Saturday, February 27, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Family They Chose'

The Book: The Family They Chose

The Author: Nancy Robards Thompson

How I Found It: It's the second book in the miniseries The Baby Chase, the first book of which I reviewed last month. (The review is here.)

The Review: Okay. This is another one I wanted to like, I really did. Like the previous book, however, I was underwhelmed. Maybe it's just me and the weird amount of knowledge I have about the topic (likely from my mom's own decent, amateur knowledge of medicine), but this book was relentlessly predictable.

Olivia Armstrong Mallory has been trying for years to conceive a baby with her husband, to no avail. Her siblings, twin brothers Paul and Derek and her younger sister Lisa, all work at the fertility institute her father started years ago. In the previous book, when Olivia goes to Paul for help, he suspects something is wrong in her marriage. It turns out that unbeknownst to anyone, the stress of the failed fertility treatments has led to Olivia and her husband, Jamison, taking a trial separation.

Olivia and Jamison have differing views on whether or not it is feasible to start a family at this point in their lives. Olivia, former ballet dancer and happy homemaker, believes it can save their crumbling marriage. Jamison, a rising Senator on his way to the presidency, believes he might not be a good father due to his less-than-ideal childhood with a womanizing, perennially absent father. They are emotionally distant from each other and can't seem to resolve their problems. Jamison's mother's pressure on the couple to start a family certainly doesn't help matters.

Jamison is forced to leave again on business, while Olivia decides she will try another round of in vitro without telling him. When Olivia receives the news that she is in early onset menopause and conceiving will likely be impossible, and Jamison is led to the wrongful belief that Olivia might be having an affair, they find they have to trust each other and possibly build a family in a different way than they'd imagined.

Okay. Remember how I said in the last review there were potential subplots left hanging? Yeah, never mind, they're not going to be addressed here. That whole business with Ramona needing to find a bone marrow donor to save her mother's life? It's mentioned, but we aren't ever told if she actually found that person, even though Paul gave her the file for it in the last book. Derek's shady business practices? Still not found out, though he does give Olivia an unethical suggestion for getting her pregnant.

That was the part of the book that really, really bothered me-- since Olivia's own eggs aren't viable, Derek suggests labeling someone else's eggs as Olivia's and using Jamison's sperm. The child will still be Jamison's, just not Olivia's.

Um, hello? Completely dishonest, unethical, and wrong. I just couldn't like a heroine who saw this as a viable option. Yes, it's still your husband's child, but... still. I know that the point was supposed to be that Olivia wanted a child no matter what the cost, but she dropped hugely in my likability factor once I found out she'd even consider it a good option. It was horribly wrong and really made me dislike the book even more.

From that point on, I pretty much predicted everything that happened, medical or not. Nothing in the story was a surprise, and the fun is kind of ruined when you keep turning the pages only to realize you've had the whole story figured out. Seeing Olivia and Jamison really come back together was nice, but I just hated how dishonest Olivia was to him.

The book was much better written than the previous one-- since it was a different author, there was no schizophrenic jumping between viewpoints, and I liked seeing a couple in a romance actually be married, instead of having to get there. Olivia wasn't a Mary Sue like Ramona was, but I just had a negative view of her character considering the decisions she made.

I'm probably going to read the rest of the miniseries, but I can really only give a weak recommendation of this book and the previous one.

Friday, February 26, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Magic of Ordinary Days'

Hey, everyone! Lo and behold, classes for me were canceled again today, so I had ample time to finish the book and watch the movie. Some spoilers might exist in this review of the book and movie.

The Book: The Magic of Ordinary Days

The Author: Ann Howard Creel

How I Found It: I read about the movie in an interview with Keri Russell and the story sounded interesting, so I decided to read the book and then see the movie.

The Review: And my fascination with the 1940s continues. There'll probably be a whole bunch more on the way. This one does deal with the war in a sort of oblique manner; it deals more with the homefront and things like the internment camps that were stateside, something I'd never known about.

