Liz Fielding is one of those romance writers whose “closed-bedroom-door” conceit I forgive. Not to belabor the point, but you know my opinion of the closed-bedroom-door romance and its many shortcomings. Fielding, on the other hand, writes the kind of truth-telling, gently-humoured characters I adore. Her prose is fine, elegant and smooth, deceptively simple and subtly rich. Even flawed, it’s easy for me to enjoy her romances, as I did Her Pregnancy Bombshell.
The bombshell in question opens the novel as heroine Miranda “Andie” Marlowe makes her way to the Mediterranean island of L’Isola dei Fiori and her sister’s dilapidated, recently-inherited Villa Rosa. As she tells the customs officer, ” ‘I’m running away.” An intriguing opening and one that drew me in. Andie is escaping a confrontation with her one-night-lover and boss, Cleve Finch, CEO of Goldfinch Air Services, for which Andie flies charters. Andie, we learn, is pregnant, the result of Cleve and her one night of shared passion three weeks ago. For the past year, culminating in that night, Cleve grieved the loss of his wife, Rachel. His devastation is evident in every gaunt line of his face, every pound lost from his formerly-stalwart frame, the absence of his smiles, the sadness in his eyes. Andie, with whom Cleve has shared an affectionate friendship since pre-Rachel, has loved with him since the day she walked into his life as an eighteen-year-old pilot.
Fielding’s opening is marvelous. It’s atmospheric in its descriptions of sun and sand, flora and fauna. Andie is likeable, ruefully funny, honest, and very much aware the man she loves, whose child she carries, is too grief-stricken to go beyond the comfort of a soft touch. Cleve doesn’t see her. Until he does. Because Cleve shows up at the villa to convince her to marry him. Fielding has a great talent of being able to write a hero who is honorable and yet, not stiff, smarmy, or old-fashioned. And, it turns out, Cleve and Andie’s relationship all those years ago, when they first met, pre-Rachel, was of two people falling in love. Why they didn’t stay together is revealed in the novel’s second half.
I’d like to start by talking about why I’ve always liked Fielding’s work. Quoting the following passage will illustrate:
He was saying all the right things, everything expected of a decent man, everything she’d known he’d say, and she wanted to believe him with all her heart. But her heart knew that being ‘okay’ with Cleve Finch was never going to be enough. Knowing that she would never light up his life …
‘Whatever happens I want you to know that I’ll be there with you every step of the way.’
‘Even in the delivery room?’ The words were out before her brain was engaged.
‘I planted the seed, Miranda. I’ll be there for the harvest.’
Fielding’s protagonists are decent, honorable, and true to themselves. Miranda doesn’t want to be the woman, family, and relationship who is just “okay” in Cleve’s life. It isn’t enough for him and it isn’t enough for her. At the same time, she acknowledges what she perceives are Cleve’s personal ideals. Whether it’s honour, or “doing the right thing,” Andie doesn’t want to be someone’s “situational ethic.” But she doesn’t take anything away from Cleve’s thoughtfulness and virtue. Fielding writes romance that may be summed up as “people behaving well.” But what I really like? Her characters, when she doesn’t slide into sentimentality, or angst, express an appealing sense of humour. There’s Clive’s commitment to Andie and their child and then there’s the witty garden metaphor to delight the reader. (Some day, I’d like to write a post on Fielding’s use of garden imagery and symbolism.)
Sadly, while the lovely prose remains throughout, the second half of the novel lapses into romance clichés. Why must the first wife turn out to be so flawed? The first marriage so unappealing? Why can’t a person love two people when one has died? Why must the female figures be split between good and bad girls? With apologies for the spoiler-ish critique, I wanted as much from the second half of Her Pregnancy Bombshell as the first promised. Fielding’s romance is worth reading, but it could’ve been more. With Miss Austen as my reading guide, I’d say that Her Pregnancy Bombshell is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Liz Fielding’s Her Pregnancy Bombshell is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on June 6th, 2017, and may be procured from your preferred vendor. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.