heartstrings And we’re back with another Pandora’s Box, this time featuring Heartstrings and Diamond Rings by Jane Graves.

Alison Carter is a jerk magnet, but she keeps convincing herself that meeting the right man is all about “modest expectations.” Seeing her latest boyfriend, Randy, in a mall jewelry store, then hearing him on the telephone talking to a Reverend McCormick, and finally finding a travel brochure on Hawaii doesn’t get her too excited, but then again nothing about him really does. However, when he tells her he has something special to ask her, she puts all the clues together. Finally she will be a bride and have a family. Except Randy’s question is not “will you marry me” but how about you, me, and Bonnie as in a threesome.

After crying on her best friend’s shoulder, Heather tells her about this wonderful matchmaker named Rochelle who found the perfect man for a co-worker. Monday morning, Alison is on the phone and is able to book a lunch hour appointment. Her dream man opens the door, and she decides that Rochelle is psychic only to find that Rochelle died two weeks ago, and her grandson Brandon Scott is taking over her business. No way is she going to pay Brandon fifteen hundred dollars for five introductions. However she doesn’t have a chance against Brandon’s guile.

Brandon’s life with his shyster father makes him an expert at reading people, so Alison is putty in his hands. She is just too nice and takes people at face value. After high school he worked construction but soon realizes that the money is in buying and flipping property. Traveling across the country buying property and then selling before the loan due date is exhilarating. However, his life as a high roller comes to abrupt end when the bottom drops out of the real estate market, leaving him broke and with bad credit. His grandmother’s will states that he can live in her house but as soon as he moves out, the house is to be turned over to her church. One of his buddies contacts him with a great investment opportunity, turning a dilapidated warehouse into loft apartments. Only he doesn’t have thirty thousand dollars for his share. Since he has six months to come up with the money he plans to earn it by taking over his grandmother’s matchmaking business. How difficult can it be?

Leigh: We always talk about how our life experiences affect our reading experinces so, feeling melancholy and depressed after reading Heartstrings And Diamonds Rings, I sent the book to Maggie and asked her to give me her impression. Well, you guessed it, since we’re doing a Pandora’s Box – her opinion and mine differ. Maggie, thanks so much for doing a joint review with me. It has been a while since we have had the opportunity to discuss the same book and I always enjoy talking books with you. So what did you think of Heartstrings and Diamond Rings?

Maggie: Overall, I liked it. Not loved it but a definite like.

Leigh: I will agree that this is a well written book, but numerous issues impacted my grade. In fact I thought the author verged on being too politically incorrect numerous times. I take that back, I feel like she was too politically incorrect. One of the first things that bothered me was the heroine’s neediness, obsession, and desperation for MRS in front of her name. I kept reading the book waiting for the light bulb to click on for her. But all through the book Alison meets every man, ready to slot him in the groom’s role as long as he meets a few of her requirements. like breathing and being good looking.

Maggie: I didn’t see Alison as badly as you did. I think she knew herself well enough to know what she wanted and to go after it full steam ahead. Alison isn’t alone in this desire; the preponderance of sites like Match.com and eHarmony show that many people want someone special in their life and need a little help getting there. I admired Alison for staying in the game even after all her bad luck- she was a refreshing break from the “someone broke my heart in fifth grade and now I think all men/women are evil” heroes and heroines.

Leigh: Okay, you have a point. Most people do want someone to love and in real life people do have to sometimes work at meeting eligible prospects. And I was fine with that in the beginning but I never felt that the heroine experienced any personal growth. Her only goal was to get married and have a family. The only reason she didn’t settle is that she fell for Brandon. Plus while I don’t want to give away the end, I felt it was the heroine’s way or the highway. She didn’t compromise.

Maggie: I didn’t really have a problem with him doing things the heroine’s way at the end because I thought it was his best chance at happiness. I think that is something that Graves does that is a bit unique in romance, her heroes rather than heroines are the ones that grow and change throughout the story. A lot of authors either do the heroine or both but Graves (and Rachel Gibson) tend to have the hero doing the changing. I struggled with him a bit at first because he did seem to be a shyster. But he grew throughout the book and came to realize that he had what he needed where he was. So what did you think about the hero and his actions toward the end of the novel?

