by Candis Terry, contemporary (2012)
Avon Impulse, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-220207-9
My reviews of Candis Terry's previous two books sparked an interesting conversation with a visitor, who asked me whether I believe that the books reflected the author's actual beliefs about the role of women in society today. Now, it's probably very easy to say yes, as I believe that we can't help writing about the things we know even in the most fantastical story. Eventually, our own beliefs sneak into our works even if we try not to.
But, having read romance novels for who knows how long - I refuse to keep count - I hesitate to say yes. One, I don't know the author, and it's certainly not my business to approve or disapprove what she thinks of anything. I can only describe my reaction to her books, but she's certainly free to believe anything she wants. Two, and more importantly, I suspect that many romance authors follow the tropes, often out of habit or a need to do what they think is the "right thing to write". Which is to say, they know the formula of the genre, the do's and the don'ts, and they have attended workshops and listened to feedback from other authors about what sell and what doesn't. Therefore, sometimes they just use tropes - of which there are many in the genre - and go from A to Z because that's what every other author is doing, and therefore, that route has to be the right one.
I suspect that Candis Terry may have followed the tropes a bit too faithfully in the previous two books because, in this, the third book in her Sugar Shack series, the tropes are less ubiquitous than the ones in the previous two books, and I discover some pleasant surprises as a result.
Kelly Silverthorne, like her siblings, eventually left Deer Lick to strike out on her own. She became a public prosecutor, taking down the guilty, until she loses her first case and it's off she back to Deer Lick on a leave of absence to fret and wring her hands. Previously, she had a one-night stand with the local lawman, Deputy James Harley, and now it's probably a great time to go for a second round, if James has his way. There are some family drama on her part, some on his part as well, as Kelly's dead mother pops up again as that plot device that still feels tacked on and pointless after three books. Will Kelly's ball and chain story be any more pleasant than those of her siblings?
In a way, I'm glad the ghost mother subplot is tacked on and pointless, because otherwise, this one will be a story of a dead mother who comes back from the grave to force her kids to come back home and do what she has always wanted them to do in life. I don't think I have enough wire hangers to deal with such a particularly gruesome premise of a series. Still, that ghost's appearance is distracting, interrupting the flow of the story, and the story will still be fine if she'd been zapped out of it altogether. Maybe one day I will discover why the author inserted such a superfluous plot device - too much eggnog during a marathon of those horrible movies they made from Debbie Macomber's books? - but then again, Letty is a stubborn control freak that ruled her children with an iron fist, from what her own children's description, and no amount of the author's sugarcoating can get me to warm up to her.
So, back to Kelly. Now, this story isn't a cookie cutter "material girl slayed and brought down low" or "sports dude comes home and shags local teacher" romp, with ample opportunity for the author to do her own thing, so there are some pleasant well-written scenes here. James is actually a pretty good hero - a bit cocky about his sexual prowess, but he doesn't think poorly of Kelly for having her own career and he also shows a good sense of self-awareness. When he acts like a brat, he owns up to that and apologizes sincerely, so he's okay where I am concerned. He has some great scenes with his brother. These scenes may not always be pleasant, but they can pack a pretty hard emotional punch.
At the end of the day, however, I have a hard time believing the implausibly rosy happy ending. Everything is wrapped up nicely, even dysfunctional relationships that would normally take more time to heal, and this actually ruins the emotional authenticity of the well-written scenes I've described above. There are many times when the raw and painful emotions feel real, and then Ms Terry ruins them for future reading by tacking on an ending that is too cheerful and optimistic to be believable.
More significantly, I have a hard time buying Kelly's love story. Here is a heroine who is supposed to be so good at what she does that she has a perfect track record in getting her man in the courtroom until her last case. Suddenly hit by self-doubt and guilt, she makes herself fall in love with James and decides that life in a small town is definitely what she wants all along in a manner that seems suspiciously like some kind of rebound-cum-denial thing to me. Kelly doesn't get any closure for her personal crisis. Instead, in this story she buries her demons deep in her closet and embraces small town life as a desperate way to avoid dealing with her personal issues. And how long can Kelly keep hiding? I'd hate to stay around when she has the inevitable mental breakdown, but I'm sure Miranda Lambert had sung at least one song about these things before.
So yes, Somebody Like You has some nice surprises that suggest to me that the author can do some good things if she allows herself to spread out a bit more without being constrained by tropes so much. Even the typical unfortunate implications of small town romance tropes aren't so obnoxious here. It's too bad, therefore, that the romance is just not believable on a fundamental level.
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