St Martin’s Press, $5.99, ISBN 0-312-98920-2
Contemporary Romance, 2003
Finding You/Knowing You is a special “Make Me Your New Josie Litton” 2-in-1 edition. It’s part of St Martin Press’s effort to catapult series author Maureen Child into being a household name. These two books are part of a series that stars the Candellano family. Three siblings, Carla and the twins Paul and Nick all exhibit a perplexing tendency to fall in love with people with caregiving baggages.
Finding You is Carla Candellano’s story. Carla is a successful career woman. She was a search and rescue worker until tragedy strikes, and our heroine then flees home to Momma. Now she teaches aspiring puppies to be big rescue doggies. Mama wants her to marry. She says she’s not ready to marry. Then comes a man with a stereotypical Nonspeaking Little Girl named Reese. The father Jackson Wyatt naturally wants nobody to be nice to his daughter even as he wonders why his daughter is not speaking. He orders Carla to get lost. Carla immediately spends the night tossing and turning because Jackson is like, wow, so hot. Here’s a tip to you aspiring romance heroes out there: yell at her, talk smack about her, and she’s all yours.
Of course, Reese sees Carla and the puppies and she just can’t stay away from Carla. And Carla keeps meeting her and Jackson so there’s just no escape either. Naturally, being with a little girl arouses Carla’s maternal instincts to make her realize what she is missing in her life all along. But very predictable – and artificial – conflicts arise to keep Jackson and Carla apart, so oh, what will happen in the end?
What indeed. Finding You is packed to bursting point with extremely predictable plot elements and the characters aren’t just small town cookie cutter sorts, they are probably the cookie cutter used by other cookie cutter makers to create more cookie cutters. The tedious secondary plot thing doesn’t help either. Eldest sibling Tony Candellano is married to Beth, and Beth is now crying because she suspects that Tony is cheating (he’s often away for long intervals on most nights). Of course, Tony is not cheating, but when the reasons of his absences on those nights are revealed, my reaction is to bang my head against the wall and wonder why he can’t just tell the wife in the first place. It’s such a trivial and petty reason for a miscommunication subplot that takes too much space from the story.
Of course this book is readable. That kid Reese doesn’t grate. Carla and Jackson are decent characters. But the almost toxic high levels of predictability in the story will be the make or break factor for readers. I can pretty much plot out the entire book after reading just the first twenty pages of the book. After wading through this book on autopilot to the bitter finish, I wonder why I ever bothered.
Knowing You is Paul Candellano’s story. Let me get straight to the point: this is a stupid story. If you’re an avid series romance reader, you may be more tolerant of the bizarre sexual and behavioral comedy going on in this book.
Paul and Nick are twins. Paul is the studious (and rich) one. Nick is the (rich) jock. Stephanie “Stevie” Ryan (loves her daddy, hates her mommy, et cetera) used to go out with Nick until he cheated on her. Never mind, she still remains in close terms with the rest of the Candellano family, especially with Mamma Candellano. Paul, however, likes Stevie more than wise. Or as the author puts it most romantically, “when every time he saw her, all he wanted to do was to throw her onto her back” – ouch – “and bury himself inside her”. When Stupid Stevie and Pathetic Paul end up doing that throwing and burying thing one night, that’s when the agony starts.
Stevie, even when she has cut off Nick long ago, decides that she must not let the Candellano clan think her a “tramp” and so she must never succumb to Paul even when she realizes that she loves him. “Tramp”? It’s not as if she’s sleeping with the wrong twin by accident, and even if she did, that won’t be “tramp”, that’ll be “bloody moron”. She’s also not sleeping with both twins at the same time, so it is hard to see where the “tramp” logic comes from. And for Paul’s part, for no good reason whatsoever, he keeps deciding that Stevie must still be carrying a torch for Nick so they must not see each other. Their relationship then proceeds on schedule to follow the predictable rut: they sleep together and then they whine and flail and beat themselves up the morning after, repeat and rinse.
But even the author realizes that repeating this excruciating pattern in her book for over three hundred pages will be too cruel an act, so she decides to add in an unexpected subplot that sees Stevie realizing that she has a long-lost sister. This sister comes to light when the uncaring and bad mother’s will is read. Upon the discovery of this Special Sister, Stevie then proceeds to cry like every other three pages. She becomes the poster girl for Political Correctness Gone Ugly. It is so nasty to call the mentally handicapped sister “mentally deficient”! And oh, what poor horrible life the Special Sister must have led (of course, this sister just has to live a Dickensian awful life of being pelted with stones by other kids)! Special People are like us too, only more Special! The irony, of course, is that the author is using her Special Sister character as a mere plot device to (a) pad the story and (b) create a last minute “my sister is missing!” scenario to give the story an appropriate “exciting” finish. If she removes this sister thing, the story won’t suffer other than in length. So what’s this about treating special people with respect again, Ms Child?
I like reading about Paul’s interactions with his mother and his alcoholic brother Nick. These are the most real and unforced scenes in the book. But when he’s with Stupid Stevie, both of them act like emotionally stunted adults unable to think or act like the intelligent people that the author claim they are. By using the special sister subplot and turning Stevie into a lachrymal overemotional idiot incapable of rational decisions to pad the meager plot, the author only ends up ruining every last shred of genuine, unpretentious element in her story. By the last page, everybody is behaving most bizarre just to fulfill some plot twist requirement. Even Paul, the most realistic of the gruesome twosome (and sister), mutates into a mediocre series romance novel walking plot contrivance in the end.
Finding You/Knowing You reads suspiciously like a Silhouette Desire hastily padded and overextended just to meet the word count. If the author is keen on reminding her series romance fans that she has not forgotten her roots (Sleeping With The Boss, His Baby!, The Oldest Living Married Virgin, Last Virgin in California, and Let’s Round Up Whoever Titles These Books and Tar Them Out of Town, et cetera) and it’s still okay to fork out $5.99 because series romance readers will still be getting the same old stuff, only with more detritus thrown in for added value – well, surely there are better ways of doing this than to force this thing onto the unsuspecting public?