Jodi Artzberger, $2.99, ISBN 978-0463696200
Romantic Suspense, 2019
Amanda Cragge is in trouble, and no, I’m not referring to her being born with that name. She is in line to become the next general manager of Cragge Automobile Group should her father retire, but when the story opens, she is attacked by some villain and blacks out during the struggle. Fortunately, Detective Ryker Scott is on the case, and not only will marrying him allows Amanda to have a more pleasant name of Amanda Scott, she and he also have a shared history, and you know how it is. Exes make the best protector and beau and all. Okay, so their parting was pretty acrimonious and he isn’t sure whether she will ever forgive him, but that’s okay. God wants them to mate and beget, and you don’t say no to the big fellow.
That’s right, Jodi Artzberger’s Don’t Give Up on Me is a Christian romance. If you know me, you know that I have nothing against Christianity—the music is nice and some of the priests are hot. In fact, one thing I like about this one is that, despite the main characters praying and all at crucial moments, this story does not fall into the same trap that catches many romances of this kind—relying too much on God as a plot device to expedite the main characters’ romance and character development. Instead, the characters talk and do things for themselves despite having faith in the Lord; they don’t, like their counterparts in many Christian romances, just say Jesus take the wheel and absolve themselves of the need to think and make decisions for themselves. I like that.
I also like that the characters talk quite a lot to work out the issues between them. Again, while these two are clearly people of faith, they don’t just let God roll the dice and give them signs of what to do. No, they communicate, they ponder over the issues between them, and they try to work out these issues. This is actually a pretty impressive feat, considering that the story for the most part is more suspense than romance. The romance accelerates a bit from point A to suddenly point D when these two go from mutual “I don’t know how to get to the other person” to suddenly talking like they are in therapy and God is mediating. Still, I buy the emotional bond between Amanda and Ryker, so there’s that.
Since this story is more suspense than romance, it is tad unfortunate therefore that the suspense is on the rather generic side. I’ve read this one many times before, as the whole thing is a cobbling together of the standard “heroine under assault” drama, oh look a dead body, and other rather derivative tropes and served up in a manner that is not too innovative or interesting. Amanda, especially, is almost comical in how she keeps getting in trouble and needing rescue for the bulk of the first half of this story, and the last time the author should be doing is to make me wonder whether Wil E Coyote is hiding in the background.
There is also the head-scratching issue of how the story suddenly tapers off from Amanda constantly needing help in the first half to more Lifetime family drama moments in the second half. It is as if the author decided to cram the bulk of the romantic development between her main characters in this second half. It’s not a bad move, but the author does this in a way that feels tad too obviously compartmentalized, so much so that sometimes I feel like I am reading two different stories that are somehow glued together.
Don’t Give Up on Me is therefore a bit of an odd duck and a mixed bag. It has me believing in the emotional resonance of the bond between Amanda and Ryker despite the story leaning more towards Lifetime movie-of-the-week melodrama than romance, while the suspense part of the story is actually the weakest parts of the story to me. Maybe the author should have just made this one a pure small town romance, hmm.
All in all, this is not a bad read at all, but it does suffer from some kind of identity crisis which holds it back considerably from being something more sublime.