I’m still trying to wrap my brain around how to review “To Love and To Cherish” by Patricia Gaffney, so y’all will have to make do with my supremely vanilla follow-up read, a Nora Roberts Silhouette reprint from… drumroll please… 1986!
For the record, I have never been a big fan of the Silhouette/Harlequin/Mills & Boon romance novels, as they remind me too much of Sweet Valley Highs in size and scope. Also, whenever I’ve read one, they leave me kind of…unsatisfied, like eating a snack when I’m hungry for dinner. Either the plot leaves something to be desired, or the characters are sketches more than individuals, or the whole storyline leaves me cold. Also, the preponderance of Secret Freaking Babies? Gimme a break.
Thankfully, I found no secret babies in the Nora Roberts time-travel back to 1986. Shall I mention how old I was in 1986? I will not. But I will make the clumsy comparison that this book affected me about as much as I remember the events of this day in 1986, when I was in middle school. I am usually a big fan of La Nora, and I have been saving “Northern Lights” for an afternoon wherein I have many hours available for reading, but dang. This book was an almighty yawn.
Imagine a scenario where you have a hero and a heroine who love to scrap with one another, who can’t be in the same room without arguing, who barely tolerate each other’s presence – and of course there are sparks between them one could use to power a small metropolis, should the power of romantic attraction be harnessed for an energy source. Now, imagine a circumstance wherein you force those two characters to cohabitate for a period of about six months, causing them to have no choice but to endure each other’s company. What method would you choose? How would you force them together and create conflict that exists outside of their hissing and spitting at one another like cats being given a bath?
Would you have them locked in a dungeon? Kidnapped and held for ransom? Would you make them neighbors and then have one of the pipes in an apartment burst, forcing the other to take refuge in the dry apartment while repairs are made? Cause a rock to fall on the heroine’s head leaving her with partial amnesia where the hero is concerned, allowing him to date her under false pretenses? Have one of them become superglued to the other and then to a chair so they can’t call for help, nor can they get to the bathroom to pour nail polish remover all over themselves? Or have a zany uncle leave them his entire estate, to the exclusion of a host of other relatives,provided the hero and heroine move into said estate for six months’ time, not leaving the presence of the other for more than 48 hours?
If you picked the last one, well, you must have read this book. “A Will and A Way” places Pandora and Michael, the not-blood-related niece and nephew of a goofy and now deceased Uncle Jolley, owner and multi-billionaire inhabitant of a catskills estate called…wait for it… come on… you can see it coming…Jolley’s Folly.
Yeah. So down the road of predictability we go: Michael and Pandora stand to inherit a bajillion dollar estate if they live in the house for six months; the rest of the relatives are left with inconsequential things like books of matches to light fires under one’s ass, or the exact sum needed to buy wheat germ for life. If they can’t agree to move in to the giant, hulking mansion for six months, then the estate will revert to the other relatives in equal shares, along with some institute for the study of carnivorous insects.
I’m not kidding.
So Michael and Pandora are pissed because they don’t want to live with each other, and while Pandora is wealthy in her own right, neither is comfy with inheriting billions of dollars (whyever not I can’t even figure). The relatives who got the shaft are pissed and now in the position of hoping Michael and Pandora kill or run out on each other. But ultimately they agree to try living in the vast multi-winged expanse of the house together, much to the displeasure of the rest of the kooky family, and away the story goes.
It doesn’t get much more believable than that. I got the feeling Roberts sat down with a trading card deck full of common romance plot devices and frequently used conventions and shuffled them together to create this book. Usually, even operating with the most common of plotlines, Roberts can create a character, usually the hero as I love her men, who is so fascinating I’d put up with kidnapping, amnesia, witness protection, or God forbid even a secret freaking baby, so long as Roberts wrote at least one good character.
Neither of the characters are even remotely interesting to me, and nor are they too smart. First, it’s a huge house. Go live in separate wings. Don’t talk to each other. Don’t see each other. You already know that she designs award-winning jewelry by day, while he writes Emmy-award-winning television scripts by night. You don’t even have to same schedule. Just don’t talk to each other!
Look, I have to go to Passover Seder with an entire wing of my husband’s family that I find less than lovely to be around. If I can put up with them, and their merry ingestion of the four cups of wine that are part of the Seder service, then you can live six months in a mansion with someone you don’t actually have to see.
