Top critical review
Grease meets 50 Shades and Master Chef, and don’t forget the hunky firemen
on 28 September 2014
Grease meets 50 Shades and Master Chef, and don’t forget the hunky firemen
A review of Always on My Mind by Jill Shalvis
2.5 stars really
This is my second novel by this author. I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but I didn’t like it that much either. It was probably not such a good idea to read two books by this author one after another as I felt like I was reading the first novel (Instant Gratification) all over again as similar elements were present, ie: 1) a heroine with awful parents, 2) a really hunky hero (which is always welcome!) 3) another small town setting; 4) a heroine having to give up a big career opportunity in order to get her man and HEA; 5) the requisite eccentric “nice” small town folks.
However, in this novel, the romance centers around two long-time friends confronting the dilemma as to whether they will continue being just friends or whether they should pursue developing a more intimate/romantic relationship. This kind of story has been done a lot of other times in other romance and chick-lit novels (and in the movies, you have When Harry Met Sally). We all know that for this type of novel, the HEA will mean the friends will become something more. So for me, the real important part of the novel is the journey to get there, that is, if I’m reading a romance dealing with this topic, I would like:
1) convincing blockers that the two friends really need to surmount to be together
2) some real tension between the two or doubts as to whether changing the dynamics of their relationship is really worth it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find the “blockers” presented in the novel to be convincing enough.
So what are these blockers?
[My apologies for the following spoilers, but I cannot give an honest review without them.]
From Jack’s (the hero) perspective, he is afraid of committing himself and starting a family with anyone because he doesn’t want any future wife and family he might have from going through the same traumatic experience he and his Mom went through after his father died in the line of duty as a fireman. Ok, this to me doesn’t make any sense. For starters, if he’s truly concerned about causing trauma to any future family and wife, what about the trauma he can cause to his present family? Isn’t his mother also family? Considering that she was already shattered by the death of her husband, did he ever think for one minute that his own possible death can compound the trauma for her? Imagine, losing both husband and son in the line of duty! Why is he only considering the trauma he might inflict on any future wife should he die, when his mother could just be devastated? Actually, why did he even decide to be a fireman in the first place? To honor the memory of his Dad who died a hero as the author wrote? Really? So basically, he becomes a fireman even though he doesn’t really like being one, and he’s still willing to put his life in danger even though he already knows how it shattered his Mom? WTF?
Also, if you disregard his current “turmoil” about his profession, it was mentioned that in the past he was thinking of having a more serious relationship with Leah, but she ran away. Fine, so why then is his profession being used as a reasoning in the present, when it didn’t seem to matter so much in the past?
From Leah’s (the heroine’s) perspective, she is absolutely messed up after years of verbal and emotional abuse from Dad. Ok, I get this. However, during her painful years of growing up in an abusive household, she always ran to Jack, so this indicates to me that Jack is not the sort of person who would be treating her the same way her Dad did. So maybe she didn’t want to commit to Jack because she wants to be a professional pastry chef and open her own business in the big city. But nope, she doesn’t seem to want to commit to this ambition either. She also didn’t seem to have any problems living in Lucky Harbour. Despite the painful memories of her life there with her parents, overall, she seemed happy there because of her grandmother and her friends. By the time the story opened, it was also established neither one of her parents were there anymore, so I ask, what’s stoping from her from living there permanently in the first place? Was it her big failure shown on national TV? No not really, because the people in the town still loved her after that, Jack still loved her, she still loved the town, oh well, it's just confusing!
Even at the early chapters of the book, I just can’t figure out, why I have to wait for so many pages before these two realise they should be together. It’s very obvious they were very much attracted physically to one another and were emotionally dependent as well. There was no third party involved on either side. They didn’t seem to have any problems having sex. In fact, the two were almost on par with Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey (from 50 Shades) -- the author just kept on placing them in non-bedroom settings (ie a cave, the beach, office near kitchen of bakery, a hot water tub) to have sex numerous times. And by golly, despite the awkward setting, the hero or heroine is always ready with a supply of condoms like Christian Grey! (Wow! It's great the author is promoting safe sex, thought I'm wondering whether a condom was used during the hot tub scene because the logistics is baffling to me... :-))
In some ways, this novel reminded me of this parody, Mad Magazine published for the movie, Grease. In the parody, a comment was made on how, Sandy and Danny, the lead heroine and hero, seemed to be always finding ways to fight and break-up after each time they get together to stretch the story out. The same comment could be applied to this novel as it became a bit tedious to find Leah and Jack having passionate sex one moment, then having a fight or stating that what they’re doing is a bad idea, but then afterwards, they’ll have sex again, and so forth! It just got a bit ridiculous!
Then there are the other minor characters. Now, I understand the author cannot fully develop all of them, as some will be featured in the other novels of this series and she doesn’t have the space. However, it would have been nice to get a better understanding of Leah’s parents. The Dad seemed so one-dimensional. There was no explanation as to why he was so abusive towards his daughter. Leah’s Mom is almost non-existent, and you’re left to ponder why she didn’t defend her daughter at all. Then there’s the grandmother who played an important role as she is the reason Leah went back in the first place to Lucky Harbor. I couldn’t even remember if she was a paternal or maternal grandmother. But regardless of which side she was a parent of, I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t put a stop to the verbal abuse. If Leah’s Dad was her son, surely she could have said something; same is true if she was the mother of Leah’s Mom.
As in the previous novel I’ve read by this author, the novel is again set in a small town. On the plus side, I didn’t get the strong irritating “Good small town versus Evil big city” vibe I got from Instant Gratification, and at the end there was a strong case (apart from the guy/hero) as to why the heroine decided to come back and stay in the town permanently. However, when you have read one too many type of novels like this (like I have), you just begin to wonder why these small towns continue to have a small population if they are as “heavenly” described as the author seems to describe them. Also, I just couldn’t figure out why the heroine always seems to be the one giving up a big chance career-wise to be with the hero. Wouldn’t it be refreshing for a change to have the hero do the moving to be with the girl for a change?
Lastly, I know a lot of readers may not agree with me, but the constant objectifying of firemen in the book was a bit annoying. Honestly, judging how much firemen are objectified in this story (and no doubt in other romance series out there), you’d start to wonder whether looks are an important requisite to be a fireman in the US. (Sorry, in my corner of Australia, where I reside, I haven’t seen that much calendar-worthy firemen, so the idea of the swoon-worthy fireman is up there alongside any other mythological creatures for me. :-))
After two misses, I think I would have to give up on Jill Shalvis. While I like her writing style, hunky heroes and steamy sex scenes, her obsession with stories always set up in small towns where a heroine is always required to be the one giving up a career opportunity to get her hero and HEA is just not my cup of tea.