Tuesday, April 11, 2023
I really struggled with how to rate this book and to explain my issues with it. It has an over-arching loveliness and whimsy. The prose is beautiful. The setting feels so real, so wonderful! The premise of finding your voice and your freedom can be nothing other than appealing. I could see where the high ratings and rave reviews were coming from. Yet, I found this book disturbing. I was disgusted by the main characters. It took me a while before I could pinpoint exactly why.
Spoiler warning here! I'm going to get into some nitty, gritty details.
Twenty-nine year old Valancy Sirling's life has always been a misery and the author spends the first 30% of the book pounding in this fact. Neglected by an emotionally abusive mother and forced into a narrow box by her stuffy, judgmental family, she cannot even sneeze without being judged. Consequently, she has grown up into a dour, people-pleasing, doormat extraordinaire. We ought to feel so sorry for her. And, I did. I felt very sorry for her. But, something wasn't setting right, even at this early point in the novel.
As the opening continues, we are meant to believe that every member of this family and this town is an absolute nightmare. Not one person has ever been kind to Valancy. There was not a kind teacher, no pleasant neighbors, not even a friendly mailman or milkman. The librarian, the store clerk... all of them... absolutely everyone is morally bankrupt. Everyone mistreats Valancy. Hmm... that's a little weird.
I can't help but think of that saying that if you meet a jerk in a day, then you met a jerk. If all you meet every day are jerks, then you might be the jerk. But, I was willing to overlook this.
Then, we are given the unqualified and serious statement that Valancy has not had a single happy moment in her life. What? Not one? You never got a slice of birthday cake at school and sat in the sunshine eating it and were happy for a single moment? You never saw a daffodil bloom in the spring and were happy that winter was almost over? You never saw a mother kiss her smiling baby and felt happy for them and all the love they have? Not for one moment? Not ever? Ok...
This is starting to look like it's a Valancy problem, not an everybody else problem. But, I excused her because I figured that at this point in the book she is depressed. She has lost her perspective. Everything and everyone seems bleak and terrible. The whole point of this novel is going to be Valancy regaining her perspective, setting necessary boundaries, forming healthy relationships, and finding her happiness.
Valancy gets diagnosed with a fatal illness and that marks the turning point in the novel. It is finally time for Valancy to set herself free and live her own life. She is going to do what she likes and say what she thinks.
But, oh dear! What she thinks is pretty nasty and petty. Her aunt has an ugly wort, her cousin shows too much of her gums when she smiles, her uncle tells lame jokes, a widower at church has too many children, etc. I get it. These people haven't been the best to her and she's angry. Getting it out of her system is going to be part of her healing process.
Eventually, she'll discover that these are other human beings working through their own traumas, trying to find their own places in the world, and seeking their happiness. They may not have gone out of their way to make her life sunshine and roses, but she has not done that for them either. It's time to start humanizing everyone, to start maturing, to make and accept apologies and peace, and to start building friendships. (I am excusing her mother from this thought, btw. Because her mother absolutely mistreated her and it's probably best Valancy cut her off.)
Valancy moves out of her mother's house to care for a dying school friend who has become a social pariah since she got pregnant out of wedlock. Her father is a notorious alcoholic and they live in the back woods. They are good friends with a local hermit who supposedly has multiple felonies to his name. I assumed this was a set-up to make Valancy realize that she doesn't actually have it the worst out of anybody in the world.
Valancy's family is absolutely outraged. Now, some of their outrage is selfish and unacceptable (what will people think of the Sirlings- how will this reflect on me?) but some of it is actually reasonable and sympathetic. I imagine we'd all be concerned if our loved one moved out on their own to some remote place with a severe alcoholic known for having a temper, an ex-con, an ill woman, and no way to summon help or leave if something goes wrong. (No phone, no car, etc.) Valancy snickers at and mocks everyone in exactly the same way - no one's feelings or concerns are legitimate to her. She will take no effort to make sure they know she is safe, she'll just rub her dislike of them into their faces.
Her Aunt Georgianna comes into focus. She is a sweet widow who want the best for Valancy. Despite her conformity, she goes against the family in support of Valancy. The ill girl dies and Valancy asks Barney, the hermit and supposed convict to marry her. He does. Valancy goes into town and runs into Aunt Georgianna who thinks she has a good marriage prospect for Valancy. Valancy makes an absolute fool of her aunt, letting her carry on and making subtle digs at her for an entire car ride before letting her know that she is already married. The Aunt still sews Valancy a quilt and takes her side against the rest of the family without thanks and without any effort on Valancy's side to foster a relationship.
At this point, Valancy is getting difficult to tolerate. Is she any better than her family? She can certainly be as cruel. She can certainly be as judgmental. She can't seem to see anyone's side but her own. Neither can the author, which is very strange and uncomfortable.
On to the romance section of the book. Barney and Valancy reflect each other's personalities. They agree on almost everything, enjoy the same things, and love shoving their non-conformity into society's face. This section of the book was actually ok. The descriptions of the setting and the passing seasons were glorious. I thought Valancy was finally growing as a character. Barney is scarcely sketched in, though. He's very secretive and we really know nothing about him except that, even as much as she loves him, Valancy can totally buy that he might be a criminal on the run. But, she still thinks its stupid anyone might worry about such a trivial matter.
Finally, we get to the resolution, which really resolves nothing. Valancy is not dying. Barney is in love with her. Oh... and he happens to have an insanely rich dad who will pay for them to travel the globe together.
A dad whom Barney cut off for eleven years (5 with minimal contact to let him know he was alive and 6 with no contact whatsoever). What did Barney's dad do to deserve the sleepless nights wondering if his son was alive or dead? If he had grandchildren he'd never meet? How he could have gone so wrong? If his only family in all the world will ever forgive him?
Well... he didn't really get Barney. They have different personalities. That's all.
And it's a perfect illustration of what was so unsettling about this novel. Everyone's thoughts, feelings, and needs were unimportant except Valancy's and Barney's. They extended no grace to people who did not reflect themselves. They never softened and they never grew up. Everyone else is the problem. Everyone else is wrong. Nobody suffers as they do. They are always the victims.
And the author doesn't seem to see the problem with that. I got the uncomfortable feeling that I was reading through the view of a pair of narcissists and that their marriage was going to end in disaster if they had kids that turned out to be different from them.
Friday, March 3, 2023
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
I know, I know, it's my usual genre or part of any of my series. But what can I say? I was feeling inspired. Plus, I managed to roll so many fun tropes into one! We have not only amnesia, but surprise pregnancy, second chance romance, and a swoony, pining, head-over-heels in love hero!
I'll update more as I get closer to release.
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Sunday, February 12, 2023
Love is in the Air!As part of my Valentine's Day Launch, I am hosting a free promotion for my new release Heart of Gold. Get your copy on Amazon now through Wednesday.
Monday, February 6, 2023
Mutual respect and affection quickly blur the boundaries the boundaries with a passionate romance. But, when a ghost from their past returns to torment them, can their fledgling relationship survive?
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
Get my full Harmony Ridge Romance Series free on Booksprout now until 1.24.2023! All I ask in exchange is an honest review. Setting up your account takes minutes and will give you access to thousands of free books. No need to enter any personal details or credit card numbers. The authors pay for everything.