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.