A New Attitude
Quirky characters can be highly amusing when done well. But too many quirks piled on in an attempt to deepen the humor only make a book everything but funny; instead the characters become caricatures and the plot suffers. Charlotte Hughes excels at writing three-dimensional characters who have enough quirks to be interesting. She adds depth by having them grow and change over the course of the stories. In her other single titles she has coupled that ability with strong plotting. Her latest, A New Attitude has the great characterization, but falls somewhat short in the plotting department.
Marilee Abernathy has a life that is suddenly out of control. Her minister husband, Grady, has left her for a trailer park floozy and her teenage son opted to go with him. Those problems are compounded by the fact that everyone in Chickpea, South Carolina knows about her crumbling marriage. Being the wife and a mother has been Marilee’s career and she’s completely lost without them. Her solution? Well, suicide. Luckily, though she’s dressed in her best suit and pearls, Marilee isn’t successful in her first attempt the car runs out of gas before the carbon monoxide can get to her. She changes her mind during her second attempt hanging herself with the ugly curtain cords in her parents’ living room but manages to knock herself out and almost succeed anyway.
Sam Brewer has sold his construction company and returned from Atlanta to Chickpea to be near his mother. His biggest concern has been finding his belongings. His mother keeps burying them in the backyard to keep her unwanted, live-in nurse from stealing them. While on his latest foray with a shovel he hears a scream and a crash from the house next door. After breaking down the door he’s astonished to find an unconscious, well-dressed woman with a noose around her neck.
The opening scenes between Sam and Marilee were delightful. She’s still trying to maintain her dignity while trailing a curtain cord from her neck and he’s convinced she’s loony because she won’t admit that maybe she could use a little help. The two continue to spar after they realize that they knew each other in high school. To Sam, Marilee was an unattainable, respectable cheerleader and Marilee remembers Sam as the bad boy she was supposed to avoid. In less capable hands the hero and heroine could have become the kind of clichés that inhabit so many other contemporary romances: lusting after one another, but convinced they could never be together because of their differences.
Charlotte Hughes certainly touches on that concern but it is only one facet of the growing relationship; one among many. Marilee hasn’t even freed herself of her current entanglements and yet finds herself thinking of Sam much too often. She’s also learning to support herself for the first time and has taken in a pregnant, unwed teen named Winnie. Sam has a lonely mother, a demanding ex-wife and a serious attraction to this woman with major dilemmas.
The supporting characters are just as well developed as the protagonist. Winnie is prickly and defensive, but smart and wryly funny as well. Marilee’s new boss, Irby, runs a funeral parlor, has a slightly twisted sense of humor and is in danger of taking his wife for granted. Sam’s mother was lonely so she made her illness seem worse then it was to bring him home, now she has to figure out how to lessen his concern so he’ll leave her alone. Marilee’s 15-year-old son is hurt and angry and acting out, but still has to figure out how to negotiate his new family situation.
As strong as these people are as characters, they run out of plot about two-thirds of the way through the book. Simply put, if this had been a somewhat shorter book and it would probably have ranked as a DIK. Once Marilee gets her life going again there are several obstacles that crop up, but none is large enough to sustain itself throughout the book. Even the custody situation winds itself into a low-key, less interesting conclusion.
I wasn’t a fan of Ms. Hughes when she was writing for Loveswept, not because of anything she did or didn’t do, but because she was writing for them during a period when I read few if any category romances. Discovering her single titles, such as Valley of the Shadow, led me to some great reads and made me think about looking for some of her category titles. The thought never became deed, but reading her latest has prompted me once again to seek out some of her earlier books. I’d encourage you to give this one a try and perhaps find a new favorite yourself.