Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-238902-2
Historical Romance, 2017
Reading Breathless, I wonder whether the author and the romance genre are drifting apart. The hero and the heroine spend more time interacting with various secondary characters than with one another, and the whole story has an ensemble historical fiction feel to it, rather than a more straightforward romance. Not that I am accusing the author of some kind of sin, of course – the muse goes where it wants to go, and us readers can only follow the direction taken by the author or, if the direction isn’t to our liking, sigh in disappointment and look for another author to follow.
This one is related to Forbidden in that the heroine here, Portia Carmichael, is one of the two sisters taken in by the hero and heroine of that other book. She’s all grown up now. The family is doing well, and she does a good job running one of the finest hotels in Arizona. Her past has given her a deep mistrust of love and men. Sure, her aunt and that woman’s husband are happily married, but Portia doesn’t feel confident that she is going to experience the same happy ending with a man. That is, until the boy from her teenage years, now all grown up, shows up in town looking for a job with her aunt’s husband. Kent Randolph is all hot and charming, and she’d be seeing a lot of that man.
That’s basically it for the romance. The romance doesn’t power the story – the author instead creates plots and drama that see Portia and especially Kent interacting with various other people, often far more than the heroine. In fact, I’d argue that this is more of Kent’s story, and the story wouldn’t be missing much if we remove the romance altogether. Removing the romance may actually improve the story, now that I think of it.
For example, the presence of the romance sees the author creating a very lazy foil for Kent – an educated man who is portrayed as a snob. The author uses all the tired old clichés that have the unfortunate implication of portraying higher education as a negative – the unsuitable guy isn’t just a pompous ass, Portia describes how the man has not done hard labor and how the man’s higher education somehow turned him into a snob. This is another unfortunate story where “street smart” is held at a higher standard than school education, something that always makes me cringe inside because I personally believe that higher education is a good thing if one can get it, as it opens more doors to improve one’s life down the road. Besides, knowledge can never harm anyone. The sad thing here is that I personally believe that the author never intends for this implication. In past book, she had written stories that advocated the benefits of educations – most of her heroines are highly educated and are better for it – so this particular case is the result of the use of carelessly written stereotypical characters.
Portia’s baggage gets old and repetitive fast, another reason why the romance bogs the story down considerably. Not that her issues won’t make for an interesting read, it’s just that the author’s treatment of it feels one-dimensional and too reliant on overused tropes and twists. Kent’s story is far more interesting, as it sees him trying to be a better man and catching up with lost time with those he love, such as his father. Even then, the author’s narrative in this book feels even more wooden and stilted than usual, with way too much telling and repeating of details (the back story of the heroine and his sister gets repeated often enough in the first few chapters, I wonder whether a quiz is coming) – as a result, even his side of the story starts to feel bland after a while.
Breathless is certainly readable and some of the family moments are charming, hence the three oogie score. But in the end, it’s just not particularly interesting or engaging.