Livvy Dunne has just arrived in rural Colorado from Denver to be married, by the order of her reverend father. Her father has pushed her into an arranged marriage with a man she has never met-- a farmer named Ray Singleton-- because Livvy has been abandoned by the soldier father of her unborn baby.

Livvy and Ray are married by a friend of Livvy's father, and Livvy is introduced to Ray's family, including his welcoming, maternal sister Martha. Ray is very kind to Livvy and eager to welcome her into his life, telling her just before their marriage that he can and will love the baby, even if it is another man's. Ray is lonely after his brother was killed in Pearl Harbor; Livvy is lonely after the death of her mother from cancer.

At first, Livvy finds it difficult to adjust to the dullness of farm life. Formerly an archaeology student on her way to a degree, she longs for university life. However, she finds some semblance of it in the friendship of two Japanese-American workers on Ray's farm, Lorelei and Rose. Formerly university students, Lorelei and Rose have been relocated to an internment camp for Japanese-Americans. Livvy finds solace in their friendship and begins to adjust to life with Ray, though she is somewhat unsettled that he loves her when she feels that he deserves better than her. Over time, Livvy learns to recognize how good a man Ray really is, though Rose and Lorelei might not be exactly who they seem.

This was a book slightly similar to Morning Glory, though the circumstances were different. There is the pregnant heroine, the arranged marriage, farm life, things like that. I really liked this book a whole lot. It was the first adult effort by a Young Adult author, and the author had a really good sense of pacing-- the chapters were short and always ended at the right place. It moved along pretty smoothly, and it really flowed.

The characters were also easy to relate to and pretty well defined. Livvy's conflicted feelings felt natural. Ray was a little bit of an enigma even in the end, but it was understandable since the book is in Livvy's first-person narration and the whole book is about her learning to trust him eventually. I would have liked to see a little more of their life after Livvy finally acknowledges how she feels about him-- what did Ray mean when he said he hadn't always been so kind? Things like that being left unresolved bugged me. Martha was sort of a stock character-- the "angel of the house" type-- but she was good to Livvy and that was nice to see.

Some things just seemed a little bit too convenient, though. When Livvy asks Ray what people will say when it becomes obvious that the baby has been born full term and that she was pregnant before the marriage, Ray responds the town won't say anything because the family is too well-established. Really? I think it would have been more interesting if they had said something. What would the attitudes have been like? Would the town have been accepting of an arranged marriage? What about the baby? I suppose I would have liked to have seen Creel do something with that rather than take the easy way out of the town not minding.

The movie is a rather difficult to find 2005 production by the Hallmark Hall of Fame. (I just happened to chance across it in a Hallmark store. Amazon and other places are gypping people by selling it at ridiculously high prices; you can find a regularly-priced DVD here on the Hallmark website.) It stars Keri Russell as Livvy (the poor girl is always pregnant in her movies), Skeet Ulrich as Ray, and Mare Winningham as Martha.

The movie kept pretty faithfully to the plot of the book, except for a few minor details being changed (Livvy only has one sister rather than two, and that sister visits Livvy in the movie, which doesn't happen in the book; Lorelei's name has been changed to Florence; Florence is the only one truly involved in the criminal plot towards the end). One thing that I sort of didn't like was that Livvy came off as sort of bitchy to Ray at points. When Ray tells her he doesn't socialize with the Japanese workers, Livvy sort of snips at him that Florence and Rose are educated and that she enjoyed their conversation. That seemed mean of her; Livvy was at least corteous to Ray in the book, and she kept her feelings of negativity to herself.

However, the movie really did a touching job of showing how much Ray would do for Livvy. The dinner scene at Martha's was particularly sweet, as Ray mentions that he read about Troy in front of his family, and Livvy knows that he did that to please her. I did miss some of the sweeter moments from the book-- Ray staying with Livvy after she has a nightmare; Livvy finding that Ray has marked their three-month anniversary on his calendar-- but scenes like that one made up for it. Ray still came off as the real sweetheart he was in the book.

