by Mary Eason, contemporary (2007)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-450-4
Don't be fooled by the cover art which depicts a handsome man seductively nibbling on a woman's ankle into thinking that the lessons in the title refer to naughty things. The love scenes in Mary Eason's Thirty Lessons take place behind a closed door, so to speak, so you won't be getting any naughty details to an explicit degree. What Thirty Lessons is, however, is something that is still romance but also a little closer towards mainstream women's fiction. Think, say, Curtiss Ann Matlock or Barbara Bretton.
Thirty Lessons is an abbreviated reference to the book heroine Paige Wilder's mother gave her when she was thirteen, Thirty Lessons Every Girl Should Know Before Becoming A Woman. Paige finds the advice in that book mostly antiquated chauvinist stuff but one particular advice stands out:
It's been said, that life is just a series of events with consequences.
On their own, they wouldn't add up to much. But when you put them together, you never know where they'll end up taking you, or what the outcome will be once you're there.
At 39, Paige is at a crossroad when it comes to life. She's had two serious relationships that failed: the first one ended in divorce and the most recent one ended just days before her big birthday because he claimed to have found the woman of his dreams on that vacation trip that he went without her. On her 39th birthday, she ends up having sex with a handsome stranger, fully determined to make sure that her heart will not be involved this time around, and buys a dog the next morning. However, the handsome stranger keeps coming back each night until Paige realizes to her dismay that her heart is already involved soon enough. Worse, this handsome stranger is 28-year old Jude Martin, the new CEO of Martin Publishing and therefore her new boss. Jude is recently divorced and he isn't the happiest person to be taking over his father since the two of them aren't exactly the Brady Bunch type. He's not Paige's Mr Right, surely?
The whole "I am sleeping with someone whom I let into my house every night without knowing who he is" thing is really a stretch and I can't say I find this premise the most believable or even sensible. However, there are also a few other things about this story that aren't the most believable either, although not to a degree that this particular premise is. I'm inclined to just go along with Ms Easen however because I'm too much into the story to nitpick, at least not until I'm done with it.
Thirty Lessons is, in a way, a vicarious "A much younger man" fantasy trip since the younger man in question is so unhesitatingly and unquestioningly into the older woman that it's quite ridiculous yet oh-so-flattering. Like most stories of this sort, Jude isn't the most well-developed character - he comes off more like a nice trophy for the heroine as well as a validation of her appeal to the opposite sex. However, Paige is a pretty well-written heroine because Ms Easen allows me to understand where Paige is coming from. I can't say I often agree with Paige since there are many times when I feel that Paige and her best friend Dani are overanalyzing things so much that they only add up intensifying any insecurity they feel about themselves and the opposite sex. But Ms Easen allows me to understand the reasons for Paige's emotions and actions so I can see why Paige is the way she is. Paige isn't perfect, which makes her human and therefore a more memorable character, one that I can relate to. I also like the fact that Paige learns lessons in life that aren't moral ones. Which is to say, she's not wrong to have sex with a stranger, she's wrong to believe that she is the person who can play the field without getting her heart involved. Therefore, Paige isn't being judged as "right" or "wrong" here, she just learns a few things about trusting her heart and risking it when it comes to love. I really like this aspect of Thirty Lessons.
The one weakness I can see in this story is that Ms Easen doesn't know when to stop her story. If this story ends right at the end of Lesson 26 and its nicely worded last sentence, Thirty Lessons would be just perfect. However, the author has to go on and on for four more chapters in unnecessary reaffirmation of what a wonderful life that Paige and Jude are having that the story begins to really drag and the powerful effect of the last sentence in Lesson 26 gets diluted for no good reason. Ms Easen should have tightened up her story and get rid of those saccharine last few chapters because they only state the obvious (the two have found their happily ever after) repeatedly and unnecessarily.
Still, Thirty Lessons may use a bolt tightened here and there but the overall story nonetheless comes together very well. Of course the story ends up resolved probably too neatly for all in a Hallmark special way but then again, this story doesn't pretend to be anything but such a story. Ms Easen manages to portray Paige well enough for me to relate to and care enough to see what will happen to her. That's the greatest strength of this story, I feel - Ms Easen's success in depicting emotions in a manner that may be more romanticized and lighter than those in real life but at the same time recognizable enough for me to relate to. As a result, this book manages to be more heartwarming than I initially expect. I should know - I am having a pretty rough day when I sit down and randomly pick this book to read and at the end of the day, well, look at me, I'm smiling.
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