Thursday, May 5, 2011

Three Umbrellas: Any Man of Mine by Rachel Gibson

I'll take entries on Monday's giveaway through TONIGHT at 12 PST, then announce winners with Friday's book of the week. We're two followers away from adding another giveaway. If I get two more today, I'll announce that tomorrow as well.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originally Shared at Cloudy with a Chance of Books--

3.5 stars. Is it possible for a romance hero to be too realistic? Rachel Gibson’s latest, Any Man of Mine, is another entry in her hockey series. See Jane Score is one of my favorite Gibson titles as is The Trouble with Valentine’s Day (which featured an ex-hockey player from the same team), so I had high hopes for this addition to her line-up. And it was everything that makes Gibson so much fun: witty, lots of physical humor, great banter, well-drawn quirky secondary characters, sexy. Fans of Lori Foster, Christie Ridgway, Carly Phillips, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips should enjoy Gibson tremendously (her heat level is also similar to these authors—sexy w/o crossing the line into erotic territory). Like Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Gibson excels at crafting the male POV. And this, unfortunately, is where Any Man of Mine runs into controversy.

Sam runs into Autumn, his ex-wife at the wedding of the previous book’s couple. Now, I often don’t like divorce reunion stories because it means someone got angry badly enough and long enough to take legal action. Or, as is the case here, there was a quickie marriage that arguably should never have occurred. Sam and Autumn met five years ago in Vegas, got married in a drunken haze (his part) believing in love at first sight (her part), and got a divorce because Sam came to his senses as soon as he sobered up the next morning (and left without a word to Autumn). Class act that Sam. But, reckless drunken actions do not a bad hero make. Except where those bad decisions result in an accidental pregnancy, and Sam spends the next five years continuing to be a jerk.

We all know men like Sam, particularly athletic golden boys with troubled pasts, who pay their child support while continuing to live the life of a carefree bachelor. When we meet Sam, he fully admits to being selfish and shallow and to sleeping with women he doesn’t really like beyond the physical. Sam skips out on his visitation days more often than he shows up, blames the Autumn’s hostility on her “running hot and cold” and being uptight, parties like a rookie instead of a 35 year old veteran, and is generally way more childish than Connor, his son.

He’s a bad dad even by non-custodial parent standards, and it takes Autumn telling him that Connor cries when he skips their planned visits to make him start to change. To his credit, however, he does start making more of an effort—showing up, taking Connor to his games, and spending plenty of time fretting that his mother is turning him into a wuss. I know plenty of dads who just don’t seem to come online until their sons are elementary school age. Sam would make an awesome hero in a Regency novel as he’s a great dad by 1800s standards.

Autumn is a great mom by any standard—she’s worked hard to put aside her personal hurt over Sam’s actions to facilitate a relationship between Sam and Connor and has done so since Connor’s birth, even moving to Sam’s city and building a life there. She could easily have just coasted by on Sam’s ample child support, but instead she’s a successful Wedding Planner and lives modestly within her means to assure their continued stability. In case, you know, Sam’s asshat disease worsens or becomes terminal. At the point where the story opens, she’s so far over Sam that she doesn’t even feel a spark when he touches her. In fact, she feels nothing at all and is pretty darn happy about that. But, over the course of several months, she begins to thaw towards Sam.

Big kudos to Gibson for playing the book out over the course of several months rather than trying to fix this relationship in a few days or weeks. And had Sam showed more remorse and more of a fundamental change, this would have been a five star read for me. I read the whole book in a single sitting, stopping only for the bare minimum of family interaction. It’s supremely readable with several laugh-out-loud scenes and moves fast. But, as the final chapters sped by, I realized that Sam was the same shallow and selfish guy who started the book, and I wasn’t sure why Autumn decided to forgive him. I wanted far more groveling and a big, huge, GIANT grand gesture.

Instead, we get a brooding poor-me apology and a small olive branch offering that comes from Autumn. I was happy for Connor that he got both parents together, and I was happy that Sam and Autumn got a second chance, but I just wasn’t sure that Sam actually deserved it. Or that he won’t screw it up. I think it comes down to the fact that I want my heroes to be a little more idealized. I think that makes me every bit as shallow as Sam because even a man’s man like Sam deserves a HEA, and Sam DOES have a hidden soft streak and some redeeming virtues. Ultimately, I recommend Gibson whole-heartedly, and I think that plenty of people will LOVE this particular book. And if you are not one of them, there are plenty of debates for you to join in—win either way!

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