Baby, Oh Baby!
Baby, Oh Baby! is a new twist on some familiar themes in that it combines both secret baby and the marriage of convenience plots. It is well written, believable, and has likable characters. Yet I found I had to force myself to pick up the book to finish it. It just never engaged my interest.
Jake Chastaine, a corporate lawyer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been receiving letters thanking him for being a sperm donor. The catch is Jake has never donated his sperm. The closest he came is giving a backup sample for the in-vitro procedure he and his wife were planning before her death. So Jake visits the fertility clinic for answers. Left alone with one of the clinic’s computers, while waiting on management, he looks up his name and discovers his sample was used without his consent. Jake copies down the info of the woman involved, and when management arrives he threatens them with a lawsuit until they tell him what he already found out from the computer.
Annie Hollister is a single mother by choice. After watching her parents’ marriage fail and having her own fall apart, she decided to have a child on her own. A former advertising executive, Annie has set herself up on a ranch she inherited outside of Lucky, Oklahoma, raising alpacas and reading tea leaves. When a gentleman comes to her door, she assumes he’s the grandson of a friend wanting his leaves read. She thinks he looks familiar, but doesn’t know why until her 14-month-old daughter toddles in and the resemblance makes it clear Jake is the baby’s father.
At first Jake thinks Annie is flighty, but upon further reflection decides she’s devoted to their daughter, Madeline. Hoping to do what is in the best interest of his child, Jake tries to get to know Annie. Jake’s father-in-law, Tom, sees Annie as someone trying to take his daughter’s place, and makes things so rough for Annie that Jake proposes marriage to keep Tom from harassing her. Jake is worried about being disloyal to his late wife, Rachel, and fights his feelings for Annie tooth and nail. But Annie is determined to make their marriage real, because she’s already lost her heart to Jake.
Jake and Annie are likable characters. Both are devoted parents. Jake is rightfully angry upon discovering he’s fathered a child without his knowledge, and commendably takes time to think rationally about what is best for his daughter before acting on his anger. Annie, for her part, is reasonably wary when Jake shows up. She worries that he’ll want to take the child from her, but when a health crisis arises, she takes a chance and trusts he’ll do the right thing. I could easily believe in these two falling in love. The problem is that the author undermines their growing feelings by belittling what Jake had with Rachel.
Every time Rachel is mentioned, it is a subtle criticism. She stopped Jake from his favorite hobby of woodworking because it didn’t match her décor. She wouldn’t let Jake get a dog because it would mess up her house. She made Jake quit his job with the DA’s office because she was jealous of the time he spent at work. It seemed as though the author was reluctant to give readers credit for acknowledging that Jake could have loved two different women at different times. Yes, we’ve seen this before, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly effective, just a staple.
My real problem with the book is that I just didn’t care about Jake and Annie. I felt more emotional involvement in Jake’s in-laws’ marriage. Tom and Susanna after two years are still working their way through their grief over Rachel’s death. Susanna, coming out of a deep depression, realizes she’s about to lose her husband to another woman. Watching Susanna fight to save her marriage and Tom coming to grips with Rachel’s death was handled very well and was, unfortunately, much more interesting than the primary romance.
Overall, you could do worse than spend some time with Jake and Annie, two nice people finding love amidst a difficult situation. I just couldn’t get involved with these characters, and the author’s depiction of Jake’s late wife rankled. Baby, Oh Baby! just wasn’t the book for me.