I really, really enjoyed this story and the messages it has to offer. Some people are discontented with Livvy having to give up her professional ambitions in order to have a family life, but I think I disagree. She has found love and a family, which isn't something that archaeology could have offered her. I liked the theme of forgiveness, and the story reminded me of Unexpected Gifts in a way-- Livvy finds unconditional love in unexpected places, and blood does not have to make a family. Ray is one of those good men who can love a woman even if a child is not his own, and it really warmed my heart. Very highly recommended.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In Which Trai Gives An Update

Hey all!

Oh how I love the snow. :) Classes were canceled today, so I had some time to catch up on reading. I finished Shakespeare's King Lear, which I've been meaning to read for a while, and it was wonderful! I don't think I'll review it here; what can I say about Shakespeare that hasn't been said? Haha.

I'm also reading Ann Howard Creel's The Magic of Ordinary Days as part of the ongoing Forties Binge. It's really wonderful and I'm about halfway through; I've also got the movie with Keri Russell and Skeet Ulrich on hand. Hopefully I'll be able to do something about those over the weekend.

I've also got an exciting opportunity-- Quirk Classics offered a chance for bloggers to review in advance the newest Quirk Classic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith. It's a prequel to PPZ and I'm excited to be among the first to get to read it! The review will be up on March 3rd, along with the chance to win a cool contest Quirk is running for the readers of all the blogs participating in the advance reviews. (I received the advance copy in an envelope clearly marked with "Tutor Girl Reads" and everything. Quite awesome. I took a picture, haha.)

They were also really nice and sent all us bloggers a sneak peek at the fourth Quirk Classic, Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters. That's the picture accompanying this entry.

To all of you dealing with the snow like I am, stay warm and stay plowed! :) I hope to be posting as much as I can in the next couple days.

- Trai

Thursday, February 18, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Morning Glory'

The Book: Morning Glory

The Author: LaVyrle Spencer (FYI, her name = ridiculously hard to spell and/or pronounce)

How I Found It: The very enthusiastic recommendations of the lovely ladies who pointed me towards pretty much all of the forties books I read/will read.

The Review: Oh, wow, talk about high expectations for this one! The people who directed me towards it in the first place told me it was lovely, and then a whole bunch of people in the comments section over at Smart Bitches mentioned it as the book that got them into romance. I went into the book wondering if it could possibly live up to all that hype, and I'm quite pleased to say it did.

The novel opens with a brief prologue taking place in 1917. Chloe See has come back to Whitney, Georgia to live with her parents after bearing an illegitimate child. Her father is a religious revival leader and her mother a very fervent churchgoer herself, and refuse to even look at her child. Taking their daughter and granddaughter home, they lock them in the house and refuse to let them out for fear of being shamed.

Years later, in 1941, a man named Will Parker has just recently started working at a sawmill. He is a loner and a drifter, not prone to making friends. Soon enough, he is fired from the sawmill due to the fact that he has a prison record and was recently paroled. The men take jabs at him and mention an ad placed by a local woman-- one about seeking a husband.

That woman is the illegitimate child of Chloe See. She is Eleanor Dinsmore, called Elly, a recent widow with two sons and a third child of her late husband's on the way. She has been ridiculed all her life by the townspeople and refuses to go beyond the confines of the farm. Will goes to answer Elly's ad and finds her living in poor conditions, her husband never having been much for keeping up the place, but agrees to stay around and help her with the farm, the main reason she needs a husband.

Will slowly proves himself to be dependable and reliable, and Elly comes to trust herself and her boys around him, even with his past criminal record. In time, they follow through with marriage. It slowly becomes clear to them that they love each other. Through the birth of a child, war, and a criminal trial, their love manages to sustain the unlikely pairing.

This book was pretty much everything I was looking for in a romance. Elly and Will were very well-developed characters and I certainly felt for both of them. I also really enjoyed the character of Miss Beasley, a spinster librarian who is very kind to Will and Elly and a real sweetheart. She's the type of character I picture Kathy Bates playing in a movie, for some reason.

