by Devon Vaughn Archer, contemporary (2013)
Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86300-6
Devon Vaughn Archer has a style that can go from dry and boring to dry but still with some charm, depending on which book we are talking about here. He has a tendency to tell rather than show too often for everyone's own good, but he has a pretty good understanding of his characters. He also tends to avoid making his characters outright clichés. Therefore, there are usually some good along with the not-so-good in this author's romance novels. Say It With Roses has about an equal amount of both.
Madison Wagner relocates back to Portland, Oregon for her new job - writer and book reviewer of her own column in an "upscale magazine" called Rose Petals. It's a good thing that this is a romance novel, or we'd all be starting a pool as to how long before the review section folds and Madison is out of a job. She is also here to get away from bad vibes caused by the dissolution of her relationship with her now ex-fiancé.
In Oregon is our hero, Stuart Kendall. He's a full time writer (a successful one, of course) and single father to two creepy twin daughters. He finds Madison attractive and his daughters naturally take a liking to our heroine, so what's stopping them from a happy ending? Well, he too issues about his ex-wife walking out on him and their daughters. Also, his sister married Madison's ex-fiancé. It's quite awkward.
Here's the thing. She got dumped three years ago. His wife walked out four years ago. But from the way these characters just keep going on and on and on and on and on and on and on about their painful betrayal, it's like they were dumped last week. These two spend more time in the first half of the story dwelling on these issues than actually interacting with one another, and when they do, it's mostly about comparing the new person with the faithless ex. Should these two even be getting married? They clearly have plenty of leftover issues from their previous relationships.
The second half of the story is so much better when the characters actually start focusing on the present instead of the past. By then, the damage is done. When Madison finally wonders whether Stuart is looking for a replacement for his ex-wife in her, the answer is no where I am concerned. Stuart doesn't date Madison or any woman - he seems instead to be in an ongoing aggressive search for a mother for his twin daughters. I'm not convinced that he adores Madison as much as he's glad that there's now someone to mother his daughters and give him happy whoopee at home.
There's also a tendency for the author to exaggerate the trials and tribulations of Stuart's single parenthood. When Stuart talks about how hard it is to find a woman who can mother his kids as well as not be "overwhelmed" by his career, I can only roll up my eyes. What overwhelming career? The guy's a full time writer of several bestsellers. He lives in a big house and his kids are those charming fictitious types that have no desire to be naughty or difficult, and he also has lots and lots of money, so what's overwhelming about his "career" again? I try to picture the wife sitting at home, worried that the husband may not return from a booksigning... nah, not happening anytime, I'm afraid. The author's tendency to inflate the hero's challenges as a single father to an unrealistic degree ends up making the story feel rather artificial and even the conflicts contrived.
On the other hand, when Madison and Stuart take their relationship beyond pouting and whining about their failed relationships, they have an easy chemistry and their romantic moments can be pretty sweet. I also like how these characters are pretty mature when it comes to dealing with any conflict that arise in their relationship. Stuart's ex-wife could have been easily relegated to cartoon villain department, but the author makes an effort to turn her into a more well-rounded character. He doesn't need to, but he did, and I appreciate that.
I find Say It With Roses an easy read - it's far more palatable than the previous loosely related book in the series - but it's hard to get into the romance when the hero and the heroine spend so much time convincing me that their relationship is more of a rebound thing than anything else.
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