Review: His Real Father by Debra Salonen (2005)

Heat Factor: Sexy but not explicit

Character Chemistry: Too much baggage

Plot Development: Quiet

Overall: Soothing, but not that interesting

I live in a neighborhood where there are literally a dozen Little Free Libraries within walking distance, which means that I get a lot of my smut from various free boxes. This might help explain why I read such an idiosyncratic mix of books – especially when I pull out random books from obscure authors that are more than ten years old. On the plus side, this gives me the opportunity to share some forgotten gems (and duds) with people!

That was definitely the case with this book, which I grabbed (despite it being a Harlequin SuperRomance, which is generally not my jam) because the back cover made it sound so salacious and like an episode of Maury. I mean, it’s about a woman who loves twin brothers (both of them) and then doesn’t know which of them fathered her son.

In reality, however, this book is more like a Hallmark Movie. (The parallel most likely occurred to me because I recently read this piece on Hallmark Movies, which is part of Caroline Siede’s excellent series on Rom Coms for The A.V. Club) It is warm and fuzzy and not salacious at all and also really more about processing grief than a love triangle.

Here’s the deal. It was love at first sight for Lisa and Joe, when they met in the seventh grade. However, they were twelve, so nothing came of it. Instead, they became best friends, and Lisa started dating Patrick, Joe’s twin brother, because of reasons that are not entirely clear – mainly because he showed overt interest, and she was a teenager? Then Lisa gets pregnant, and before she and Patrick can get married, Patrick dies in a drunk driving accident.

The book actually opens 18 years later. Joe is a successful filmmaker, but in classic Hallmark Movie fashion, is questioning life in the big city, so heads back to his hometown for an extended visit. There, he reunites with Lisa, who is still the girl next door. They rekindle their friendship, let loose a few flying sparks, and agonize over their respective relationships to the long-dead Patrick.

So far, so good. Showing people processing grief in a healthy way is a positive thing for a romance novel to do. As is having characters grapple with questions of paternity like the mature adults they are. However, there were several aspects of this book that I just couldn’t get past, which made me not really like it all that much, even though it is largely inoffensive.

First, reading this book in a thoughtful way made me realize that I like a little more fantasy in my romance novels. Which is why I love historicals and paranormals, and also why the contemporaries that I do enjoy involve things like secret princesses or billionaires whose yachts have yachts.

This book is about ordinary people in the here and now, so I found myself a lot more critical about the small details.

Mainly: GIRL, you live in the Central Valley in California, why are you leaving the hose on while you wash your car!!! Isn’t there a drought happening, like pretty much all the time???

More substantially, we only get to know Patrick through flashbacks. Because these flashbacks are related to Lisa and Joe coming to terms with all components of their relationship with him – not just the guilt they feel for not being able to stop him from drinking – the flashbacks mainly show him in a negative light. And based on these flashbacks, the dude was an asshole. Not just any kind of asshole, but a manipulative asshole who dated Lisa specifically to get at his twin brother. The relationship that he had with Lisa was also abusive, enough so that there was at least one incident caught on camera that caused a public fight between the brothers, so at least someone knew it was wrong even then.

All of this is to say that the central conflict of the book centers around a relationship that was complete and utter garbage. A true weakness here is that Salonen never really gives Lisa a good reason for having chosen Patrick – there is something about Patrick was safe because he would stay in the same place, whereas Joe was leaving to be an artist, but I didn’t buy it.

Buy Now: Amazon

NOTE: The link brings you to a book called Never Say Never, but I’m 99% sure it’s the same book, repackaged and re-released in 2017 by a different publisher.

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