The characters were nicely fleshed out, and I also enjoyed how well Spencer handled the family relationships. The gradual developing of Will's relationship with Donald Wade and Thomas, Elly's sons, was so sweet to read, and Elly was portrayed as a wonderful mother. I really liked seeing a positive depiction of a growing relationship between a stand-in parent and the children.

Spencer also did well blending a few different genres. There was the romance between Elly and Will. There was the domestic elements of their life on the farm and the little things Will does to improve it. There was the parts of the book that took place during the war, and Spencer's detailing of what Will experienced and what the country was going through. And then there was the sort of crime drama of the last fifty or sixty pages, as someone in the town is killed and Will is suspected of the crime. The story was well-put-together and flowed easily.

The book was more explicit than I was expecting, I will say that-- it was written in the eighties, so I suppose it doesn't have to be all that clean, but I was a little stunned at the amount of detail and phrasing Spencer put in. It wasn't a bad thing, though; it felt authentic and that was all that mattered.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book. The growing love between Elly and Will was a real pleasure to read and I just really loved how well it captured the quiet, little things in life, like Will's simple joy at finally having someone love him, or even something as small as getting to have a library card. I can really understand why people flock to this book to read and reread it, and I'd like to try more of Spencer's, in addition to getting myself a nice, sturdy copy for rereading! Really highly recommended to romance fans and fans of the forties.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Dear John: The Movie' and Rants About War Movies

** This post will contain major spoilers for the book and film Dear John. I will also have in-depth discussion and analysis of The Hurt Locker and Stop-Loss.**

"The way I see it, Steve's married to the Army." (Michelle, Steve's wife, in Stop-Loss)

"The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." (Chris Hedges, epigraph to The Hurt Locker)

My review of the book is located here.

My viewing of Dear John was delayed by the fact that public transportation here sucks! :) I went with two girlfriends today to see the film, finally. I was the only one who had read the book, but it didn't so much matter.

As a film, I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually good--I've stated my distaste for the film adaptation of The Notebook before, as I felt it was melodramatic and poorly acted. Dear John is melodramatic, yes, but the acting was really pretty good. Channing Tatum pretty much has a certain range as the repressed angry guy, but he was a decent romantic lead. Amanda Seyfried elicited the same mixed feelings I had for Savannah in the novel. Richard Jenkins was really perfect as John's father, who has Asperger's Syndrome; I really pitied him and felt for him.

As an adaptation of the book, the film did decently well-- there isn't too much plot in the novel; it's more a study of the relationships and things like John narrating his experiences in the Army. So the film did pretty well with the core elements of the story-- John and Savannah's relationship as it develops early on, John and his father's relationship, John deciding to re-enlist after 9/11 and the tension it causes among him and Savannah, Savannah eventually getting engaged to another man, John's father dying, and then John seeing Savannah again for the first time in years.

Parts of it were done really well-- I especially liked how nicely the scenes with John and his father were handled. The opening monologue, which turns out to be John's letter to his dying father, was very sweet and touching. I was crying when John comes home and learns of his father's condition and when he reads his father the letter. (To a person who will never read this: nice older lady who handed me a tissue after the letter scene was done, thank you again!)

The parts that were changed, I wasn't quite sure why they had to be-- the ending is a big one, which I'll explain below. Two things felt unnecessary: John getting shot, an incident that doesn't happen in the book, and Tim being changed from close Savannah's age and Alan's brother to older than Savannah and Alan's father. John getting shot, I can sort of understand-- it is the impetus behind the letter he writes to his father years later. Changing Tim to Alan's father and older than Savannah was really unnecessary; I think it was just to further the agenda of the filmmaker, which I'll also try to explain my interpretation of below.

The movie did what I feared would happen-- Hollywoodized the ending. Changing the ending changes the entire point of the story, and it frustrated me to have an otherwise good movie severely marred by missing the point of the story simply to give the characters a Happily Ever After.

To explain my feelings about why the book's ending was necessary, I'll have to rehash the book's ending here. It is mostly intact in the movie, but with some important differences.

