Loveswept, $2.50, ISBN 0-553-21914-6
Contemporary Romance, 1988
This month’s TBR Challenge is all about favorite tropes. I had flesh-eating zombies pegged at first, but after a while, I realized that the zombie anthology had so many authors that I’d best save that review for a weekend. While Maggie McDonnell’s The Land of Enchantment is a random pull, I mean, a deliberate second choice, it’s quite the interesting read because the hero, Patrick Knight, is a lonely toymaker who has been searching so long for someone to love. And you know how lovelorn guys who aren’t afraid to love is one of my favorite tropes. I blame Lloyd Dobber.
The title is a reference to the hero’s workshop. Patrick is an independent small-time toymaker. His biggest ambition is to see his toys displayed in a department store, but the deal he was hoping to ink fell through. Still, when he befriends a kid with Down’s syndrome while hanging around outside the store on the first day of the Christmas sale season, and he learns from the kid that the kid’s mother, the store manager Karen Harris, is frantic because the Santa they hired call in sick at the last minute, he decides to step in as Santa. He and the kid become good friends, and he is attracted to the mother. Will Christmas work its sentimental magic on those two?
Now, this book was published in 1988, so readers who are unable to understand the concept of context and will go into knee-jerk outrage mode please approach this one carefully, as the kid Larry is described as “retarded” here. I have no issue with that, myself; my bigger issue here is how, for a long time, Patrick comes on so strong that he often appears smarmy. He’s not written as socially awkward, so I can only chalk this aspect of him as a miscalculation on the author’s part to make Patrick seem sexy in a forceful manner – you know, the kind that is supposed to get women all hot and bothered if those Harlequin Presents and new adult books are to be believed.
Hence, from the moment he meets Karen, he is using clumsy innuendoes and double entendres that make me cringe in embarrassment on his behalf. He seems so desperate to have sex with Karen, with his constant proclamations that he wants to seduce her and all, and yet, he tries to act like all he has to do is to wag his finger and ladies would fall in line in front of him. The whole package just screams try-hard, like Pepé Le Pew on a cocktail rampage of steroids and alcohol.
However, later on, when Karen is caught and he can stop trying so hard to be Johnny Bravo, Patrick’s more emotional side begins to show, and I have to admit that a part of me just wants to go, “Aww! What a sweet, lonely darling!” and pat him in the head like I would a sad cute puppy. Really, the way he asks Karen to stay with him so that he doesn’t have to be alone anymore… oh, that hurts my heart more than I thought it would. This aspect of Patrick manages to successfully combine the lonely child within and this beautifully kind and sensitive man who would treat a boy with Down’s syndrome like he is perfect in every way – I really like this Patrick. Couple all this with the whole whimsical theme of his toys and his workshop, and the whole thing is quite magical.
Still, the creepy Patrick from the early parts of the story resurfaces now and then, so I can never fall in love like Patrick like I wish I could.
Karen is a nice surprise. At the surface, she is another heroine bent on focusing on her career while nursing some trust issues stemming from her break-up with Larry’s father, but her emotions and actions here are very relatable and even normal. She doesn’t act like a hysterical loon at the very idea of being attracted to a man – in fact, she treats her lust for him like any sane woman would. She doesn’t mind looking, wishing, and if the chance arises, okay, she’d grab him with both hands and enjoy the ride. None of those crazy “I’m attracted to the man and the world is ending AAAH!” hot and cold drama that affects way too many similar heroines in the genre. Even her trust issues are dealt with in a low-key manner. No drama, no crazy antics, just a normal likable heroine who is occasionally cranky because, let’s face it, being an overworked single mother of a special needs child is not a walk in the park.
The Land of Enchantment turns out to be a most pleasant read. I just wish the author had been more successful when it comes to making Patrick a seductive go-getter type. As it is, he’s better off being just a good-natured romantic guy. The contrived “I’m going to seduce you, woman!” moments are the biggest reasons why I can never feel the magic of this story, as much as I’d have loved to.