Second, what is all this animosity based on anyway? I mean, she designes jewelry. He writes scripts. Both creative professions. You’d think there’s some common ground there, but no, they actually snipe at each other by criticizing one another’s creative efforts! She designs “ugly baubles for rich women;” he writes “mindless entertainment for idiots.” Gosh, I know there’s professional jealousy in the artistic community but that’s a little extreme.
It’s not as if they are jealous of each other’s relationship with their dead uncle. They call a truce of momentary duration while talking to each other about how sad they are, will and inheritance nonsense aside. So where the animosity comes from is peculiarly unexplained. I know plenty of people who get under my skin, and I know why they do. And either I put up with it or I avoid them. I don’t go after them for more insults and fighting. Usually there’s a root source, a larger reason why they would be so pissed at each other. In this case, there’s none. It’s one more invented plot contrivance to draw the story along towards the final page. The characters don’t lead the story; the plot doesn’t either. Roberts drags them along and pushes them forward with the tip of her pen, forcing them together, forcing them into Grave Danger That Forces Admissions of Emotional Attachment, and wrapping their ending up neatly at the final page. I am amazed one of them didn’t say to the other, “Oh, now it’s time for me to get ‘accidentally’ locked in the basement so you can worry that someone is up to no good!”
The worst is that the source of all this ire is supposed to be because they are secretly in love with one another. If you love someone, even secretly, why would you put yourself in a position repeatedly such that the object of your adoration puts down your very personal creations that, coincidentally, pay your bills, thus allowing you to live on doing exactly what you enjoy doing. Wouldn’t the criticism do lasting, painful damage, coming from someone you purportedly love?
Aside from the woefully contrived conflict between the hero and the heroine, the external forces working against the protagonists are sketched with one of those inch-wide Crayola cubby-hands crayons. The relatives, who, DUH, of course are going to try to interfere with the terms of Michael and Pandora’s cohabitation to force them to be apart for periods of more than 48 hours, are all caricatures of various types, from the earthy-crunchy health duo, recipients of the lifetime supply of wheat germ, to the harshly inconsiderate brother, recipient of not a thing, and his ineffectual sister, who received a house in Palm Beach. You know they’re bad news, even the attorney thinks they’re kind of creepy, and yet the protagonists think the rest of the clan is going to go merrily into the evening without a worry or concern that, should the two of them be apart for two days, they suddenly receive an enormous inheritance, each.
So of course weird shit starts happening – ransacking, tampering, accidents that are two convenient for accidental cause, and false information being acted upon without proper verification on the part of the hero or heroine. Jeez. These two are dumb as hell. And even as the weird shit starts to become more menacing, not that it didn’t start with a rather frightening event in the first place, they agree NOT to call the police. I’m guessing there was a sentence edited out where the heroine says, “No, we should not call the police, even though millions of dollars of my personal property was tossed on the floor and left there. To call the police would mean a much too quick resolution to the drama, and we have two hundred pages to go!”
Further, the two servants, loyal and true of heart, are perfect in every way, serving as plot devices to push the two together, faking fainting spells and colds and general old agedness, causing the hero and heroine to clean, cook their own meals, and be around each other frequently.
The kicker moment is the climax of all the drama. The hero and heroine gather the family into the house and…oh it’s too stupid. Dare I tell you? Dare I spoil this marvelously predictable mess?
The hero and the heroine gather the family in the mansion, tell them that the gig is up, they know who has been causing all the problems and trying to kill them both, and then – the lights go out! People scream! And when the lights come on, there’s the heroine in a pool of blood, a bloody letter opener next to her, while the hero calmly stands over her and says that one of the family is a murderer. I shit you not. It was like one of those bad plays acted out where YOU are part of the DRAMA, and you have to go solve the MURDER in your own HOME.
And of course this whole melodrama wrings a confession out of the appropriate people and they all live happily ever after, as the hero and heroine have fallen marvelously in love with one another and will now cohabitate as Husband and Wife in their mutually admired artistic endeavors.
But wait! Before you rush right out and buy this thing, I never told you the very best part! The most wonderous, marvelous, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious next best thing?
This book is a two-novel set!! There are two books in one as Silhouette tries to milk the last dollars it can out of Nora Roberts, since she did not renew her contract with them. The next one? Oh, you’ll never guess. The hero and heroine are the younger members of two familes who are long time rivals and neighbors. You will never guess what the families’ competing interests are.
No really, give it a try.
Diamond mining? Software development? Hardware stores? Flower shops?
I’m not even kidding.
Ranching, cattle, and oil.
Cue the “Dallas” theme.