RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Rescued by a Stranger by Lizbeth Selvig

C+

Title: Rescued by a Stranger
Author: Lizbeth Selvig
Publication Info: Avon Impulse November 2013
ISBN: 978-0062300386
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book Rescued by a Stranger. Waxed shirtless guy in a field with a motorcycle in the background. This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Qualisign. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Contemporary Romance category.

The summary:

A woman full of dreams

When a stranger arrives in town on a vintage motorcycle, Jill Carpenter has no idea her life is about to change. She never expected her own personal knight in shining armor would be an incredibly charming and handsome Southerner—but one with a deep secret.
A man outrunning a tragedy

When Chase Preston jumped on his motorcycle to escape, he didn't expect the perfect woman to fall into his arms … literally! Though he can't deny his feelings for the sweet and beautiful Jill, he doesn't see how he and his mistake-filled past will fit into her bright future.
Falling in love may require more than either can give

The longer Chase stays in Kennison Falls, the more deeply Jill and the people of her community pull him in. As Jill discovers Chase's heroic qualities, she wants to find a home in his arms—if only he'll trust her. But will the truth tear them apart when Chase's past returns to haunt him? Or can they get beyond dreams to gain the love that will rescue their two hearts?

And here is Qualisign's review:

I need to begin this review with the disclaimer that initially I didn’t want to read this book, but it was the only one left without a reviewer that was 1) accessible in e-book form, 2) cheap, and 3) not in the category of erotica, because if it were, I wouldn’t be able to read my review to my phenomenal, gentlemanly [= old school] husband. (Okay, I’m a prude when it comes to writing about reading… So sue me.)

The reason I was so hesitant to read this book in the first place was that it pivots on one of my least favorite plot devices, “the big secret.” In fact, the first time I saw this book was when I hunted down another of Lizbeth Selvig’s books listed in one of the SBTB book on sale posts. At that time, I read the book description of Rescued by a Stranger and passed on its wonderful $.99 price tag and purchased the original Selvig book listed, The Rancher and the Rock Star, which still sits, rather far down the queue, in my TBR pile.

This review is going to be terribly spoiler-y. Live with it; this is a review. The plot turns on a big secret. If you don’t tell what that big secret is, you have basically nothing to review, or at least you are limited to reviewing everything but the plot. So, if you really don’t want to have the plot spoiled, don’t read this review. Hmf. You have been warned.

Back to why I am writing this review. The truth is, I had signed up to review another book in a different category, which I read, reviewed and submitted so quickly that I was left without anything to do – and that was weeks before the first of the RITA reviews was due. Then all I had to look forward to was my own academic writing, to which I dutifully – and even, occasionally, cheerfully – returned, but without the guilty pleasure breaks that reviewing a book not in my area of expertise had so gloriously provided me. In a fit of utter procrastination, I went back to the RITA review categories and found a blank spot in the spreadsheet that fulfilled the requirements listed earlier. How glorious to be back in the world of romancelandia! Well, at least in the evenings.

Rescued by a Stranger began with the appearance of what we will find out later is an archetypical ploppet, a pet plot moppet, whose presence in the middle of a road caused the accident, precipitated the meet cute of the no-animal-left-behind local heroine, Jill, and the I’m-just-passing-through-on-my-vintage-motorcycle hero, Chase, he of the great secret. Although the initial accident-rescue scene is a familiar trope, Lizbeth Selvig did an exceptional job of writing, making it funny, poignant, and very immediate. When the heroine, hanging by her seatbelt, licked her shirt to prove that she really wasn’t a bloody mess, just a ketchupy mess, I was all, “Oh, what was I thinking, this is great stuff!” In fact, I was so pleased with the writing that I was willing to wave my suspend-disapproval wand (much more powerful than the suspend-disbelief version) through most of the first half. I confess that I did an awful lot of wand waving when Jill’s older sisenemy was introduced, and even more when her one-note mother (in this case, I imagine her cleanliness as a B-flat) showed up, or cleaned up, or left the specter of cleanliness.

