by Julie Leto, contemporary (2010)
HCI, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-7573-1534-3
Julie Leto's Hard To Hold is a pleasant surprise. The other two books that kick off HCI's True Vows line came off more like ego-stoking exercises in making the real life couple resemble Julia Roberts and Jon Hamm as much as possible. This one, however, comes closest to being what the line claims to be all about: a story of an everyday couple whose romance makes them extraordinary.
Michael Davoli loves the band Wilco. So does Anne Miller. Sparks fly when they meet at one of Wilco's concerts, but Anne is confused somewhat by Michael's determination to keep her at arm's length. You see, Michael has Tourette's syndrome. His recent breakup with a woman he'd been steady with for years doesn't help boost his confidence that he can have anything special with Anne. How will a romance between these two ever work out?
Of course, this book does contain many eye-rolling conventions that plague the other two books in the first generation True Vows line. There are too many secondary characters who exist only to cheer the hero and heroine on. As a story supposedly based on real life, this story suffers from serious credibility issues when it has such characters - we all know if real life that people like to talk about themselves rather than worrying so much about whether the hero or the heroine is getting laid. These characters, with their obsession on the sex life of the main characters, come off as creepy rather than amusing. Also, the story focuses so much on the romance that the main characters suffer a disconnect from reality. How many ordinary people do you know have the luxury to dwell endlessly on their social calendar? In this story, for example, Anne meeting with a DA who spills stuff to her (I hope none of the DA's colleague is reading this book) ends up being a scene where both women discuss Anne's attraction to Michael. I know this book aims to present real life love in a fairytale manner, but such scenes don't belong in fairy tales. They belong in a very artificial romantic comedy.
Despite being saddled with so many Harry, While You Were Sleepless In Seattle, You Got Mail From Sally conventions, however, Hard To Hold also boasts a charming relationship between Michael and Anne. These two have many adorable small moments where they tentatively explore the possibilities between them. Anne and Michael's romance feels real and solid while being rooted in some semblance of reality. They may have sitcom friends and quasi-glamorous jobs, but the romance feels real, with moments of tenderness and poignancy giving the relationship an emotional core that resonates with me. These two characters feel real, as they should, despite the ersatz nature of everything else about the story. And this is Ms Leto's biggest triumph where this story is concerned.
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