A Smidgeon of a Review for a Mite of a Book: Jill Sorenson’s STRANDED WITH HER EX

Stranded With Her ExCategory romance is an appetizer. Miss Bates reads it as a bridge over to something more substantial, a breather in the race to a longer historical, or contemporary. There are category writers that she would never treat this way: Karina Bliss, the divine Sarah Mayberry, Molly O’Keefe, Janice Kay Johnson, Karen Templeton, Carla Kelly, and Cheryl St. John. She quite likes Sarah Morgan and India Grey, sometimes Jessica Hart, Liz Fielding, and Donna Alward. So, not all category romances are treated cavalierly by Miss Bates; in Sorenson’s case, however, she carelessly brandishes a sword of disapproval.

Stranded With Her Ex is an attempt to structure a category romance as a “closed-room” mystery, throw in gothic atmosphere, conjure a ghost, mix in environmental ethics, blend in a damaged heroine, make your hero both stalwart and weepy, whip in a crazed baddie, man-eating sharks, clinically explicit love scenes (yuck), and toss in a pinch of inspirational miracle-dust. Voilà! A mess of a romance novel. Taken individually, some of these elements are actually pretty good, but as a smorgasbord, not so much. The juggling of disparate material results in the stilted style of a writer who has to tell you everything because she couldn’t, especially given the length constraints of category romance, describe or develop them.

Sometimes you read a book and know exactly where the author’s heart lies. In Sorenson’s case, everything comes alive when she’s describing the island, the weather (yes, the weather, the sea, the fog), or the wildlife of the island setting. There’s a great, tender scene with a seal pup and another suspense-filled one with sharkies! The writing can take on character and élan when she describes a scene of danger or suspense. The romance, the characterization, the endless backstories, the dusting of inspirational woo-woo … um, disappointing. Moreover, Miss Bates is fascinated by any romance writer who can write a good weep for her hero (heroine watering pots are easy) and Ms Sorenson tries, she really really does. But, if your character isn’t convincing, then his weeping won’t be either.

If you’d like to know what it’s about in greater detail, you know where to look. If you’d like to read it, you’ve been warned, but Miss Bates wouldn’t discourage you. There are things here you might enjoy. This is a “might” of a book: it had potential. However, all Miss Bates can say is, “rubs and disappointments everywhere.” Mansfield Park

Stranded With Her Ex was published by Harlequin in 2011 and is available in the usual places. Miss Bates purchased it in the Great Harlequin Coupon Joy of 2011-12.

If you’ve read this romance novel and can convince Miss Bates otherwise, she’d love to hear from you! She really wanted to like it a lot better than she did.