Book Review

The Prodigal Son by Beth Andrews


Title: The Prodigal Son
Author: Beth Andrews
Publication Info: Harlequin 2011
ISBN: 9780373717071
Genre: Contemporary Romance

The Prodigal Son. This book PISSED ME OFF.I started reading this book because it contained some tropes I like, and a setting I thought I would enjoy. Vineyards! A winery! A small town/small community setting with a character returning home for whatever reason – I usually enjoy this kind of story.

The problem here is that most of the characters go too far into negative territory and I was afraid that the author wouldn’t be able to get them out. About halfway through I was worried enough that I went seeking a review to see if the story would have a happier resolution than I thought would happen. Nope: it doesn’t. So I stopped reading.

The book opens with Matt Sheppard, the hero, facing down his father and mother on graduation day. He’s not planning to work at the family vineyard alongside his two brothers, Brady and Aidan, the poorly-named “Diamond Dust.” (Yes. Dust. Just what I want to think of when I read about wine. *cough cough*) He’s going west, to UC Davis and plans to work at another vineyard instead of the family business. His rebellion and decision to depart cause his father to cut him off financially, insuring that Matt would have to work his way through college, and telling Matt that he’ll never amount to much of anything. After that, they never speak again. Ah, those precious family memories.

Cue the present day: Matt is now in Australia, one of the best vintners in the world, and his boss Down Under is livid that he thinks the grapes can wait while he returns to Virginia for a family wedding. He assures her he’ll be back in time for the grape harvest, which is likely within a few days. Obviously Matt plans a quick visit.

So Matt returns home, only to find out that his mother, now a widow engaged to a new man, has plans. Big plans. Really horrible awful plans that made me want to smack her really, really hard. She’s decided that unless her sons,  Brady, Aidan and Matt, agree to work together at the vineyard, she’s going to sell the business, the buildings, the property and all the surrounding land that she owns, effectively throwing her two older sons out of their jobs and their homes – unless Matt agrees to give up the contract he just signed, leave Australia and his own career, and tie himself to a home that gives him painful memories.

Connie, the heroine, is the current vineyard manager, and has been saving up for years to approach the Sheppard family with her desire to buy into ownership of the vineyard she’s worked at for most of her life. She’s a single mom who has worked there since around the time Matt left, if not longer, but when she learns about the plans to make the brothers take over so Mommie Dearest can retire and get married, she fears for her job, and chickens out in approaching the family with her idea. She feels that because she’s not a family member, she’ll be shut out. Matt’s older brother, Aidan, doesn’t do much to reassure her, despite his intentions to do so.

I cannot even tell you how many horrible people populate this book. Every other scene was a new and irate opportunity to growl and say, “WHAT THE FUCK.”

First, the mother. We’re told she’s strong, she’s a good person, the other characters seem to love her a great deal. But her actions “on screen” during the novel are SO HORRID I wanted to kill her after I beat her senseless with a wine bottle. This is the oddest example of “show vs. tell” I’ve seen in a character: the reader is told she’s all of these wonderful things, yet most of the time, she is blind, calculating, selfish, ruthless, self-absorbed, domineering and cruel. We’re told she’s strong, but she stands by while her first husband demeans and cuts off her son financially. We’re told she’s a fantastic person with wonderful patience, but she won’t even listen to her son when he asks why she’s doing this to him, what he did besides leave home that causes her to treat him this way.

Matt’s mother is nearly matched by Connie’s, who has diagnosed bipolar disorder, and is equally manipulative and in her own world much of the time. At one point she calls her daughter in the middle of the work week to insist she go get milk and cream because she wants to cook something she just saw on tv. When her daughter says she can’t leave the vineyard to go grocery shopping for her (she’s literally standing in the middle of a field), her mother then calls 911 saying she’s having chest pains, forcing her daughter to leave work anyway. Classic manipulative pattern – and chillingly reflective of the manipulation and selfishness of the hero’s mother, who is just as conniving and manipulative, only without the mental illness.

