July 2012, Contemporary Romance
Mira, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0778313484 Part of a series
The latest in the authorís Sweet Magnolia series begins where most romances end, with a happy wedding scene featuring not only the bride and groom, but the brideís two children who are eager to marry the man. What follows isnít quite as happy. This definitely qualifies as a Marriage in Trouble but itís not one I would recommend adding to your reading list.
Just a few years after their wedding Karen and Elliott Cruz face major problems. Karenís first husband abandoned her and their two young children, leaving them with overwhelming debt. Now Karen faces similar fears with Elliott. Karenís learned from friends that Elliott went behind her back and arranged to open his own gym with a group of partners. Karen and Elliott donít make a lot of money as restaurant cook (Karen) and personal trainer (Elliott). They work long hours, struggling to save money to have a child. Karen feels Elliottís actions have threatened their plans.
While Elliott and Karen are at the center of the book, theyíre by no means the only story. The book is filled with characters from previous books in the series. The opening pages were slow going as countless characters from previous books had conversations with Elliott and Karen. Iíve read a few earlier entries but was overwhelmed by all the characters. Everyone in town knows everyone else. Theyíre all close friends and are unable to keep secrets. I liked the town in earlier books but it felt cloying here.
I like the premise of telling the story after the traditional HEA, but it didnít work for me for many reasons, chief among them that I didnít care for either Karen or Elliott. Karen finds fault with everything Elliott does and Elliott hides far too much from Karen. I know that in real life disagreements over finances are a major marital stumbling block but Karen and Elliottís discussions with each other and with other people about their disagreements were endless. The two have major communication problems. One of them would talk with a friend about a problem and the next thing you know the friend unintentionally spills the information to the other. After a few such incidents youíd think theyíd remember that no one in town keeps a secret.
This is not the place to start with the Sweet Magnolia series. Karen and Elliottís problems are just one thread. Additional subplots involve Elliottís sisterís crumbling marriage, the fears that one of the older women in town may have Alzheimerís, Elliottís niece acting out over her parentsí crumbling marriage, the troubling behavior of the teenage daughter of a woman in town, and countless mentions of potential marital problems of people I donít recall from other books.
Ultimately there are too many other town residents cluttering up the story. Weíd get a discussion and/or argument between Karen and Elliott and then quickly turn to the problems of other residents or to a discussion between Karen and someone else or Elliott and someone else.
Although the cover labels this a romance it feels more like womenís fiction, and grim womenís fiction at that. Karen and Elliott are dreary and there are too many secondary characters to keep track of. I suspect this will be my last visit with the Sweet Magnolias.
-- LinnieGayl Kimmel
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