Thursday, June 16, 2011

TBR Challenge: It Took Two Books This Month

Let me tell you three things about the first book I started for this month's TBR Challenge:
  1. It opened with our spunky heroine grudgingly heading back to the quirky small town of her youth.  She's speeding along the highway when she's stopped by the hero, aka small town cop, who needles her and writes her a ticket.  Sound familiar?  I'm pretty sure at least two other contemporary romances (by other authors) that have nearly identical set-ups.
  2. After a slow-paced and derivative opening, the book mellowed into a pleasant enough romance between our protagonists.  I liked them okay, the straight-arrow cop and the feisty, can't-wait-to-get-out-of-this-podunk-town Big City Career Girl, but a couple things bothered me.  First, how could BCCG get 6+ weeks of (paid?) leave off from her job?  And actually, how could she even be any good at her job?  I mean, yeah, sure, I get it, who cares about the job because she's going to be staying in Podunksville with the hero, but still...?
  3. It's too damned long.  I stalled out at page 241/372, mostly because I felt the story really only warranted 60,000 words, not 100,000.  I didn't care about the subplots, and the microscopically small mystery in someone's backstory just sat there, like a Troll doll, not doing anything unless someone played with its bright pink hair.
Okay, as I DNF'd it, I can't count that book for this month's challenge.  Luckily, Karen Templeton's Swept Away had just arrived in the mail. It had gotten a great review over at All About Romance, and it's a contemporary, so why not?

Here's why this one gets identified by name and author and its predecessor does not:  Templeton admires her characters, and so I did too.  Not sure if the first author admires her characters, but I didn't.  Oh, they were pleasant enough, but not particularly competent.  I like characters who know how to do something, even if the something they know how to do is just getting from place A to place B in life.

In Swept Away, the hero, Sam, is a farmer in Southeast Oklahoma.  He's a widower with six kids, so not at all the type Carly, a thirtysomething former ballerina, would go for.  But he's a great guy - steadfast, hardworking without being stressed out, and very patient with his children, even the only girl, Libby.

Libby's this close to being 15, so we have the eye-rolling attitude and raging hormones, but that's not the part of Libby's personality that Carly identifies with.  It's Libby's patent uncertainty that grabs Carly's heart and twists hard.  Carly remembers covering up her own insecurities with bravado and a "you can't make me" confrontational style.  She would really like to help Libby find a better path than the one Carly took.

Carly has no desire to be a mother, and Sam's kids terrify her.  But Libby needs a woman as a sounding board; her mother died before Libby became a teenager.  And Carly's own experience with adolescence qualifies her to help Libby out.

Carly just doesn't know that she's qualified.  She also doesn't think she's the right person for Sam, or that Haven, Oklahoma is the right town for her and her recently-widowed dad to settle in.  Carly rather falls backwards into her future, which should make her seem wifty and less than competent, but that's not how she comes across.  She comes across as someone trying hard to get it right and even harder not to get it wrong.

There's a smoke-and-mirrors quality to Swept Away, a sense that none of the story should work even as it all does.  It should feel like a molasses read as Sam and Carly fall very, very slowly for each other -- they don't even kiss until page 177 (about 3/4 of the way in) -- but this is anything but a boring book.  In fact, it's dense with stuff.  Character, I think, but I'm honestly not sure.  Maybe it's Templeton's knack at conveying a sense of place.  To twist Gertrude Stein around, there's a lot of there there.

I just know I liked the people, the story, the book and Templeton's writing.  Best recommendation possible:  I finished it wanting to read Templeton's backlist.

Finished with three minutes left to make this TBR Challenge post legal!

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