The ostensible plot, all built around trying to make the reveal of the big secret into something for angsty-teeth to grip, was quite nicely done. Selvig layered nicely-written plot voucher on top of plot voucher in her search for a persuasive and (un)timely reveal of Chase’s big secret. We are pulled into a small town’s struggles against a villainous company out to that destroy a local (Minnesota local, that is) wilderness area by turning it into a grand gravel pit. This device was populated with an all-but-absentee-but-saintly company owner and a dear friend of Chase’s grandfather, with his truly villainous manager, who apparently managed to tamp down his iniquitous greed for the thirty years he had worked for the company, and with a seriously curmudgeonly elderly, widowed landowner with a shotgun, standing between the town and the certain destruction of all beauty and goodness. The town was populated with many other caricatures and/or pretty people, including a cameo appearance by the Rock Star from Selvig’s previous book.

A secondary plot voucher in search of a denouement wove around the local stable/arena, where vet-school student Jill had a second job – her first was working as an assistant in veterinarian’s office, the same veterinarian whose magical letter of recommendation got her into “vet school” in the first place – teaching riding to the deserving and undeserving alike, and where she herself was well on her way to training with a fussy, demanding, and highly skilled British Olympic trainer for unspecified Olympics equestrian events herself.

Jill’s most immediate stress point was that she might have to choose between finishing vet school (Selvig’s term, not mine) or go off to Florida to train for the Olympics. Jill was written as smart, talented, overworked, and insecure with cause: her father left when she was ten and he didn’t come back, even though he promised he would. [Imagine foot stamp and major pout here.] Jill might have crept into Mary Sue-dom, except for her peevish relationship with her sister and mother and her woe-is-me-and-me-alone attitude about her father’s defection from the family. Oh, and her desire to have her wicked way with Chase, regardless of what he wanted.

The first third of the book was good, in the A-/B+ range, but around halfway through, my suspend-disapproval-wand waving was beginning to give me an aching shoulder and the rating was dipping into the mid B range.  By the final third of the book, when the big secret was revealed, I threw down my wand and started waving a white flag. I would have finished the book, even if I hadn’t been reading it for the RITA review, but I would have skimmed that last third so lightly that the resulting cream wouldn’t have changed the color of a demitasse of weak tea.

In keeping with the skimming-that-wasn’t-but-might-have-been, it’s time for bullet points on what I thought went wrong with the book.

1. The Big Secret.

You know what Chase’s big secret was? Spoiler (Highlight text to read): He was a medical doctor. Sure he was running away from the devastation that occurred when, in the midst of doing one good deed, he forgot another good deed that resulted in a senseless (but off-stage) death and he didn’t feel ready to talk about it. But how is that such a horrible thing? You find out your own twuuu luv is a doctor and you throw a fit? Give me a break.

2. Sex under Pressure

Okay, Chase did not feel it was right to have sex with Jill without her knowing his big secret. He refrained from initiating sex even after he told Jill that he loved her, but Jill pushed him into it. If the genders had been switched, I think the problem would have been more immediately evident. Part of what made the first part of the book particularly compelling was that Chase and Jill built a relationship on friendship, shared values, and mutual respect. They had wonderful chemistry, but it wasn’t the foundation of their attraction to each other. Chase’s hesitancy to couple with Jill was based on his recognition that the emotional aspects of sex would create a bond that had to be matched by honesty in all aspects of life – and he wasn’t ready to deal with his big secret. I was uncomfortable with the pressure Jill put on Chase to have sex on her terms, which they did, rather than recognizing his hesitancy.

3. The Timing of the Big Reveal

Like villains who talk too much only to have their victims escape their clutches, Chase fell into the trap of waiting just a smidge too long for his grand confession. On the way out the door with Jill heading to a restaurant for his Big Reveal, the curmudgeonly old guy had a heart attack, and Chase’s secret was out. The real problem was that the big secret just wasn’t that big of a deal. Jill’s reaction was ridiculous, and childish, and just plain annoying. I hate whining.

The actual reveal here was that Jill was a tootsie pop: a sugary hard exterior covering a chewy self-centered, whiny ball of neediness. The other half of the reveal was that Chase was an M&M: all hard shell sweetness covering a gooey dark emo center that melted and disappeared under heat.

