Tyndale House Publishers, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-4143-9032-1
Contemporary Romance, 2015
Candance Calvert’s previous few books had more dreary angst and moping than anything else, and By Your Side, which is the first book in a new series, continues the downward spiral. Is the title meant to be ironic, considering how little romantic stuff taking place in this story?
The plot is best described as a series of calamities interspersed by scenes of people moping. Macy Wynn is an ER nurse who spends the whole time obsessed about the fact that she grew up as a foster child; her past shapes and defines her current outlook in life. She’s very self absorbed in the sense that everything is about her. Or rather, everything that happens in life, even the ones barely connected to her, is designed to amplify her bitter way of looking at things. She meets Deputy Fletcher Holt at the site of a car accident, when she gets overly invested in caring for a young girl and snaps at him for trying to do his job. She’s an ER nurse, you see, so she knows everything there is about injuries and sickness.
It is one thing if she is bitter and unlikable but capable, but alas, “capable” is one of the last words I’d use to describe Macy. She fails to realize that the driver of the car she is in is drunk until Fletcher brings it up – apparently because she’s too busy thinking about how the world is constantly conspiring to stick it up her rear end. The rest of the story sees her constantly jumping to wrong conclusions or doing things that deliberately make life difficult for herself as well as Fletcher, all the while blaming herself or generally behaving like a passive doormat. The only thing she does well – and frequently – is putting herself down or complaining about everything and anything. I agree with her that she’s a miserable excuse of a human being, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy reading about this wretch.
Her unhealthy determination to mother Annie, the child she “met” at the accident at the start of the story, may be the only thing that brings up a positive aspect of her personality, but it is merely an extension of her neurosis. She continues to try so hard to save the world when it’s pretty clear that she is too much of a train wreck to do so, and at the same time, she is completely dense about everything. Most of the internal conflicts with the people around her arise from this clueless nature of hers. Macy is such a ray of sunshine, I tell you.
Fletcher is a better character, but then again, like the heroes of the author’s previous few books, this is because he has to be. He’s written to be the knight in shining armor that will come in and sweep the heroine up from her neurotic bog. Even then, his mother is dying of cancer, the woman he is in love with – not Macy – is marrying another fellow, and Macy treats him like he’s a leper. He can’t catch a break, the poor guy, and he hooks up with Macy for better or for worse by the last page. What did this poor baby do to deserve such a fate?
By Your Side is a Christian romance, so this means no graphic sex scenes or anything like that. Unfortunately, this also means that the author pads the story up with one calamity after another. The story opens with a massive accident, and it is immediately followed by someone shooting at the hero and the heroine – in the very same place. Don’t laugh, I’m not kidding. And it goes all the way down the hill from there. One accident, emergency, life-threatening drama, whatever crops up after another, to a degree that would put a typical The Road Runner episode to shame. In between all the drama, Macy will mope and whine when she’s not trying to put Fletcher at arm’s length all the while being duped by Elliott, the most transparent villain ever. (I told you that Macy is a dense dingbat.) As a result, there is hardly any romantic interaction. Just episodes of drama, drama, drama, drama, and drama with intermissions of whining, moping, and complaining. Compounding to the problem is that the characters are defined solely by their issues, rather than having well-rounded personalities.
At the end of the day, By Your Side is a joyless waste of time, the conflicts stemming from laughably frequent accidents and drama as well as the heroine being this ridiculously obtuse and self-absorbed wretch that treats the hero and everyone else around her pretty badly. Perhaps there is some cathartic value to this book, especially if you are going through a “people all suck and I wish a giant piano will fall on their heads” phase, but I’m sure there are other better-written books that would serve just as well.