Thursday, January 3, 2013

More Supers: Three Short Reviews


Back to the Good Fortune Dinner
By Vicki Essex
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: January 2, 2013

Growing up, Tiffany Cheung couldn’t wait to leave the small town where she always felt like a misfit. Now, having lost her job as a junior assistant in a New York publishing house and having been evicted from her apartment, she is forced to return to Everville, New York, to her parents’ home, constant comparisons to her brother, and pressure to work at the Good Fortune Diner, the family’s Chinese restaurant. Tiffany is determined to find another job in the city, but for the present she has no money, no car, and a hefty credit card bill plus major body repairs for her wrecked car. The last thing she wants is for her parents to bail her out, a move that could guilt her into working at the diner. When her high school crush asks her to tutor his son for the summer, Tiffany can’t turn down the money or the chance to see more of Chris Jamieson, who is even hotter now than he was in high school.

Tiffany Cheung’s tutoring helped Chris Jamieson earn a college scholarship, but when his girlfriend became pregnant, he left school to marry her and to work on the family farm. Now he’s the divorced father of a teenage son with a snarl, an attitude, and failing grades in English. His problems are compounded by his father whose ideas about farming and about people are stuck in the previous century. Chris hopes history will repeat itself when Tiffany tutors his son, but he’s ready to write a new story with the new and improved version of his former tutor. But with generational clashes, cultural clashes, and other misunderstandings, Chris and Tiffany have a lot to overcome before they head for their HEA.

Romances that cross cultural barriers are rare, and Back to the Good Fortune Diner does an exceptional job of showing the hybridity of second/third generation immigrants and the prejudices that are still alive and flourishing in pockets of American culture on both sides of cultural divisions. Tiffany is not always a likeable character, but she is interesting and realistic. The relationship between her and Chris develops in a realistic fashion as well. The secondary plot of Daniel, Tiffany’s brother, adds further interest. I recommend this one with a couple of caveats. Some readers may feel that Tiffany surrenders too much of what she wants to get her HEA, and, given the characterization of the parents of both hero and heroine, readers over fifty may feel that mature adults are unfairly portrayed as bigots unable and unwilling to deal with change.

The Truth about Comfort Cove
By Tara Taylor Quinn
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: January 2, 2013

This is the third book in Quinn’s It Happened in Comfort Cove series, following A Son’s Tale and A Daughter’s Story. The abduction of two-year-old Claire Sanderson twenty-five years earlier is the case that links the three books. In The Truth about Comfort Creek, two cold case detectives, Lucy Hayes of Aurora, Indiana, and Ramsey Miller of Comfort Creek, Massachusetts, continue to work together to give Emma Sanderson the answers she needs about her little sister’s disappearance.

Lucy and Ramsey have a lot in common, and not all their common ground is professional. Lucy is fighting to keep her emotionally fragile, alcoholic mother sober and strong enough to testify in the trial of the man who raped her and abducted her six-month-old daughter twenty-eight years ago, before Lucy was born. That loss has shaped Lucy’s life as much as it has her mother’s. Totally committed to her job, Lucy maintains a reserve in her private life that keeps everyone at a distance.

Ramsey too knows what it means to lose a sister and watch a mother disintegrate from grief. His sister Diane died as a teenager, and Ramsey holds himself responsible for her death. Knowing that his mother holds him responsible as well, he left Vienna, Kentucky, where he grew up as soon as he could, and he rarely returns, not even to visit his parents on holidays. Instead, he immerses himself in his work, focusing particularly on child abduction cases. His job is his life.

Drawn together by the Sanderson case, the two become friends. They talk on the telephone almost nightly, sharing information about their cases, helping one another when possible, and continuing to spend hours of their own time searching for clues in the Sanderson case. They even fly halfway across the country to be there for one another at crucial moments. Before either of them realizes what’s happening, they come to depend on those phone calls. Their friendship deepens, their physical awareness of one another intensifies, and soon two people who never allowed themselves to think about a relationship are involved in one that is becoming more and more important to them. When the Sanderson case is unexpectedly solved in a way that smashes all their theories about what happened to Claire, their feelings for one another become their only certainty.

The Truth about Comfort Cove is a compelling romantic suspense tale with a resolution that few readers will suspect. Although this is the culmination of a mystery that runs through three books, sufficient background is provided so that this final book can be read as a standalone. The romance and the suspense elements are skillfully woven together. Even the shattering solution plays an essential role in the relationship between Lucy and Ramsey. Seeing these two wounded hearts find their HEA is immensely satisfying.

That Weekend
By Jennifer McKenzie
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: January 2, 2013

Ava Christensen, a TV blogger and celebrity reporter, thinks that she has earned the newly available job as co-host of an entertainment news program, but her executive producer, Jake Durham, has a different opinion. He gives the position to a younger, less experienced male colleague with connections. Ava is furious, and being forced to spend a week with Jake at a film festival soon afterwards adds fuel to her fury. But when she slips on an icy street and breaks her wrist, Ava discovers how caring and comforting Jake can be. The two agree they should behave professionally and ignore the simmering attraction between them, but good intentions melt under the force of a chemistry that proves irresistible. But Jake’s carrying a lot of baggage from his past that he has to let go of if he and Ava are to have a future together.

This story was well written, and the entertainment context and the inclusion of bits of Ava’s blog, it has the feel of being truly contemporary. There’s one amusing scene when Ava is in the hospital that has her texting with her best friend about Jake while she and Jake exchange emails about her body language response to the texting.  But I just never felt fully engaged with these characters. Perhaps I’m just not part of the targeted audience for this one, or perhaps it suffered from the inevitable comparisons to other, less conventional and predictable books that are part of January’s Superromance offerings.

One of the things that impressed me about this group of romances was how many of them in some way moved beyond the conventions of romance in some way. Do you prefer your romances conventional or unconventional?

On Friday, one randomly selected commenter will win her/his choice of one of the HSRs I have reviewed this week. (With apologies to international readers, this contest is open to U. S. residents only.)


irisheyes said...

I like conventional - knowing what I'm getting, but I'm learning to embrace unconventional. LOL

I know there are a lot of awesome unconventional stories out there waiting to be told. My worry is that in an effort to be unconventional the story gets creepy or unromantic/depressing. I think that's why I stay away from Romantic Suspense. As long as the romance is front and center I think I can give unconventional a try.

Janga said...

Irish, I think my first preference is for writers who operate within the conventions but push the boundaries of them. The only convention I never want to see changed at all is the HEA. I count on that, and HFN does not satisfy me.

I'm with you on most romantic suspense, but some RS writers get the balance right and romance stays central. I do have some favorites who are skilled at doing that.

quantum said...

I also think that the HEA is the only fixed point for good romance. I will even settle for HEAE (Happy ever after eventually) with series.

A romantic theme can enhance any story for me. It can be suspense, fantasy, SciFi, thriller or whatever. By romance I guess you mean that the romantic theme has to dominate the novel. In that case eccentric characters, unexpected plot twists, or anything unconventional to surprise me is always greatly appreciated!

Janga said...

I agree with the HEAE, Q. the hope for the eventual happy ending has kept me reading many a series. But I confess to being a bit uneasy with mystery series even after the eventual HEA is achieved since Elizabeth George showed that in that genre HEAE can quickly transform from HEA eventually to HEA ended. :(