Had my sister not recommended Mr. Family to me, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. The cover is ultra precious, and the title is just plain bad. But I trust my sister and I’ve read Margot Early before so I figured, “What the heck.” I really wasn’t expecting a story as touching as this one was, but that’s what I got.
Kalahiki Johnson is a young widower with a small daughter, Hiialo. His wife, Maka, died in an automobile accident three years earlier, and Kal is overwhelmed by his responsibilities to Hiialo. He feels like a failure with her because she is high strung and prone to tantrums. His family helps out with her, but he knows she needs a mother. So he advertises for a celibate marriage in the personals of Island Voice, though he thinks the ad is foolish and he’s not certain what kind of person would find a celibate marriage appealing.
But Erika Blade does find the idea appealing. Erika was temporarily rendered paraplegic by a car accident that followed a traumatic family falling out. Erika’s experience with post-recovery sex has been dismal and though she wants a family, she doesn’t want to be intimate with anyone ever again. So Kal’s proposal is perfect. A life-long traveler, Erika can pick up and relocate at any time, and Hawaii is as good a place as any. After a brief written and telephone courtship, Kal proposes that she visit and give motherhood a try, and Erika accepts. But very shortly after her arrival, they both wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake. Kal finds Erika to be much more attractive than he expected and celibacy a much less appealing prospect. Erika senses this, as well as his unresolved grief over his wife, and wonders if in marrying him, she would be doing him a disservice. But clouding these issues is the immediate tenderness that they feel for each other.
This is exactly the kind of category romance that I would hand to someone skeptical about this sub-genre of books. Early’s writing is well researched, well written, intelligent, thoughtful, and tender. She doesn’t play her cards all at once, preferring to dribble out the details of Kal and Erika’s histories a bit at a time in order to hold the reader’s interest and attention. Admittedly the set up of Erika’s situation is a little soap opera-ish, but it’s not played for melodrama and most of the high drama stays in the backstory. This is a lovely character-driven novel with a unique conflict – terror of sex – at its center.
Actually there are two conflicts. The first is Kal’s grief. He’s truly devoted to his late wife’s memory, and although he’s willing to give emotionally to Erika, he’s not willing to let go of Maka. Her shadow stays between them and does some further damage to Erika’s fragile self- confidence. Erika is truly a tormented heroine. She has body issues left over from her paralysis and guilt issues multiplying those. She doesn’t want to have sex because she thinks she’s scarred and unattractive, and she worries that if she does and it’s a failure (which it’s sure to be) Kal will feel awkward forever and it will damage their relationship. And she needs Kal to love her. Early weaves normal post-tragedy guilt, fear, and grief together into an interesting miasma of (almost) crippling emotion.
The resolution of these problems involves exquisite tenderness. Kal and Erika behave with restraint, honor, and kindness toward each other and toward Hiialo, and this culminates in a series of tender and truly beautiful love scenes. Readers who like romantic beta guys should make an effort to track down this book. Kal is worth it.
The secondary characters are also well drawn. Hiallo is a normal child who behaves in believably childish ways. She is not too cute or too precious, though she does have her funny moments. Early describes Hawaii and Hawaiian culture with so much detail that it is a secondary character in its own right. Kal is not ethnically Hawaiian, but he comes from a family that has embraced native Hawaiian culture as its own, so he thinks like an islander and uses the local patois. A critical step in the resolution of his grief involves his taking part in a Japanese/Buddhist dance of mourning and release. This was a lovely final touch of culture for Early to include.
I do enjoy series romance, and I’m always looking for books for my conversion kit. Other people should know that this sub-genre has plenty of treasures in it! I happily recommend Mr. Family to you, Dear Reader. This is wonderful, character-driven romance in a shorter format and should not be missed.