Oddly, I read this book on Mother’s Day, and seriously, the hero’s mother is hands down one of the worst mothers I have ever read. She’s horrid, mostly because the inconsistency of her actions in light of how insistent everyone else was that she was a good and noble person. And then there’s the heroine’s mother, who is seriously and terribly mentally ill, and mostly the daughter’s problem to deal with, manipulations, dramatic cries for help, and selfish inclinations included. One is mentally ill and all the reasons for her behavior originate there. The other is just selfish and cruelly neglectful and uninterested in her son’s happiness, and there’s no other reason for her behavior, no matter how much the other characters insist she’s so wonderful.

Even Aidan calls her on her actions:

“You’re asking him to give up a lot. Think about it…. You and I both know he has what it takes to become one of the top names in the wine industry. And now he has to give up everything he’s ever wanted to save Dad’s company? To be honest, Mom, what you’re doing is pretty shitty.”

Her throat worked as she swallowed. “Desperate times and all that.” But though her words were said lightly, her voice wobbled. Just a bit. Enough for Aidan to realize that this hadn’t been an easy decision for her. “Desperate how?” he asked. “I don’t see why it’s so black and white… Why is it Matt or none of us? Surely there are other options.”

But just like she didn’t get nervous, Diane Sheppard also didn’t back away from something just because it was difficult.

WHAT THE FUCK. Ok, first, what are these desperate times? NO idea. Maybe it’s revealed at the end but by then I hated everyone in the book save the hero that I didn’t care if the vineyard was on fire and Matt could magically sneeze the fire out.

Second, so what if the decision was hard for her? SHE DID IT ANYWAY. She put her own desires and her own wants ahead of her son’s, placed him in a terrible position personally, legally, and professionally (more about that in a minute) and if there were other options, she went with this one! Why the hell not say, “We are in trouble, please help us?” Why not inform Matt and, you know, TREAT HIM LIKE AN ADULT and explain why his presence is so important? And also, why keep your oldest son as president of the company if the company is in trouble?

Moreover, if Diane is not the kind to back away from difficult decisions, why didn’t she stand up to her asshole husband in the prologue, if having Matt around meant so much? She chooses weird moments to be so empowered – and by “weird” I mean “when they entirely serve her own interests.”

My biggest problem was that there was so little respect paid to the hero’s commitments, his own work ethic and his own career. Everyone seemed to think his desire to be somewhere away from his emotionally abusive father’s home was abnormal. WHAT THE FUCK. It made me sad for the hero, that everyone was telling him his completely normal feelings were wrong.

Every character takes a turn giving Matt a hard time for what seemed to me to be completely acceptable and self-empowering decisions. For example, Brady is quite frank about his low opinion of Matt:

“You didn’t want to figure out how to get along with Dad so you went to a college on the other side of the country.”

“I went to UC Davis because is viticulture and enology program is one of the best in the country.”

The fact that it was in California was just a side benefit. One that he was thankful for after that last fight with his father.

“You never search for jobs,” his brother continued. “You wait until one falls into your lap. if they don’t you shrug and find something else to do until the next one comes along. Same with women.”

[Matt] fisted his hands, his arms trembling as anger surged. Unlike what his family thought, he did not sit back and wait for jobs to fall from the freaking sky. It’d taken him years to build his reputation.

Again. WHAT THE FUCK. Why on earth should Matt learn to get along with an abusive parent? How does his brother know all this, anyway? Does he follow Matt on Facebook and watch his status updates about how he’s sitting by the pool waiting for a job to fall on his head? Matt had just come back to Virginia for the first time in a few years, so how does Brady know any of this crap?

Aidan also gives Matt a hard time for being a shiftless, goal-less drifter, and yet has already revealed that he’s aware Matt has a good reputation as a vintner – and is in fact one of the best in the world. At one point, Aidan gives Matt a cold lecture about all the lessons he learned from their abusive father, including the value of a handshake and the importance of honoring commitments, implying that Matt doesn’t understand either concept because he left home and didn’t live up to family expectations.

Meanwhile, Matt is taking justifiably irate phone calls from his boss in Australia. She’s furious that he’s going to renege on his contract and is going to file a breach of contract suit against him (understandably so, I should think). Aidan’s by-the-way response: Matt shouldn’t worry because the family is going to pay his legal fees and any judgment against him.

