Wednesday, April 20, 2016

TBR Day. Special Interests / Emma Barry. 2014

I remember reading a number of positive reviews of this book when it came out almost exactly two years ago. I'm sure I purchased it on the strength of those reviews, but like too many of the books I buy, it got pushed to the back burner. I was scrolling through my Kindle titles recently and realized that this would be an excellent choice for this month's TBR Challenge.

The blurb:
Compared to love, politics is easy
Union organizer Millie Frank's world isn't filled with cocktails and nightclubs…until she's turned into an unwitting minor celebrity. As if being part of a hostage situation wasn't traumatizing enough, now her face is splashed across the news. But Millie's got fresher wounds to nurse—like being shot down by the arrogant bad boy she stupidly hit on.
Parker Beckett will do whatever it takes to close a deal for the senate majority leader, including selling out union labor. Charming and smart on the surface, he's also cynical and uncommitted—an asset on the Hill. But something about Millie has stuck with him and when negotiations bring her to his office, Parker breaks his own rules and asks her out.
Parker can't understand how Millie has retained her idealism in a place like D.C. Millie can't believe what Parker's willing to sacrifice in order to pass a budget. But as they navigate their political differences, what grows between them looks a lot like a relationship…and maybe even a little like love.
Special Interests by Emma Barry, is a smart, fun look at two people at political odds who cannot fight their attraction to one another. It seemed extremely appropriate to read this book during a time when we in the U.S. have an abundance of "Super Tuesdays." The primaries dominate the news cycle and cynicism about our government abounds. I liked reading a book about two people who are behind the politicians whose faces are in the news, yet are the ones doing the real work of government.

To me, the book's strengths lie in the ways we get to know both Millie and Parker. Parker is a workaholic--any personal time he gives himself is devoted to his mother and his grandparents. Millie cares deeply for the unions she represents, but is also dealing with the trauma of having been caught up in a hostage situation. The dialogue between the two is great and pretty funny in spots. There's real poignancy to Parker's interactions with his grandfather who has Alzheimer's, and also to the way Parker helps Millie with her nightmares. When their personal and professional lives overlap, there is a genuine conflict that needs to be resolved. Passing a budget is a very real issue, as we Americans have experienced in the not-too-distant past. And given a government where compromise isn't on the table, there's a cost to getting results. All of this is so well portrayed in the book.

One aspect I didn't care for so much was that Millie's insecurities got in the way so easily and then what I perceived to be Parker's over-reaction to them. Their relationship is still very new and playing out against a very stressful political issue and suddenly there's an all-or-nothing moment. I had a hard time buying into that. But it only briefly dimmed my enjoyment of the book, and Parker and Millie's reconciliation was sweet and believable.

Altogether, this is an easy book to recommend. I've already purchased Private Politics, the next book in the series, and look forward to reading it.

Monday, April 11, 2016

While You Were Mine / Ann Howard Creel. 2016

I sort of stumbled across this book when it was a March Kindle First* offering. As near as I can tell, Ann Howard Creel (no website found) is primarily a YA author. This is her second "adult" novel. I can't tell if it's being marketed as a romance or not, but it definitely meets the definition, HEA and all.

While You Were Mine uses the iconic photo of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day as it's jumping off point. 
The blurb:

Everything she loved could so easily be lost.
The end of WWII should have brought joy to Gwen Mullen. But on V-J Day, her worst fear is realized. As celebrating crowds gather in Times Square, a soldier appears on her doorstep to claim Mary, the baby abandoned to Gwen one year earlier. Suddenly Gwen is on the verge of losing the child she has nurtured and loves dearly.
With no legal claim to Mary, Gwen begins to teach Lieutenant John McKee how to care for his child, knowing that he will ultimately take Mary away. What starts as a contentious relationship, however, turns into something more, and Gwen must open her heart to learn that love means taking chances.
While You Were Mine paints a vivid portrait of 1940s New York and tells an enchanting tale of the nature of love and trust.

Told primarily in first person from Gwen's POV, the book opens with the celebration in Times Square. But soon Gwen is racing home, only to find John on her doorstep looking for his wife and baby daughter. The book goes back over a year to when Gwen takes a young bride into her apartment as a roommate. Alice is pregnant and because she's had no letters from her husband, she's convinced he's dead. Eventually Alice gives birth to little Mary. But Alice cannot bond with her daughter and becomes increasingly detached. So she tells Gwen that she has to leave and she's going to California. Despite all of Gwen's efforts, Alice walks out leaving Mary behind. At first Gwen is resentful. As a young, single woman who loves the energy of New York City, she is forced to stay home to care for Mary. Gwen knows she could turn the child over to the authorities, but she cannot bear the thought of what might happen to Mary. Over the course of the next year Gwen becomes more and more attached to Mary.

But when John comes home just as the war ends, Gwen knows that she's going to have to give Mary back to John. John is bewildered by that fact that Alice is gone. John had been captured by the Germans and held in a POW camp for nearly a year. His memories of Alice were the incentive he needed to stay alive despite the conditions of his captivity. Everything he had imagined crumbles to dust when he learns Alice is gone. Leaving Mary with Gwen a while longer, he goes to California hoping to find Alice. When his search proves fruitless, he comes back to New York, bringing his sister with him. His plan is to take Mary to Ohio where his sister lives and let his sister help him raise Mary. But when he is back in New York and sees the bond Mary has with Gwen, he cannot separate them and sends his sister alone back to Ohio.

So John stays in New York, finds a place to live and a job, and begins to get to know his daughter. He also gets to know Gwen and slowly a relationship develops between them. John gets a divorce because of abandonment and hopes for a life with Gwen and Mary and maybe more children. But then Alice reappears and John needs to make a choice.

This novel paints a vivid picture of life in America immediately after the war. Men returned home by the thousands and jobs and housing were scarce at first. While John is haunted by his memories, there's a secondary character, Dennis, who is clearly suffering and cannot function normally after his discharge. Gwen herself is very cautious and has a hard time standing up for what she wants. She's guarding her heart from more hurt. John is a pleaser and has a hard time saying no when he ought to. These are flawed characters trying to make a way out of an impossible situation during a time of upheaval and change. Things take place slowly, over the course of four and a half months, which I thought made things more authentic.

I really enjoyed this book. I wasn't always happy with the choices Gwen and John made, and the resolution was rather too easy, although not unexpected. Still, the portrait of life in New York from V-J day to New Year's Eve in 1945 was fascinating. Creel provides just enough detail to give the reader a very strong sense of time and place. This was one of those books I had a hard time putting down. I recommend this book to anyone looking for an unusual historical romance.

*Kindle First is a program for Amazon Prime members. I don't know if it's available outside of the US or not. Anyhow, once a month I get an opportunity to "buy" one book for free from a list of 4-6 books of various genres. There's usually a romance offering, although not always. Usually I've never heard of the authors.