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.