AGAIN. WHAT THE FUCK. Don’t you worry your pretty head, sugar britches. Don’t worry about your reputation or the hit your credibility will take because your mom blackmailed you into staying home and working in a place with horrible memories for you. We’ll deal with that pesky vineyard in Australia because Family is More Important, even an abusive one populated by complete fuckmonkeys. But remember, we all know you have no goals and don’t know the value of a commitment anyway.

Oh yeah, this is a romance. Sorry about that. I nearly forgot the “romance” part. Matt notices Connie, and Connie has it bad for Matt – along with one of her very young daughters, who has a truly cringe-inducing crush on Matt – but even when he notices her, he’s still miserable. Connie isn’t a bright spot in Matt’s misery, or a reason to re-evaluate his circumstances and perhaps change his perspective on them. He’s looking at her as a fling or a diversion, which demeans him and her and pisses off his brothers, who see her as their honorary sister – not to mention she’s their employee. Matt & Connie’s interactions are almost always fighting in the first half of the book, and one or the other will do something stupid to create more misunderstandings and resentment between them. There’s no end to Matt’s misery, even with the woman he’s supposed to hook up with, seeing as this is a romance and all.

As I said in the beginning of this review, about midway through I became concerned that so many characters were starting off in negative territory I didn’t think there was a possible happy ending for any of them, much less the hero. I was beginning to not care in the least what happened to Connie, the family, the vines, or the brothers, and wanted a very large glass of wine to medicate myself. I was as miserable as Matt. This is not the reaction I go looking for in a romance.

In a rare move for me, I started looking for reviews to see if there was any hope for me and this book. Even if there were spoilers, I didn’t want to waste any more emotion and time if there wasn’t going to be a satisfactory ending. Seriously, this book was making me miserable.

I found this review which not only echoed everything that was bothering me about the mother but indicated that the ending wouldn’t resolve as happily as I’d wished. There was so much negative to overcome, there weren’t enough pages to make it so. No vines were growing strong under the pile of manure that was this family, and it was time for me to stop being angry and go read something else.

Matt’s mother and brothers needed the Anvil of Justice or at least a Righteous Asswhupping and a Big Ol’ Grovel to restore any balance of happiness. But Matt was expected to come around to their way of thinking, which was of course “the right way to be.” I didn’t care much about the heroine, who was all too often whiny, resentful, quiet when she needed to speak up, and speaking up when she ought to have kept quiet. I was angry at everyone in the story except for the hero, and sympathized with his desire to be independent.

I didn’t want him to end up with Connie or anyone present in the story. I didn’t want to listen to another character telling Matt that wanting to continue his career was selfish, that he should value a family who mistreated him and cut him off more than his own desires. I could tell by the point where I stopped reading that the only “happy ending” would be for Matt to succumb to the crazy that surrounded him and “realize” that they were right, that he did want to stay home, live in Virginia, run the family business, be with Connie and her creepy crushing-on-him daughter, and stay there forever and ever amen. This is not a happy ending in my opinion, and judging from the review I found, that’s the ending I was going to get. This is not even a compromise. This is Stockholm Syndrome.

More importantly, the message of the novel was aborrhent: tolerate what you despise, endure what you feel is abuse because family is more important. To me, that is the antithesis of romance. Romance is about being the best version of yourself, and valuing yourself and others as much as those around you value you.

Really, what I wanted most was for Matt to say, “Screw you. I’m going to honor my commitments and be with people who aren’t manipulative assholes” and end the story after chapter one.

The Prodigal Son is available at Amazon | Kindle | BN | nook | AllRomance | Book Depository | Powell’s |

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Kelly Bishop says:

    Uggh. Thanks for saving me from a wallbanger. But I’ve seen that attitude in real life not just in books. Somehow, no matter how rotten a person is, if they share the same DNA with you, you’re supposed to stick with them no matter what. Not for me.

    I remember when they caught the Unabomber, some people criticized his brother for turning him in. The guy was a lunatic killer but no that made his brother a “traitor” to some.  Give me a break.

  2. 2
    Alyssa Cole says:

    Wow. I’m angry just from reading your review, it’s no wonder that you couldn’t finish the book! I don’t expect every romance novel to be perfect, but having characters that don’t incite the reader to violence should probably be a prerequisite.

