Harlequin HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77898-0
Contemporary Romance, 2014
Tyler O’Neil had basically one personality trait in the previous books in Sarah Morgan’s series revolving around the three O’Neil brothers: “It’s all my hateful ex’s fault.” Well, he gets his story here, and it’s basically one long annoying “blame it on that ex” exercise coupled to some of the most cringe-inducing contrived machinations ever. Oh, and watch out for the brat from hell, this one lands a 100 on a scale of 1 to 10 on the Damned Demon Brat from Hell scale.
Brenna Daniels has been in love with Tyler ever since she was a fertilized egg undergoing meiosis in her mother’s womb. She never dared to say anything back then, relying instead on her telepathic powers to wish him to come deflower her into love forever and ever. Unfortunately the mating signals must have been mixed up, because Tyler ends up inseminating the egg of Janet Carpenter instead. Brenna lost her chance back then, so that’s one sin we can place on the evil Janet’s head. It turns out that Janet hated being forced to become a mother when she had so many things she wanted to do. She took it out on Jess, told Tyler he was an ass who couldn’t make a woman happy, and generally acted like the most obvious lazy plot device ever.
Anyway, when the story opens, Jess is living with Tyler. She alternates between saying things like a too-precious eight year old girl and asking her father whether the man has had sex with Brenna yet. Basically, when Sarah Morgan needs a lazy pint-sized plot device from hell to act like that little girl from Full House overdosed on crack, Jess would say things that are usually delivered in a painfully high-pitched voice by near-deaf old ladies calling after their missing Pomeranian. You know, like, “Poo-ooo-chie, sweetums, come to ma-meeeee swee-ee-eetie, kissy kissy kissy!” But when the author wants something to remind Tyler that Brenna needs him to show her how he swings that big ski pole of his, Jess would ask in what I’m sure the author believes to be the cutest tone ever, “All I’m saying is, you don’t have to give up sex just because I’m living with you.” Yes, a 13-year old girl who speaks like this. Either way, Jess needs to be drowned with extreme prejudice.
You may be wondering what the plot of this story is. It’s basically this: everyone else from previous books, along with the demon brat from the baying hells, comes together to plan and plot in order to get the last unattached pair of genitalia in this story to get connected and insist it’s love. The whole thing is meant to be cute as it’s Christmas, but the bulk of this thinly plotted tale is all about revisiting the previous two couples and being slapped senseless in the face with just how happy, happy, happy these people are. Given that I find only one of the three couplings in this series halfway tolerable, you can imagine how much I appreciate these navel-gazing scenes, I’m sure.
Meanwhile, Brenna and Tyler try to find some kind of common ground outside the bedroom, with Tyler basically pulling that “I’m an ass and an idiot, but hey, don’t blame me, my ex made me like this!” act. I believe I’m expected to swoon when he does this and go, “Aww! He’s such a woobie! Damn that woman for hurting this man!” The thing is, he’s an adult. He pulls this stunt long past the point when it is tolerable, and he ends up looking like a big baby who uses his past as an excuse to behave like an ass. This romance has an overwhelming “It’s that bitch’s fault!” vibe going, and I don’t like this because using such a plot device as romantic conflict is just lazy. There are some humorous scenes here and Brenna is actually a pretty likable heroine when she’s not inexplicably mooning after Tyler when he can be such a wet rag sometimes. All these finer moments are wasted on a plot that is best left to new authors still honing their craft.
It’s also a shame because Janet’s problems are actually real and relatable ones. Being a young mother isn’t easy, not when she wanted to pursue her own ambitions. Tyler even admits in this story that he wasn’t the most responsible man back then. And yet, Janet is tarred with a lazy brush as the bitch from hell for not wanting to immediately devote her life to being a mother. I’m not saying that what Janet did to her daughter is right, mind you – it’s just that the author has the opportunity to make Janet and Tyler into characters that are more real – perhaps adults who made big mistakes when they were younger. That would have given this story some much needed depth and even poignancy that could have nicely balanced the humor and sentimental moments in this story.
Instead, the author chooses to pander to the lowest denominator by resorting to the bitch other woman plot device and all the usual double standards that accompany this plot device. This book could have been something better, and instead, I get a vapid thin plot padded and stretched with self-indulgent scenes that also serve as advertisements for previous books. Sigh. Maybe This Christmas? No, but I’d be at the bar.