John goes to see Savannah after his father's funeral and learns that she has married Tim, a friend of hers who has an autistic brother he has taken care of in the wake of their parents' deaths (I believe). He learns that Tim is ill with cancer and doesn't have much time. Savannah wants to get Tim into a clinical trial, but doesn't have the money. Tim, when John visits, tells John that he wants him to make Savannah happy in the event of his death. Moved by Tim's love for Savannah, John calls his attorney to sell his father's extensive coin collection and asks the money to be donated anonymously to Savannah. After the donation is made, Tim receives the treatment and survives. Some time later, John watches her from afar and sees her looking at the moon, which they did on one of their first meetings-- he knows part of her is still in love with him. He is a lifer in the Army and Savannah continues her life with Tim.

The movie retains everything through John selling his father's coin collection, though it does not keep the scene where Tim asks John to be with Savannah after he dies. The movie's ending is different in some important details: John's donation allows Tim to get the treatment... which only gives Tim two more months to live. He dies, and some unspecified time later, John sees Savannah in a restaurant. She runs out to him and they hug, which ends the movie.

Okay. I have had to explain my feelings about the book's ending to many a misguided fangirl. Here goes: Dear John is a tragic love story. John and Savannah are not meant to be together. John's relationship with Savannah is a teaching point in his life: Tim is the one who gets him to realize what true love really is. This is exemplified when Tim puts Savannah's happiness above his own by essentially giving John permission to be with Savannah after his death. John is somewhat shocked that Tim cares enough about Savannah to value her happiness above his own priorities, because he has never done that. When the time came to choose between going home to Savannah and re-enlisting with the Army, he chose the Army. The Army is John's first priority, not Savannah, and for Tim, Savannah comes first. Seeing that Tim truly loves Savannah is what motivates John to do what he does. He decides Tim should live because Tim loves Savannah in a way John never can. His priority is the safety of his country and this is why he is a lifer in the end.

I understand the moviemakers felt the need to provide a happy ending, but I really feel as though the entire point of the story and its message about true love has been undermined. I would have much preferred the original ending, but I'm sure that would have led to many complaining fangirls ranting about how John and Savannah just have to be together, even though they aren't meant to be. I was also distressed that the movie changed Tim's character into a single father-- it seemed to give the impression that Savannah marrying him was an obligation. She states that she married him because he was sick and needed her help. In the book, she marries him out of love because he has always been there for her. I was annoyed that the filmmakers made the marriage into one of convenience just to make John/Savannah look better.

I said in my last review that I have had issues understanding the typical hero in a war movie. This applies to the heroes of The Hurt Locker and Stop-Loss, and to the ending of the book of Dear John: I'd like to see a war movie, just once, where the hero does not go back in the end. The Hurt Locker upset me because, in the end, James decides that the adrenaline rush from defusing bombs is something that he loves, even more than his love for his family. The movie ends with James returning for another year-long rotation with the bomb defusing unit. Stop-Loss upset me because a man who had already done all he could for his country was forced to give it all again-- though he considers leaving the country, he goes back on tour in the end.

I suppose I jinxed myself-- I said I wanted a movie where the hero didn't go back in the end and BAM, the ending for Dear John was changed, much to my chagrin. There's something interesting about the attitude of the lifer hero, but I wish war movies would offer a more hopeful ending once in a while. I get tired of seeing these films have the same downer ending. As much as I love this genre, I'd like to see a happy ending once in a while-- just not one that compromises the entire story, as the movie's ending did to Dear John.

I really did like Dear John as a film-- it was a good adaptation of the book, besides some unnecessary changes. For anyone that wants to see other war movies that are profoundly affecting, I very much recommend The Hurt Locker and Stop-Loss.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Distant Summer'

The Book: The Distant Summer

The Author: Sarah Patterson

How I Found It: This was another recommendation I received of a forties-era romantic story.

The Review: "See what I mean? Find someone with a future, Kate, and forget me. I'm already dead."

