After historical romance, Miss Bates loves category. Ever since she read some of Wendy’s recommendations, she’s found the concentrated-focus-on-the-romance bent of them so satisfying. And, darn it, Harlequin, though no longer the sole publisher of category-type romance, has such appealing covers that, truth be told, they’ve drawn Miss Bates in. There are promises in those covers and Miss Bates has stood at the bookstore till hoping they’ll bear fruit. Many times they have: she’s loved many a category romance and counts Sarah Mayberry as one of her favourite romance writers, followed by Molly O’Keefe, Karina Bliss, Donna Alward, Liz Fielding, Jessica Hart, and the beloved Betty Neels, of course. She’s loved the HP line (she’s looking at you, Sarah Morgan and Kelly Hunter) with a love that is matched only by her love for funky shoes and frothy coffees. With so many lines and volumes appearing monthly, however, quality can vary … and Tina Beckett’s Her Hard To Resist Husband, with its mouthful of a title, was flawed, not the worst Miss Bates has read, but most definitely not memorable, or interesting, or quirky as category romance can be.
Let’s begin with the silly premise: in Piaui, Brazil, Doctors Tracy Hinton and Ben Almeida, married though separated for four years, are re-united when she begs for his help with a village epidemic of leptospirosis. (Miss Bates had to look that up.) There’s much seething resentment in the sexy Dr. Almeida against desperate and despairing Dr. Hinton. She risked their “baby” (gosh, how Miss Bates dislikes that ploy) four years ago by running around “stamping out infectious diseases,” as Dr. Ben points out. Whereupon, poor Miss Bates had Nancy Sinatra singing “These boots are gonna walk all over you” in her head and couldn’t get it out. Darn, that doctor lady should have known better than to do her job. Despite Dr. Almeida’s evidence to the contrary, Tracey loved “their baby,” loved Ben, but she had a painful secret, a secret that she was too torn up about to share. Ben sent in the military to remove her from a dangerously contagious yellow-fevered village (even though Tracey’d been immunized) and her anger and frustration at his actions … oh, and the miscarriage … when she returned had her walking out on “their marriage” (another expression Miss Bates dislikes). Therein lie the problems with the mess-and-jumble that is the first half of this romance: the implausibility of it and The Secrets. (Believe it or not, it did improve in the second half.)
Ben and Tracey are terribly unconvincing doctors, even though Miss Bates can’t tell a syringe from a turkey baster. They sound idiotic at worst and inauthentic at best when they’re discussing medical details. Initially, it looks like they’ll have to be quarantined in this bitty lab together. Suddenly, the epidemic that they’re fighting is bubonic plague and they’re on their way to the village to combat it. Maybe this is accurate, but Miss Bates has been spoiled rotten by Sarah Morgan and Betty Neels, whose medical romances are seeped in the everyday rhythms of a doctor’s/nurse’s day, not this confusing and high medical drama. Neels’s and Morgan’s are knowledgeable medical romances and hard to live up to, so Miss Bates was willing to cut Ms Beckett some slack vis-à-vis the medical details. However, this aspect of the narrative feels as if the author tried to explain things away, as if she was anticipating the reader’s disbelief. The medical info-dump came off cue cards; it was not lived experience.
Tracey and Ben are both hard-to-know and hard-to-like. Add to this the peculiar phrasing, the worst of which is Ben and Tracey referring to conception as her having “fallen pregnant.” This is, unfortunately, repeated. It is a most bizarre expression: one can fall ill, Miss Bates supposes, but to “fall pregnant”? There are other things that don’t make sense, like Tracey’s claustrophobia. This is problematic when she and Ben are stuck in the lab. Ben voices the ridiculous line, “Is your claustrophobia going to be a problem?” Um, yes. However, Tracey tells us that danger and entrapment are part of her job, but she can’t handle a lab? There a strange flashback to a love-making scene from their marriage where Tracey reacts as if Ben is too dominant and enclosing. Miss Bates thought, “Oh no, there isn’t enough wrong with this lady, she’s also been raped, or abused.” No, no, that wasn’t it at all. The issue was dropped, but the terrible secret remains, though unrelated to the bedroom incident; let’s just say that scene adds to the many many issues Tracey has … and Ben doesn’t know about, in which case, his abandonment issues, left-overs from his mommy-and-daddy, surface to make him more macho and jealous and unreasonable, except his behaviour is forgivable because he doesn’t know the secret.
Miss Bates has yet another peeve: the image of Brazil as a “developping country” still in an era of military dictatorship. Miss Bates is bugged by these images of South American countries that are presented in romance. Beckett talks about Brazil as a freed Portugese colony: really, when did this happen? Early 19th century. Brazil has been free of a military junta since 1985. It is the 7th largest economy in the world and an emerging global power. It has achieved political stability. It has a female president! Miss Bates learned this from the Wikipedia article, easy access, folks! The image of Brazil that is presented in Beckett’s novel is, at best, from the 1970s. Beckett also seems to suggest that Ben is allied with the military when Tracey tells us that “he’d [Ben] always been buddy-buddy with the military.” “Buddy-buddy” with the military? You’re on the wrong side of macho, Dr. Almeida.
Then, a surprising thing happens to Her Hard To Resist Husband. At 52% on the Kobo, the romance picks up. There is a cool pool seduction scene and the dialogue improves. Miss Bates started to like Ben and Tracey, even to root for them. The pool seduction scene is nicely done, nicely written, BUT, even though the Big Secret means that Tracey should be careful of “falling” pregnant and Ben remains uncertain about their relationship, they don’t use a condom. They’re not even concerned, or have a discussion after the fact, the author falling back on the overwhelmed-by-passion scenario. And, they’re doctors! No, instead, it happens … again. This wrong note grates, but there was good stuff here too: the hint of bedroom dominance worked fairly well, their exchanges sounded more real and raw. Tracey and Ben took on some life.
It is also at this point that the Big Secret is revealed to Ben. It is a difficult one for Tracey; her actions and moods make sense in light of. Ben’s macho, hurt-little-boy posturing gives way to a mature, sympathetic, and likeable man who is supportive without being pushy. Tracey grows in sympathy and Beckett writes better about the personal than the political; witness this passage, “The anger had been so strong at the end of their marriage that it was hard to hear anything he said without the filters of the past. Maybe she should start trying to take his words at face value. Maybe he could start doing the same.” Now, thought Miss Bates, we’re getting somewhere. Unfortunately, the Category Romance Moppets show up, sans cuteness. Suddenly, Tracey and Ben have a ready-made family, even though they and the moppets, the morose moppets, haven’t interacted much, much less developped a bond. More medical issues are heaped onto what is already a complex situation and the narrative unravels again. When Tracey’s medical issues come to a head, the scene is rich, interesting, and moving. Our hero weeps, which, as you know, Miss Bates loves.
In the end, Beckett’s romance narrative had potential: she can write a love scene, believable dialogue, and set and sustain a scene with tension and yet make it moving … it’s just that none of these things were done consistently. In the end, what Miss Bates found in Her Hard To Resist Husband was “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Tina Beckett’s Her Hard To Resist Husband has been available from Harlequin Medical Romance since Jan. 1st, in the usual places and formats.
Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin Books for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
What medical romances do you enjoy? And what elements can turn you right off?