Monday, March 16, 2009

The course of true love never did run smooth...

The Stepmother: A Novel
by Carrie Adams

Bea and Jimmy have a great relationship. They have three beautiful daughters ages 8, 9, and 14, and always seem to be there for each other. Also, they separated four years ago and divorced two years ago. Bea and Jimmy are the poster children for amicable divorce--that is until the day that Bea realizes that she's fallen back in love with her ex-husband. Coincidentally, it's the same day Jimmy tells her, "I've met someone."

That someone is Tessa King. Now, can I just stop right here and say that this is the second book in a row that I've read, and haven't realized it was a sequel until it was far too late to do anything about it. So, FYI, Tessa King is the protagonist of Adams' debut novel, The Godmother. It might have been nice to have known of her single girl looking-for-love back story, but truthfully I don't believe it's necessary to have read the first novel.

As I was saying, Tessa is introduced more than 60 pages in, which gave us plenty of time to really get to know Bea and Jimmy and see all that is good about their relationship. The first four chapters are all told from Bea's point of view, and I was rooting for her. Then, amazingly, the next several chapters were told from Tessa's point of view and I truly empathized with her! The novel switched POV between the two women every several chapters, and my allegiances continued to switch back and forth throughout the novel--through not strictly based on who was currently narrating. Sometimes I felt the most for Jimmy (or James, as Tessa calls him) and sometimes for the kids.

The point is, Carrie Adams did a terrific job of making these characters seem real and empathetic. Love triangles and modern family life are painful. I could really appreciate this difficult situation from all sides. I don't have to give a detailed synopsis of struggles with an unruly teenager, or family dysfunction, or second thoughts. I don't want to tell you the ups and downs these people go through. You'll want to experience that on your own. There's a lot of drama--which might stretch some readers' credulity--but it's no worse than what I've heard from people in real life.

Adams' writing is fine. I don't know that the London setting was integral to the story, but American readers may experience slight confusion over some references or slang. It's nothing too impenetrable. Overall, The Stepmother is an engaging family drama that occasionally veers towards melodrama. In a story like this not every character can live happily ever after, but as a man once said, "All's well that ends well."

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