Katherine Hamilton is a British girl living in the midst of World War II. Every night, the RAF boys go on missions, air raids, and aren't guaranteed to come back. Katherine is just sixteen and can't fully understand the horrors of the war and the sheer amount of death that these young men experience.

While looking for her father, the pastor, Kathie discovers someone playing the church organ. At first glance, he appears to be a young man, but when he turns to face her, his face is older than his years. His name is Johnny Stewart, and he is a rear gunner for the RAF-- a position that means he will almost certainly die before his third tour, in progress, is over.

Despite herself, Kathie finds herself liking Johnny, who nicknames her Kate and invites her to a dance. It is at this dance that Kathie becomes acquainted with some of Johnny's friends-- particularly Richie, a sweet, Creole American member of the RAF who has known Johnny for some time.

At some points in their growing relationship, Kathie is baffled by Johnny's behavior. Why is he so cavalier about life and death? How are the other members of the RAF so casual about something so horrible? Will Johnny ever stop his thrill-seeking and settle into normal life, or will his luck run out just as it has for many of the other boys?

As Kathie becomes increasingly frustrated with Johnny's attitude, it is Richie who gets her to realize the full extent of what Johnny has been through-- experiences that have scarred him for life. As the summer wears on and Kathie becomes involved on the homefront, her thoughts become increasingly consumed with the fear that one day, Johnny may not come back alive.

This book is from the 1970s and is a really short story-- my copy is only 159 pages and I read the entire thing today. That being said, the author is a bit of a mystery-- the only thing I've been able to glean is that her father is a famous British novelist named Jack Higgins, and that she wrote this book when she was 16. Apparently, there haven't been any others.

I liked the book a lot for what it was, but it wasn't without its faults. Even with those, though, it was a really nice story, if a very derivative one, and I was impressed with the sheer amount of research about flying and such that went into this book. For a book written by a sixteen-year-old, it's pretty impressive that she knew as many details as she did.

The book's story is simplistic, but it was fairly well done. The plot is a cookie-cutter, really-- right down to Kathie being oblivious that Richie has feelings for her until something brings it to her attention, and right down to the fact that in the end, someone does die. All of this was pretty straightforward and easy to figure out, but I enjoyed the ride. The book definitely made me misty-eyed twice-- I did care about the character that died. The story was nicely paced and well-written, so that and the attention to detail were definitely the strengths.

The weaknesses: The characters were a little flat, in my opinion. Beyond the fact that Johnny is very, very lucky and a bit of an early adrenaline junkie, and the fact that Kathie is in love with him, they didn't really have any other defining qualities besides that. Richie was the only one who seemed vibrant enough as a character. I'm wondering if Kathie's characterization was vague on purpose-- if it was one of those situations where Patterson wanted the reader to, in effect, be Kathie. If that was the case, I can sort of forgive it.

With Johnny, though, I would've liked to see him have more depth than he did. When I think about it, he reminds me of Jeremy Renner's character in The Hurt Locker, which I saw very recently. In the film, Renner keeps returning to war because, as the epigraph puts it, "war is a drug." This was definitely the type of character that Johnny was made out to be, and he came off just as Renner's character did in The Hurt Locker-- in the end, Kathie probably won't ever understand him fully, and nor do we truly understand Renner at the end of the film. This could be another possible explanation for why Johnny didn't have much depth; maybe he wasn't meant to, since Kathie doesn't understand him until very late in the game.

I don't think the complaints of Kathie being selfish were all that justified-- yes, she was thinking only of herself at some points, but she was only a teenager and I think that's to be expected. In her situation, I'd be dead terrified if someone I loved was going off every night to potentially meet his death. Recently, with my whole devotion to the wartime romance thing, I've been having a really hard time bringing myself to understand the heroes in these things. I'll probably go more into that when I get to review the film of Dear John, which is also where I'll talk more about The Hurt Locker.

