by Doreen Rainey, contemporary (2003)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-432-3
Tanya Kennedy is thirty-five today. But she's not too happy about the surprise party her sister and friends threw her. She may be a successful contract administrator for some construction firm, but she doesn't feel that her life is going the way it should be. The boyfriend that wants to marry her is safe and boring, so when he pops the question on her birthday, she is quite relieved when her friend pregnant Christine goes into labor right there and then. She gets a big headache though when she learns that Christine's brother-in-law Brandon Ware is coming back. Brandon is Tanya's ex.
Once, Brandon was a player until he fell for Tanya. But he was scared of his feelings for her, so he led her on to believe that he was cheating on her. One year later, he's coming back to get a second chance with Tanya. But Tanya's about to marry that boring guy, right? No worry - nothing like making the boring guy even more whacked than ever to drive home the fact that Brandon is Tanya's Mr Right. If that's not enough, let's have everyone telling Tanya, forcing her at times even, to get back with Brandon!
Let me say if my friends take the side of the No Good Cheating Ass over mine, they will be sent packing faster than you can say "Useless!" Just once, I would like to read a book where the heroine's friends and family rally around the heroine after she's been cheated on by the hero. Okay, so Brandon doesn't cheat, but those useless Mary Sue twits have no reason to believe Brandon, do they? But in this case, they do, so every friend and family of Tanya just keep badgering her to go back to Brandon. Why? All the author told me about Brandon is that he was a playboy and now he is giving some lip service "gimme a chance!" thingie. Why should Tanya give him a second chance?
There lies the problem of this story: the author never really shows me why Brandon is worth giving a second chance to. He doesn't have to even try to work his way back to Tanya's good graces, because the author prefers to let Tanya's friends and family do all the dirty work. Making the Other Guy really, really wrong is another mistake. The last thing this story needs is to give me even more of an impression that Brandon is having it way too easy. I want to see Brandon grovel. Or at least show some degree of character growth that will make him worth taking back. However, the author never lets Brandon grow beyond merely a one-dimensional gorgeous but dull guy that barges in and demands a second chance instead of dining and wining his woman like he should. Because the author makes it clear that Tanya's only "right" option is to take Brandon back, Can't Deny Love isn't a second chance romance as much as the author rolling a red carpet from the heroine that she's bound and gagged with plot contrivances all the way to the drooling hero.
Tanya is a decent and well-written character that stands out from the sea of mostly stereotypical characters populating this book. But since the author chooses to demonize the Other Man, the story also sees Tanya often behaving very unfairly towards this Other Man. The fact that the Other Man ends up really wrong for her seems more like a contrived justification of Tanya's actions than anything else.
By taking the lazy way out in telling me why Tanya and Brandon are right for each other instead of showing me, Can't Deny Love rings hollow as a convincing second chance romance. The secondary romances aren't too bad, but with the main romance floundering quite badly, there's really no point to them, I'm afraid.
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