  3. 3
    IvoryTower says:

    All of what you’ve said is truly rage-inducing and not something I’d want to have to deal with in a book, but let me just say, the second I saw the title “Prodigal Son”, I immediately eye-twitched.

    Because I suspect that, once again, someone does not know the meaning of ‘prodigal’.

    wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.
    giving or yielding profusely; lavish (usually followed by of or with ): prodigal of smiles; prodigal with money.
    lavishly abundant; profuse: nature’s prodigal resources.
    a person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance; spendthrift.

    I get the distinct feeling that is not a way to describe the hero. I think seeing the words, “Ah, the prodigal son returns” has so thoroughly engraved itself across peoples’ brains that they didn’t bother to look up what it means, and think it means ‘absent’.

  4. 4
    Ellielu says:

    An nice pair of Felco pruners don’t come cheap. I’d try to distract the hero by copping a feel so that I could get my hands on those pruners too!

  5. 5

    Thank you for the warning. There is so much awful in the plot for this story that I don’t quite know where to direct my horror.  Poor hero. I definitely want to have an intervention and tell him to get back to that Australian Vineyard where his real happily ever after is waiting.

  6. 6
    Jane says:

    Oh dear. And I recommended the Aidan book to you.  I haven’t read this one but maybe you shouldn’t read the Aidan book. Manipulative mom makes her presence known.

  7. 7

    Ouch. I know Beth. She won a RITA last year. I typically don’t read SuperRomances so I don’t have opinion about this one…but it was surprising to see her latest book was a DNF.  Yikes.

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    Is this the Cheating Book you were telling me about? This might be the Most Dysfunctional Romance Family ever. Seriously. Time for a cage match with some paragon of familiar excellence like the Bridgertons or something. Holy crap.

  9. 9

    That books sounds horrible!  Thank you for reading it, so I don’t have to.  Way to take one for the team.

  10. 10
    Jane says:

    No, Sarah, the cheating book is the June Blaze by Tori Carrington and I advise you to stay away.  It features a heroine who cheats on the hero with the hero’s BFF.  The hero is a Marine who is deployed at the time and comes back because he is wounded.  Hey, but the heroine and BFF don’t kiss and do it doggy style so it’s all okay.

    Aidan’s book is about a reunited lovers. The heroine left the hero early on in the marriage because the family was shitful to her (big surprise, right) and because she was tired of being wanted for the roles she played (i.e., beauty queen for Aidan).  She left him and struck out on her own.  (Sounds familiar, right).  She comes back to plan the wedding reception of the mother.  I liked it because the heroine isn’t regretful about walking out on the marriage.  She says it was the best thing for her.  Clearly everyone needs to get away from that horrible family.  Including Aidan.

  11. 11
    SB Sarah says:

    Have mercy. These people are horrible!

  12. 12
    Phyllis says:

    “Grow where you’re planted” is one of my least favorite sayings.

    Just so you know.

  13. 13

    I can’t read that hero’s name (Matt Sheppard) without thinking about Matthew Shepard, the boy who was beaten to death for being gay. Famous case, Lifetime movie, Hate Crimes legislation?

    I know the name is common but it would probably distract me while reading.

  14. 14
    Sylvia Sybil says:

    I really truly hate the Blood is Thicker Than Water trope. I love my family because they are good people who support me and care for me, not because we have DNA in common. They’re family by choice as well as blood, and the choice is far more important to me.

    I would cut off both of these mothers in an instant, and possibly the brothers as well. Seriously, who benefits from having that type of person in their life?

  15. 15
    Annbkreader99 says:

    I haven’t read this book, but now I don’t have to!  I hope the hero did go back to Australia.  What awful parents!


  16. 16
    headgirl says:

    You had me at DNF…but appreciated the why.

  17. 17
    Kerry Allen says:

    Holy flaming crap on a cracker. This sounds close enough to home to send me to therapy.

    For stories such as these, we have the *handwave*. As in:

    *handwave* While Matt made a run to the store for some Raid to kill the bug up his mother’s ass, an enormous sinkhole opened up beneath the vineyard, destroying it and everyone at it. Matt received billions in insurance money, with which he started what became known as The Greatest Vineyard Evar and started a charity dedicated to freeing the victims of dysfunctional families from their shackles of oppression and guilt. The End.

