Though Jennifer Greene has been writing for years, TENDER LOVING CARE was my introduction to her and I believe it to be a wonderful one.
Zoe and Rafe are two singles thrown together in the aftermath of their best friends' death and saddled with a set of twins in their toddler years. While the death of their friends is never explained (one of the few issues I had with the book, though it wasn't very essential to the plot), Zoe and Rafe come together despite only meeting once before - at the friends' wedding. Both have been named guardians to the boys (rambunctious but adorable Parker and Aaron) and need to come up with a plan. Both have jobs that are slightly dangerous and unyielding to children; he's a seismologist, she's an oceanographer working with whales.
Though the plot isn't quite original, its execution is unique with Greene's writing that is polished and seasoned. There are revelations to be made but nothing that seems too "out there" or too cliche, which is a problem some romance novels have right now. For six weeks, Zoe and Rafe decide to acclimate themselves to the children, spending three weeks in Rafe's Montana home and another three weeks in Seattle with Zoe. During that time, the two argue, feel electricity with the other, render themselves speechless, and help each other grow in the situation they've found themselves in.
What was really great, though, were the characters. They weren't perfect nor were they complete menaces. Both Zoe and Rafe could have been people in my life. They're real, which as I'm sure you know if you've read previous reviews from me, is a complete plus in my book. Zoe is used to living alone and she's come to terms with a few hardships in her life, hardships that are suddenly, once again, being tested with the appearance of Rafe and the twins. Rafe, on the other hand, is a complete bachelor who starts to see that, maybe, it's time to settle down. Zoe pushes Rafe away while Rafe stays patient in an attempt to make Zoe understand that a new family of the two of them and the twins are exactly what she needs.
I couldn't help but root for the couple to make it. The relationship (friendship or otherwise) is tumultuous, only further exacerbated by two four-year-old boys who aren't sure what's going to happen next and who play the adults like mischievous foxes. Aaron and Parker give a hint of humor and fun in the midst of emotions and seriousness - two things I wasn't expecting much of in this book. They were a realistic mix of impish playfulness and lost uncertainty.
To be honest, the only complaint I had while reading this book (though it's a big one) was the overuse of endearment terms. I happened to notice them littered throughout a book, various ones regarding the characters, from Zoe's nickname from the twins ("Snookums") to sweetheart, love, honey, pumpkin, etc. While couples (or parents/children) may use those terms, it sometimes felt out of place while I read the scenes and managed to take me out of the element of whatever scene I was currently reading. I'm also not sure if it was in the particular electronic copy I was given, but scenes sometimes blended together without a break, even when it was obvious that the second scene happened some time after the one preceding it. It was slightly disconcerting and took a few seconds of rereading to comprehend the shift.
Altogether, TENDER LOVING CARE is a sweet and simple love story littered with bits of humor, realism, and intimacy. I thought I was going to get a whimsical romance but was instead given a study on human nature and relationships.
-- originally reviewed for Ordinary People, Extraordinary Works --