Leigh: The ending was a little over the top for me in light of the hero’s bad credit, and defaulting on loans,especially in today’s economic climate. My first impression of Brandon is, “Oh, great he is a cad,” but honestly he isn’t that bad. He seemed like a pretty typical guy and I liked him until as a matchmaker he maneuvers a date between two individuals that typically are excluded as dateable because they don’t match society’s norm. While the scenario might be true, since as a whole most people value good looks and perfection, it really really bothered me. While the author probably didn’t intend to imply that the best match for a person deemed undateable is with another similar person, that is the implicit message I received. I thought this was a missed opportunity to illustrate that some people are able to see past physical imperfections to inner beauty.

Maggie: We read this scenario very differently. I didn’t see either of them as undateable. I don’t think Brandon did either. He liked Delilah and wanted to set her up with someone he liked equally as well. Someone he could trust with her tender heart and sweet spirit and when he met the guy he knew that guy was that someone. I was actually happy about the match up because I liked both characters and wanted the best for them – and the best was definitely each other. I thought of them like I thought of the other odd couple in the book, the older couple. Both were atypical and bit out of the norm for society but once I saw them together I knew it would work. And I want to stress something here, they were unique but I did not think the h/h judged either of the two as rejects. That made a big difference in how I felt about this.

Leigh: Well, he might not have judged them as rejects but he didn’t seem to make any effort to fix them up with anyone else. I suspected as soon as I read why Delilah couldn’t get dates what the solution would be. And to be honest, I didn’t recognize that it bothered me immediately. It was after I finished the book, that I thought, “Hey, wait a minute. This is buying into society’s message of perfection,” giving me my second uncomfortably politically incorrect scenario. My third is when Alison easily manipulates a co-worker, one of society’s outcasts, into providing her services for a pittance. While in the story the individual has no problem with the deal, the use of this individual’s weakness shows the heroine’s and author’s lack of sensitivity. I doubt few authors would write about a heroine buying cocaine for a character and then making a joke of them going off to the bathroom to snort it up.

Maggie: On this we agree completely. That entire scenario was outrageous. She essentially paid a coworker about 10% of what the work was worth. It would have been OK had they been friends and the “payment” a gift but it was not presented that way at all. The whole situation seemed mean spirited rather than funny and I found it more than a tad offensive. This was not the only moment that seemed mean spirited. I felt that Justin and some of the other men Alison dated were treated with a lot of disdain. Completely unnecessary. There is a lot of ground between complete loser and my one true love. A lot of decent men fit on that land. It did not have to be one or the other.

Leigh: Exactly. Oh, I doubt that it was even 10%. You are right, If they had been friends then it would have been fine. But in her mind she is ridiculing the action of an individual, when she helps facilitate it. I thought Brandon’s lack of knowledge about the business results in some horrible first dates for Alison. And the scenes are funny, and showcase the author’s imagination. But after a while I got tired of Alison trying to make all the men fit her ideal. And then when they didn’t she’s like oh, well, they will do. That is why I felt that she came across as desperate.

Maggie: I felt like the author was trying to show flexibility in the character when Alison was willing to overlook all but the major flaws. I didn’t think she was lowering her standards (or being desperate) so much as being willing to expand them. Speaking of being disappointed in characters though, I was disappointed by how Tracy was regarded. I can’t place my finger on why but it seemed like she was maligned as some kind of skank. I really thought we had reached the point where we were a bit more tolerant of women who have a free spirit about them these days.

Leigh: In retrospect I agree with you, but to be honest it didn’t jump out at me while reading it. In fact most of the scenarios didn’t until I closed the book and thought, “why don’t I have a good feeling”. There is no question that Ms. Graves is a talented author. I have read all of her books, but somehow, the messages in this book seem horribly twisted. This book gets a definite thumbs down with a D rating from me. What is your grade?

Maggie: It was a B for me. The things that bothered me kept knocking it down but it landed at a B. I mostly enjoyed it, in the way one enjoys a raunchy comedy. You’re a bit embarrassed to be laughing but you do. Is it heartwarming and sweet? Probably not. But funny and light? Yes.

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I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.