4. The ploppets [pet plot moppets]: the good, the bad, and the ugly

In Selvig’s bio-blurb, she proudly touts a musician son and an equine veterinarian daughter. Hmmm. Her first book in this series was, The Rancher and the Rock Star. One of the very best things (the good) about Rescued by a Stranger was the treatment of anything pertaining to horses, including tack, birthing, riding, jumping and training. The animals were often far more nuanced than the humans. In fact, I imagine that at least one of the horses and definitely the dog will end up in Selvig’s next book. But what does it say about a romance when the ploppets drive the plot far more than the main characters do?

5. Faunal Mystical Preciousity

While related to 4, the mystical preciousity deserves a number of its own. The bedraggled, stray dog that caused the accidental meeting was given the name Angel, and adopted by Jill early in the book. The extent of the faunal preciousness is encapsulated in the final pages of the epilogue:

From out of the tall grass alongside the road, Chase and Jill’s dog bounded to join him [Delaney, aka Poppa, Chase’s grandfather], still wearing a collar decorated with flowers. Angel.

He patted his leg, and she came for a scratch between her pointed little ears. She’d been his constant companion since he’d arrived a week before, a presence so comforting, he swore he’d known her for years. Her uncanine-like spirit reminded him of his beautiful [long-deceased wife] Mary— and that was purely crazy. Self-admittedly he was the indulged, overly spiritual Preston patriarch, but he’d never been one to reincarnate folks. He’d tried to explain the peculiar feelings about the dog to Chase, and his grandson had surprised him.

“You don’t need to convince me,” he’d said. “The dog is inexplicable. No one will ever convince me she didn’t lead me straight to this wedding. She startles me often, always being where she needs to be. And she knows.”

“Knows what?”

“Whatever needs knowin’. She’s Angel.”

“An angel?” he’d asked, laughing.

“Maybe so.” 

The equine version of Angel was Gypsy, a larger-than-life Clydesdale (already larger-in-life than other horses), who during the course of the book gave birth to a lovely colt, thereby assuring her curmudgeonly owner of another year’s income, and she rehabilitated a distressed and truculent teen whose riding lessons up to that point had been most unsatisfactory. The final sentence in the book certainly pushed all my mystical ploppet buttons:

A cheer went up, punctuated by one decisive bark from a very excited black-and-white dog. Delaney raised his eyes as Jill slid straight off Gypsy’s back and in Chase’s waiting arms.

White flag waving. Eyes rolling. Teeth aching from the sweetness. Head shaking slowly from side to side. Drat. How did something that started so well end up so downright cloying?

In the end, I could forgive problems 1, 3, 4, and 5, but 2 has been the one that stayed with me weeks after finishing the book. I repeat that it was Selvig’s excellent characterization of a relationship built on friendship and trust prior to sex that made Jill’s pressure on Chase that much more disturbing. Selvig can write, and write well. The secondary plots were well executed; the primary weakness was the not-so big secret as the central plot device.

So, with a slight whimper, I submit this review and return to my academic writing, which won’t be half as diverting as taking part in this RITA challenge.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    donna marie says:

    Thank you Quailisign! It was a long taxing Friday and you just made my day.

    Also, ploppet. I think we may be at the point where we need a dictionary. Just in the last month the bitchery added about a half dozen new terms to my vocabulary.

  2. 2
    Vicki says:

    Maybe not a dictionary yet, but certainly a glossary.

    Nice review. I have to admit that #2 would bother me, too. And, as a physician, there are times when I pretend to be something else (“I work with children,” I mutter vaguely), but I would not consider it a deep, dark secret. I did like The Rancher and the Rock Star well enough but maybe I’ll think a little more before plunging into this one.

  3. 3
    Carolyn says:

    I like the guy on the cover. He’s nice and normal, not deformed like most cover models.

    Very nice.  :-)

  4. 4
    LauraL says:

    I will confess I just added this book to my library wish list. May be worth a free read since I know all the horse details are in order and I love ploppets!

    The “vet school” thing bugs me, as vet school requires a lot of cash and commitment. One doesn’t just drop out of veterinary medical training like say data entry school, well, except maybe for a shot at the Olympics.

    And, Qualisign, I really enjoyed reading your review. I was sitting here drinking a cup of coffee and nodding like I was listening to you at my local, rockin’ coffee shop.

  5. 5
    Caty B says:

    Everything that bothered you in this book would have bothered me too, so now I want to cling to your reviews like a limpet. That’s not weird, right?

    Thanks for such a thorough review – it was genuinely helpful!

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