Every once in a while my lovely wife encourages me to read something outside my comfort zone.
She’s a big fan of romance novels and is always extolling their virtues to me, trying to encourage me to pick one up and give it a read.
And while I didn’t want a bodice ripper or a paranormal romance (I found myself wishing in later installments of Twilight that Buffy would please show up and just stake every single supernatural creature in the novel already), I decided I would follow her advice and give a romance novel a try.
Browsing my local library’s e-book selection, I stumbled across this novel by Molly McAdams, which is advertised as a coming of age romance story. The cover blurb sounded relatively painless and the cover photo seems to indicate that the standard cliche of a romantic triangle will be at the front and center of the book. It all seemed harmless enough so I decided to take a chance on Taking Chances.
Boy, do I regret that decision.
After growing up under the thumb of her military officer father, Harper decides that for college she wants to move as far away from dear old dad as possible. So, she decides that since he’s on the East Coast, she’ll go to college on the West Coast in sunny California. And so it is that Harper packs her bag and goes west.
She arrives at school knowing no one and being a bit sheltered. Thank goodness she meets roommate who instantly takes Harper under her wing and helps her embrace her inner wild side. A bit of shopping and a quick make-over and Harper is the new hottie on campus, attracting the interest of several suitors including her roommate’s brother, Chase and his frat buddy, Brandon. Of course, Chase is a bad boy, love ’em and leave ’em type of guy while Brandon is…well, pretty much defined by being a)hunky and b)a participant in the local MMA ring.
Instantly, there’s a love triangle formed as Harper can’t decide who she really loves — Cjhase of Brandon. Initially repelled by Chase’s philandering ways, she enters into a relationship with Brandon, even going so far as to meet his family during a school break. All this while she gets close but not too close to going all the way with Brandon. Every time she’s just about ready, something happens, including Brandon getting called out to a big MMA fight and having the stuffing beat out of him. I’m guessing sore ribs don’t make for a great romantic moment.
Meanwhile, Chase continues to show up in her life, professing his love but saying neither he nor Brandon is good enough for Harper.
Did I forget the detail that Chase’s family also “adopts” Harper and she begins to call them Mom and Dad, all while becoming more and more estranged from her father?
So, anyway over Christmas break, Chase and Harper are alone together and….if you really need to guess what happens here, you aren’t paying attention….they sleep together. Twice. And, of course, since this is Harper’s first time and neither has birth control around and they can’t wait to consummate their lust, Harper gets pregnant. And while he’s initially really upset, Brandon accepts it and breaks if off with Harper, leading to her becoming engaged to Chase and planning their future together.
Did I mention that Chase suddenly turns from philandering jerk to supportive fiance all in the course of five pages? (OK, maybe it’s ten…this was on my e-reader after all). Of course, this change of heart means that Chase is not long for this world and is killed in a car wreck, thus defusing the love triangle. Re-enter stage left Brandon who never stopped loving Harper and agrees to marry her even though a)she cheated on him, b)she’s pregnant with another guy’s child who dies about three days ago and c)he was always second choice to her.
Of course, Brandon undergoes the same character assignation that Chase did, becoming so supportive and so excited to be part of instant family.
Oh and I haven’t even mentioned yet that Harper’s best guy friend from her dad’s command transfers to California because he’s been carrying a torch for her all these years and dad gave his blessing to him to transfer and try to win her heart. Of course, Harper has no clue about this and rebuffs hims because she’s way too in love with Brandon and/or Chase.
The problem with all of these guys falling so hard for Harper is that she has exactly no personality nor any defining characteristics besides being a)suddenly hot and b)totally unsure of how she feels about any of these guys. How Harper finds time to go to class is beyond me since all she does is party, sleep in Brandon’s arms and get ready for her next big date. What Harper studies or any other goals in life besides to win the men she loves aren’t really defined and it feels like maybe they should be. It’s hard to see what these guys find so appealing about her that has then all falling all over her like she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Add in that everyone takes in stride that Harper is willing to get engaged not once but twice during her pregnancy. Chase is barely gone from the scene before Harper and Brandon are engaged and planning their life together.
There were multiple points during this book I wanted to throw the novel against a wall…except I was reading it on my Kindle and that would not be a good idea.
Clearly Harper is a Mary Sue character, standing in for McAdams. At the end of the novel, McAdams says she felt like she visiting old friends each time she wrote the novel and that she read sections to her husband every night (poor man!). In a lot of ways, this feels more like a novel written about status updates from Facebook than it is about having real, authentic characters who look or act in believable ways or feel in any way authentic.
And yet I plowed right on through to the end. Because like a bad movie, I kept thinking it can’t get any worse and I had to keep going to somehow prove myself right or wrong.
I’m sure this novel isn’t indicative of the entire romance genre….but it is indicative of how it can go terribly wrong. It’s not often that I give a book one star, but Taking Chances is one of those books that gets a single star rating.