by Marcia Evanick, contemporary (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7425-5
Marcia Evanick's latest romance set in Misty Harbor, Maine, a place where women are scarce but we still have time to nitpick on women with "bad morals", especially women that have the misfortune to marry the hero and then divorce him for whatever reasons. Blueberry Hill gives a half-hearted nod towards a woman having a career (as long as she also has babies and a husband, that is) but it is pretty generous in lobbing on tediously rigid and hackneyed smalltown ultra-rightwing values on women in the usual unthinkingly sweeping overgeneralization style typical of too many mediocre romance novels. Because this book has no actual conflict, Blueberry Hill comes off like a disagreeable tract rather than an enjoyable romance novel.
Jocelyn Fletcher (dull boyfriend, became a lawyer only to please the male authority figure in her life, et cetera) realizes that she can't take it anymore when this district attorney fails to put a criminal behind bars one time too many. She decides to jettison what could have been a fulfilling career and drop by Misty Harbor for some R&R. Her sisters, now wedded and bedded and hence now officially the new Hackneyed Matchmaking Plot Devices, and her mother are perplexingly quite unconcerned that Jocelyn is giving up her job and are more concerned about whether she will be wedded and bedded in Misty Harbor. In fact, her wonderful sisters suggest that Jocelyn start on her R&R by becoming the new nanny to the troubled children of the sheriff Quinn Larson.
I don't know about you, but if my sisters suggest that I babysit children when I need a break, I will immediately declare myself a born-again only child. Jocelyn, however, is only a little worried as she has never handled children before. Quinn, on his part, is reluctant as first to hire this beautiful woman as he is looking for (emphasis mine) "a sturdy, reliable home economics major who just happened to have the smarts enough to be a lawyer". The irony seems to be lost on Ms Evanick that the hero is looking for a dumb woman to take care of his children. Or that someone that's a master in home economic principals - which Jocelyn unsurprisingly turns out to be a natural in - ends up being just the person he wants to marry, and he believes that this kind of person is stupid.
There is no actual conflict in this book, so the author heavily pads her story with either derivative scenes of smalltown homeliness that come off as calculative and insincere or she proceeds with the heroine using trite pop-psychology on the hero's various issues, "pop psychology" in this case also closely garbled up with "blame everything on his previous wife" nonsense. Hell, even the wife is blamed when the hero decides to snip off his tubes, because the wife is selfish in that if she doesn't want children, she should get her own tubes tied and leave the husband's alone. The logic completely eludes me, unless that it's written in the rules somewhere that if I'm in a romance novel and I'm the hero's first wife, I'm soon going to demonized just so that some annoying Poster Girl For Smalltown Anti-Progressive Moment can hone in on my man and tell him that everything wrong with him is my fault so yes, I must leave his tubes alone so that he can impregnate that woman with ten babies just like The Good Woman Conduct handbook insists. If that is so, I would've made him lose his testicles as well just to spite that irritating Poster Girl, because I can say right away that if a man snips his own tubes, he's responsible for it unless the author is saying that the he is drugged and snipped while he is unconscious. And besides, if a couple in a marriage don't want any more children and a romance novel is supposed to be about happily ever after, why the heck is he keeping his tadpoles for, huh? He can take a leaf from Celine Dion and freeze some tadpoles before he snips them. Oh, I forgot. Contemporary romance novels take place only in the 1920s.
I guess at the end of the day, this complicated blame game is the author's runaround way of saying that it is really bad to not want to have children. Ironically, at the same time, condoms in this book are used only for pregnancy prevention. The heroine doesn't seem to care that the hero is not using a condom when he's sleeping with her and the hero assumes that because his tubes are snipped and she has to be on the Pill (she being a progressive girl and all that), he doesn't bother with one. And Ms Evanick, please don't insult me by using "progressive" to describe a supposedly-educated DA that doesn't seem to know what STDs are.
There is a secondary romance here between Quinn's sister and the man she broke up with because she went to college and he didn't want that. Now the sister is back in town and despite having a college degree, she comes off as so pathetically fragile and desperately in need of a man to prop her up all the way that this secondary romance seems suspiciously like a shrill denouncement of women leaving their hometowns to get college degrees instead of staying at home and making babies for the husband.
In the end, Quinn wants Jocelyn to keep her career but Jocelyn decides to stay forever in Misty Harbor. The author's lazy way of inserting sweeping overgeneralizations on issues like voluntary sterilization, career, and education however ends up making her one sole concession to progressive twenty-first century feminist sensibilities come off like a half-hearted and feeble attempt at placating her critics. The even lazier demonizing of the hero's previous wife as the only attempt to define the heroine's own character doesn't help Blueberry Hill much.
This book is a perfect example of a contemporary romance novel that is hopelessly out of touch with today's women. This is the book people can hold up and use as an example when they talk about how romance novels seem to cater to dowdy and homely overly-conservative readers while chick-lit novels are skewered towards the hip, young, and aggressive women in society. Ms Evanick has all the right to produce this book, naturally, but I also have the right as well to reject the values this book preaches. It's just too bad that the author seems to forget to tell a good story in this book's mishmash of lazy characterizations, lackluster pacing, and too many formulaic elements to the plot with too little innovation to make them fresh or interesting.
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