" ... it makes me feels better ;-)

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  4. And yes, I also don't edit well enough to write "THOUGH" ... though! Because of lack of "thought".

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  5. Blogger ate my original comment, Miss B! *cries* *shakes fist at Blogger*

    I’ll try again:

    I didn’t notice an improvement of her character at the end (or maybe I don’t remember), but I admit to being glad that she didn’t start some custody war, even though *cough* I was expecting it. So I give her kudos for that.

    Also, and because I want to praise what’s been a great series, Ms. Morgan is very good, so I do wonder if length constrictions hurt the development a bit, because this has been an outstanding series and making what’s basically a small-town contemporary look so fresh and interesting is no small feat (and I say this as a fan of small-town contemps who recognizes all its flaws).

    What did you think of Brenna’s mother? She was another Other Woman, and I also had some issues with her, but I did like where that relationship went.

    BTW, thank you so much for your comment(s)! It’s so great to see you here ;-)

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    1. You're welcome! It's great to be here ... I'll be back!

      I thought, like you, that Brenna's mother went from cold-fish-bitch to warm and fuzzy way too abruptly. I guess the only redemption to that portrayal was Brenna's genuine appreciation of what her mama did for her when she was devastated by what happened with Tyler and Janet. Making her get up, dressed, and stand up for herself.

      The only improvement I recall (and my "recollection" ability is as good as a goldfish's) is that Tyler tells Jess about her mom bringing her a gift and wanting to see her. It felt like Janet just calmed down and made a modicum effort to be a mother to Jess. You'd think she'd have moved past all this with a baby and husband.

      You might have already read it, but Olivia Waite did a great post on the Other Woman trope on her blog: http://www.oliviawaite.com/blog/2014/04/w-is-for-the-other-woman/

      Don't know if the link will work?

      Wanted to wish you a great blogging year in 2015!

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    2. Oh. My. God! I forgot to copy my reply and Blogger ate it. AGAIN!

      Anyway, yes, I *loved* Olivia's article and in fact, my original idea was to write a more general post, but then I realized that she said it much better, so I just went with a regular review. But I loved all the A to Z articles; I don't even know how she managed to do it.

      Thank you so much! I hope you (and all our twitter/blogger friends) have a great, productive reading and blogging year ;-)

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  6. I'm so glad you wrote about this; I never finished my review, but my disappointment with the treatment of Janet's character was big for me. There was a tiny bit of understanding shown towards her, but there was so much unexplored potential in her situation.

    Oh, and thanks for the link. :-)

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    1. This is the third time I reply, so let's see if Blogger stops eating my comment :-/

      I think, to me, part of the issue was that the understanding shown to her, was by other characters, but the narrative vilified her. There are other villainous ex that have that moment where you can see that there's more to her, and it makes her compelling. One example that comes to mind is Sarah Mayberry's latest, where the ex is angry and jealous, but she's also hurting has more dimension, so her "negative" traits (and being angry and jealous aren't necessarily negative things, in fact, more Rom heroine could use some of it) become compelling.

      I hope I'm making sense, because this comment box is super small and I can't see what I wrote!

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  7. That sentence I wrote made no sense... oh well.

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  8. I haven't read any of this series yet (Bad Kaetrin). But, like you, I'm not generally a fan of the evil woman who is evil trope. I can get over it (most notably this year it was in Night Broken - but that was a stumbling block for loads of other readers so my love for the series and Mercy and Adam in particular may well have overshadowed my perceptions there. Even so, I still enjoyed the heck out of Night Broken) but I'd prefer the antagonist to have some nuance.

    I was very happy to see your blog popping up in my inbox today Brie. Thx for the review! :)

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    1. Ha! I kept thinking about NB while reading this one, and I kept thinking "man, in hindsight that book did it better" although as you know, I wasn't happy with that book either (I still read it in one night, though).

      And thanks, Kaetrin! I'm happy I managed to sneak in one last post, so at least this year I blogged every month and I won't feel so bad for being so inconsistent. Hopefully next year will be better!

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Blogger likes to eat comments, so I suggest copying it before hitting "publish" just in case it doesn't go through the first time. This is a pain, I know, but it's the only solution/prevision I can think of, and it will save you the frustration of losing a comment. Also, thanks for visiting!

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