Father to Be
I’m not one who generally enjoys “issue” romances, so when this one came across my desk, I stifled a groan – how could I enjoy a romance about a recovering alcoholic? And, given the fact that the book not only featured alcoholism, but a passel of kids to boot, I was predisposed not to enjoy this book. Was I ever wrong! Father to Be came thisclose to earning Desert Isle Keeper status from me; I strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a mixture of family, small town quirks, and a hearty dose of romance and redemption.
Psychiatrist J.D. Grayson has lived in the small town of Bethlehem for a while now. He’s no longer a big city big-shot, but after putting his drinking days behind him, life in the slow lane suits him just fine. When a mysterious social services employee asks him to foster four children ranging in age between 5 and 12, he’s got his doubts, but takes them in anyway. None of the children want to be there. After their mama left, their poor white-trash daddy took care of them as best he could. He too has disappeared, leaving Caleb to care for his younger siblings by hook and by crook. (The real reason for the disappearance, as well as Caleb’s steadfast belief in his father’s return is incredibly moving.)
Social worker Kelsey Malone is new to town and has been assigned the case. Kelsey goes by the book, which may work elsewhere, but not in Bethlehem, where she and J.D. are attracted to one another. If Kelsey had access to J.D.’s complete file, she’d never have agreed to let the children stay with him – you see, his alcoholism is something no one in town knows about. Neither is anyone aware that he has an adolescent son living with his dead wife’s parents; he gave up paternity after she died.
J.D. and the children, in particular, Caleb, are injured souls who live their lives in survival mode. To a lesser extent, so does Kelsey. When these individuals combine, the results are explosive and ultimately healing. But there is much to battle along the way. Caleb’s younger siblings follow his lead, and he does not trust J.D. for one second. For his part, though J.D. is trained to handle difficult children, he has great difficulty relating to them on a human level. Through many small gestures, in an incremental fashion, he manages to reach out to them, although a child’s lie uttered late in the story almost wrecks everything.
Rarely have I read a romance that so seamlessly integrates family drama and romance. J.D.’s growing relationship with the children is so enjoyable to read; he comes to need these vagabonds as much as they need him. In this regard, Father to Be reminds me of the best of Nora Roberts, which is high praise indeed. And, the town of Bethlemen itself comes alive – in essence, it acts as a secondary character. The quirks of the inhabitants are humorous, but the town is not sugar-coated. Indeed, Caleb’s suffering at the hands of a town bully is rendered poignantly.
The relationship between Kelsey and J.D. grows believably as well; their chemistry is complimented by Kelsey’s skeptical suspicious nature. Overall, the book works on both levels until the end, which has a manufactured feel to it. Both storylines move along until they merge in a crisis, which is resolved rather too quickly and too easily. I was glad to see the book end as it did, but it reads as though the author had to cut a chapter or two to meet her word count.
Don’t let the light-hearted cover fool you; this is not a frothy read, although some of Bethlehem’s inhabitants will surely make you laugh. And Pappano’s introduction of J.D.’s father into the story was a terrific idea – would that everyone’s father were as helpful and loving as he. This is one of those books that stays with you for some time because it combines so many wonderful elements. Even those who don’t like children in books will come to care for Caleb and his siblings.
Since reading this book I’ve been on a Marilyn Pappano glom. I’ve bought the book preceding it, Some Enchanted Season, as well as some of her series romances. I’ll let you know how they go, but please do yourself a favor and grab Father to Be – you’ll be very glad you did.