Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Miracle Baby'

** Spoilers herein, but not much more than can already be inferred from the title. **

The Book: Miracle Baby

The Author: Laura Bradford

How I Found It: I decided to do something different this year and read some Christmas-themed novels (mainly romances). Thus, there might be Christmas overload here the next few weeks and you'll all have to live with it. :) Found this one through eHarlequin.

The Review: Well, this is one of the first romances I've read that's just left me uncomfortable. I've got a lot of problems with it, and it just left me with a weird feeling. I'll explain those reasons further down. As I said before, spoiler warning on this one, but really, the title gives a hell of a lot away.

Maggie Monroe has fled to her uncle's Michigan inn in order to get away from her well-meaning but suffocating friends and family and to grieve the deaths of her husband and daughter alone. Ten months after their deaths, Maggie is still paralyzed by grief and isn't eating or sleeping.

She is met soon after her arrival by Rory O'Brien, the carpenter her uncle has hired to restore the inn to its former glory. Rory sees Maggie's grief and wants to try and help her, given that he also has a painful loss in his recent past. Maggie's uncle gives her, through Rory, the present of a "wishing ball," where a person can record their Christmas wishes and see if they come true in the next year. Maggie's wishes seem simple--to learn to knit, to remember her husband and daughter--but unobtainable to her. Rory begins to help her with them, giving her ways to achieve those wishes and future ones, and he finds himself attracted to the grieving widow. However, for every step they take, Maggie finds herself putting the brakes on any potential romance, afraid that any potential romance on her part would dishonro the memories of her husband and daughter. It's up to Rory and a few friends to get her to move past her grief and start a new life.

Okay. There's a lot that I felt was wrong with this book, but the general premise was one of them. I'll link here to a review of another book that was posted a few months ago over at Smart Bitches. That book also had a widowed person at its center, and Sarah (the reviewer) had a gripe with the fact that the heroine was pushing him to move on only five months after his wife's tragic death. Granted, Maggie in this book has been grieving for twice that, but I still felt that ten months was just taking far too many steps too fast, and it dampened my enjoyment of the book severely. I'll try and explain myself below.

I know the two schools of thought on this whole thing. On one hand, I've seen quite a few widowed people in my life, all of whom have waited at least a year or two before dating again. On the other, I've read plenty of Dear Abby columns where people have written in about the "appropriate" time frame for someone to start dating again after a death, and answers always vary. I've seen people say that after losing loved ones to long illnesses, the grieving is usually mostly done already, since there was a lot of time to cope with the death before it happened, but in the case of accidents or sudden deaths (as was the case with Maggie's husband and daughter here), it might take a little longer.

This was why I had issues with the premise--Maggie's husband and daughter were taken from her in a car crash, but ten months later, she is meeting and then sleeping with a man she's only met a week before. I'm not kidding. It's only been ten months, she's still grieving in a monumental way, and then she sleeps with a guy after knowing him for a week? Granted, she regrets it after, but... wow. The timeline really bugged me. There's also the fact that Maggie seems really fixated on grieving her daughter's loss, but that her husband only gets a few mentions. I didn't doubt that she loved them, but something just seemed off. I think her husband deserved a lot more mentions than he was getting.

I think that's one thing that might ring false with me about seasonal romance in general--the timeline is so limited that the romance developed far too fast. Normally, a romance novel covers at least a few months; this one covered maybe six to eight weeks and I just thought that the insta-attraction was very hard to buy, especially when Maggie was in such a fragile state. The idea of the story--Rory helping Maggie find hope again and to move into a more manageable state of grieving--was great in theory, but the execution left me wincing.

Moving on from my problems with the timeline, I just had other issues with this book. The dialogue was painfully corny at times and just didn't ring true to me. It sounded too polished, like quotation marks were put around sentences that would've worked better as description. I just couldn't see people speaking like they did in this novel; it didn't work for me. As I've said before in my reviews, dialogue is the driving force for me, in both the writing I do myself and in the novels I read. I've always been told I have an ear for writing dialogue, so when it sounds "off" in novels, it usually hampers my enjoyment.

I also enjoy novels that show us plenty about the main characters' lives. All the romances I've read so far have shown family, friends, neighbors of the mains. Here, we had a grand total of five characters that we see on-screen: Maggie, Rory, Delilah (owner of a diner in town), Virginia (a waitress at said diner), and Iris (owner of a gift shop). Of all those, we see Virginia and Iris in only one or two scenes, so the only ones we really see are Maggie, Rory, and Delilah. Off-screen, we have Maggie's uncle (whose name only gets mentioned once or twice!), and Maggie's thoughts about Jack and Natalie. I really would have preferred a larger cast of characters; basically, all of Maggie and Rory's relatives are either dead or estranged, and aside from being depressing, it left the novel somewhat repetitive. Maggie going to see Rory. Rory going to see Maggie. Rory going to Delilah's diner. Maggie going to Delilah's diner. Rory and Maggie going to Delilah's diner. And... that's it. It would have been great to have a subplot of some kind, or to have trimmed down the repeated visits to each other's places and added in some interactions with other townsfolk or something. I just started feeling claustrophobic after a while and wanted the characters to go see other people.

There's also the "miracle baby" of the title... something that doesn't come about until perhaps the last twenty pages. And Rory is incredibly happy about conceiving a child with a woman he's known for a little over a month. Their whole attraction just felt far too rushed and I really don't know if I bought it in the end. The baby felt like a copout in order to see that Maggie got her happy ending and found something to believe in, but it just left me with a feeling that they were really rushing into something they probably weren't ready for.

Overall, I felt that this book could have done with a restructuring of the plot and a better timeline. The attraction was somewhat messily done and felt too forced for me to believe in it. The idea behind the book was great as an idea, but on paper, it fell incredibly flat. Not recommended.

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