Overall, the strengths of the book were the emotional depth and the very realistic feel to it. The whole story felt very contemporary, and in my head, I found myself relating it to more modern stories. One of the best parts of the book, in my opinion, was a section where Johnny, a comrade, and Kathie go to visit the wife of a fallen company member. The wife is fairly angered by their presence, telling them, "Can't you see your presence can only do one thing? Remind me that you are alive and he is dead?" She then wishes Kathie luck, seeing that Kathie is in love with Johnny. This exchange reminded me of another recent drama, The Messenger, which was about two soldiers tasked with next-of-kin notification. The scene in the book made me wonder how much harder those visits make it on the remaining family, and it was definitely a powerful exchange. I could actually picture this book as a movie-- it has a surprising amount of action, and with certain selective changes to old-hat portions of the story and a little beefing up of the characters, it would make a good period drama.

This book was a very good little story. While it still had a very contemporary feel and the emotions it elicited were very real, I felt as though it could have been somewhat longer, a little less reliant on old tropes, and had a little more characterization. All in all, however, it was almost exactly what I was looking for in a forties-era romance, and it was definitely an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. Recommended to fans of the era in fiction.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Unexpected Gifts'

The Book: Unexpected Gifts

The Author: Holly Jacobs

How I Found It: Random browsing through Harlequin's website; the concept sounded really interesting.

The Review: Elinore "Eli" Cartwright has a problem. She's not going into menopause at the age of 44-- she's pregnant, when part of her job is counseling and providing resources for pregnant teens attending the local high school. The even bigger problem is that her boyfriend of five years, who's in his fifties and didn't have a baby in his future plans, dumps her upon learning the news.

Eli has always given counsel to girls in situations like hers, but finds herself wondering what to do in this situation. Zac Keller, who is helping her set up a program that provides employment for teen parents, finds himself attracted to Eli and wants to be in a relationship with her, even after he finds out she's pregnant by another man. Coming from a large family of adopted children, Zac sets out to convince Eli that it's not biology and what's outside that matters-- it's the heart of the people, what's inside, that makes a family.

This was a really sweet little story, and something you don't often see, which was what made it so nice to read. Zac's sister Cessy's essay about family coming in any form made me teary-- it's a really important message, that family isn't always made up of biology. Love is what matters, or what should matter.

I really liked the way the characters were drawn, and the relationship between Eli and Zac wasn't nearly as frustrating as some of the other romances, nor was it as contrived in the end. Zac finds himself really wanting to be there for Eli and her baby, but he wonders if that will be possible when the baby's biological father, Arthur, starts expressing doubts about his resolution to not be a presence in his child's life. Emotionally scarred by an experience with his adoptive sister's biological dad, Zac fears he won't be able to face the pain if the baby's biological father were to enter the picture again.

Eli was a really enjoyable and resourceful heroine, a great teacher that reminded me of similar influences in my life. Eli suddenly has to use all the wisdom she's tried to give students over the years in her own life, and it was nice to see her react positively to her pregnancy and accept it fairly easily. I would have liked to see a little more of her parents-- her mother gets a lot of reaction time to the news, but we don't hear much from Dad.

Zac's family was also very well-drawn-- Cessy was a cute character, though I did wonder a bit about how Seth was left hanging. There's supposedly conflict between Seth and the Keller parents, but it was mentioned in a few sentences and then not resolved by the end. I wonder if he could figure in a future book or something if his story was left so ambiguous and unresolved. The other secondary characters, such as Tucker, a former student of Eli's and a good friend, were cute and added to the sense of the characters being real people.

One of the only problems I had with this book was that so many scenes were skimmed over in a couple sentences-- I know it's a length thing, but I would've liked to see more little scenes between Eli and Zac that were written off within a couple sentences. Too often I felt like a sentence was inserted like, "... annnnnd they just did this but you won't get to see it." Understandable with the length requirements, but still.

Overall, this was a really sweet story about a topic you don't see much in fiction: unconventional families and the people who step up to form them. Zac was a real hero in my eyes for wanting to be there for Eli, even if it was another man's baby. I really enjoyed these characters and the book itself only took me a couple hours to read. Really recommended to romance fans and people who want a sweet story.