by Stef Ann Holm, contemporary (2004)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 0-7783-2086-3
Stef Ann Holm's Pink Moon isn't a romantic suspense like her previous book Undressed. It's more of a smalltown drama with a little excitement curve ball thrown at the back for conflict. Unfortunately, apart from a great couple starring in this story, the story seems to meander and muddle around, unsure of its direction, for too long.
A drifter in all but name, Lauren Jessup has been on the move since childhood when she hopped from foster home to foster home. Even now when she has a six-year old kid named Billy, she is constantly on the move, dreaming of becoming a chef and putting her skills at cooking to good use while waiting tables and chasing the elusive dream. Upon seeing a quaint picture of a coastal town on a postcard one day, she once uproots her life and Billy's to start a hopefully new one in Bella Luna, the coastal town in question. She arrives under the pink moon, a time when the full moon is of course pink in appearance. The folks of Bella Luna say that strange things can happen under a pink moon. Falling in love with Nick DiMartino, the local who often shows up at the eatery where Lauren works as a waitress. When Lauren loses her job, Nick suggests that she comes over and works at a cook for him and his son Nicky Jr. I'm sure you know where these two are going. A bump in their road to happily ever after is Nick's ex-wife who shows up to fight for full custody for Nicky Jr.
Sometimes whimsical, such as Lauren's cooking skill that somehow manages to work magic in the DiMartino household, sometimes realistic, Pink Moon however seems to lack a direction. There is a strong and clear character build-up: Lauren is a sympathetic character whose insecurities and fears of abandonment are credible, Nick is a good father and essentially a good man who understandably is afraid that his developing relationship with Lauren will cost him the custody of Nicky Jr, and their relationship develops very realistically from friendship to something deeper. The kids are also nicely done: they don't come off as adult matchmakers in kiddie bodies and they don't try too hard to be cute. Billy has a red cape which he believes will give him superpowers, for example, but this aspect is adorable in a bittersweet manner. It's adorable because Billy's being an imaginative six-year old and it's a little heartbreaking because it's obvious that the cape is the only stable and constant presence in poor Billy's life apart from his mother. It is only towards the end when Ms Holm weakens and uses the two boys in an obvious manner for sentimental manipulation, but on the whole, Lauren and Nick come off as people who try very hard to be good single parents to their children to the best of their abilities and those kids are realistic little boys. The adults aren't perfect but they own up to their flaws and try to improve. I like that. Nick also refuses to use his son as a pawn in his battle with his ex-wife or to even speak of his ex-wife in a negative manner before his son, another reason why I like that man.
It is therefore quite painful to learn that while Ms Holm has created some very sympathetic, likable, and realistic characters for me to root for, the story doesn't know how to use these characters fully. Subplots and secondary characters meander in and out, some serving no purpose when it comes to the main storyarc, and after a while Nick and Lauren seem to be just moving in circles, going nowhere. The somewhat mystical aspects of Lauren's cooking is never developed fully and the presence of pink moon never becomes anything more than background scenery despite the initial fuss about it. As a result, this book is like a movie with fine acting but a very average script - I enjoy meeting Nick, Lauren, the kids, and the assorted of secondary characters in Bella Luna, but I sincerely wish that their story has been stronger and more focused.
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