  18. 18
    Mo says:

    This sounds terrible.  I’m all for family reconciliation when possible, but not if the family acts like that!  How wonderful to take the lessons learned from growing up in a winemaking family, build on them, and then work internationally in that field.  Members of a healthy family might say “we miss you in our family business, but good for you for being successful.”

    I doubt I could finish this either.

  19. 19
    Ash says:

    I mean really… I read books to take myself AWAY from the s**t in my life. Who the Hell wants a leisure activity that makes you miserable?

  20. 20
    Kristyn says:

    Like Jill, I immediately thought of the Matthew Shepard case, too. Even if this book sounded good, I doubt I could get past the name.

  21. 21
    Kerry Allen says:

    And let’s have a look at what’s happening on that cover, shall we? It looks like he’s going to stab her with a potato peeler, while she’s trying a stealth disarming maneuver over his shoulder and getting in position for a spleen-rupturing jab if that fails.

  22. 22
    ev says:

    Was that a full or empty wine bottle you wanted to beat her with??

  23. 23
    HelenMac says:

    Key-risht, that books sounds truly awful. I got so angry just reading your summary of the plot that the WHAT THE FUCK reaction was completely understandable.

  24. 24
    Anony Miss says:

    I like Kerry Allen’s version above. I’d read that.

  25. 25

    Susan Mallery had a mother (?) like that in one of her trilogies. She was so evil in the first book, that when she has a heart attack in her office at the beginning of the second book, I was REALLY hoping the son (?) would step over her twitching body, close the door, and leave her there. Yet by the beginning of the third book, she was everybody’s best friend and the greatest person ever.


    I didn’t care WHAT the author did, this woman was unredeemable, and no matter how much Susan Mallery wanted me to like her, it Wasn’t Happening.

    *Might have been grandmother/grandson. It’s been a while.

  26. 26

    As a bad-mother emigrant who fled almost 2K miles at age 18, and who still suffers from crippling guilt about saving herself, this book would be a problem for me.

    But mostly I wanted to comment on the odd neck action of the heroine on the cover. I assumed the review was going to be about the neck. She’s looking a bit Jar Jar, don’t you think?

  27. 27
    sheri williams says:

    lynda the guppy, i think it was the grandmother. are talking about Gloria in the Buchannan books? I hated her too, I’m not sure I could have forgiven her. Don’t know how her family did.

  28. 28
    Diva says:

    Terrific review!

    Now, WHY would Matt want to save the jobs of his judgy, hateful brothers? WHY would he accept mom’s decision instead of:
    (a) saying “screw that” and returning to Australia
    (b) having her declared mentally incompetant and letting the bros take over

  29. 29
    Emily says:

    @Ivory Tower, thank you for defining prodigal:
    I consider myself a Christian and this book offends my religious sensibilities. I know christians don’t own the term prodigal but its a famous story associated with my religion. In the story the son squanders his inheritance and ends up completely Broke; only to come home to his father who is delighted to see him and celebrates his return with no conditions.
    The point of the story is the father’s unconditional love; which is Clearly missing here.
    I would expect if someone was to write a book based on Shakespeare play they would read the play. Or if you wanted to write the Scarlet Letter as a romance novel you would read the Scarlett Letter.
    Also in the original prodigal son the older brother is mad at the father for forgiving the son when the older brother has worked so hard. I could understand that the older brothers here would be mad at the Mother that makes sense, but to mad at the son for his mom?
    Oh and the father in original story didn’t begrudge his younger son leavng. I could understand being disappointed if No one took over the business, but he had two other sons!
    Finally Matthew Sheppard!!!! HUH! The Prodigal Son , like a lot of pariables, is mentioned Only in the gospel of Luke.
    Of Course maybe that’s not a religious thing. There’s an actor with that name right.
    (sorry if this post is too religious. I promise I don’t talk about God all the time.)

  30. 30
    ninjapenguin says:

    Man, I think I would have hopped the first flight back to Australia and changed my phone number. What a shitty family.

    Just finished reading Charlaine Harris’s Grave Surprise which was a nice antidote to this horribleness, as the heroine and hero both refuse to apologize for avoiding their extremely toxic parents, even if others try to guilt them into forgiving and forgetting.

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top