I received a free Adobe Digital Editions copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley, this has not compromised my ability to write an honest and critical review of the book.
10/11 - I don't think I've ever read a book set in the 70s, certainly not a romance. They're all either contemporary (or what was contemporary in the mid 80s) or historical (no earlier than the 1890s). It's weird to read a romance so old, but it's not historical. Already there are many different scenes where I've been thinking "There's no way she'd do that" and then I have to remind myself it's set in the 80s. One scene where "It's set in the 70s" doesn't excuse unbelievable behaviour is the set up for Ruth and Tom's second hook-up. He asks her about her period (they've already had sex a couple of weeks earlier) and she says she's just had it, so she's not pregnant, and he comments sarcastically that that's perfect because it's the best time to get pregnant. So, it's been established that they do know about the dangers of unprotected sex (well, one of the dangers), but then when they get together a second time there's no mention of condoms or the pill or anything like that and I just don't find that believable, not after his comment that it's the best time for her to get pregnant (plus, at 40, he's not an over-eager, under-educated teenager).
I also have to complain about the dreadfully tacky cover image. I know, it was probably done when the book was first released in '82, but as it has been re-released with additional material they could have updated the cover. It reminds me of a Gone with the Wind scene, but it's the 1970s not the 1870s, and now it's another 30 years on and today's readers judge a book by its cover, and this cover is saying sappy/tacky in a sing-song voice while clapping its hands in time. After 58 pages I don't think it deserves a cover that sings sappy/tacky to all who pass by. I couldn't say I love it yet, but it's quite good. I'm looking forward to continuing with it. To be continued...
13/11 - This is turning out to be a very convoluted, lover-ful romance. It starts out with a love-at-first-sight romance with a married-with-one-child man nearly double her age. After a couple of intense hook-ups they decide they need to part because his son is mentally challenged and she just got a once-in-a-lifetime job at the American school in Rome. She goes off to Rome and he goes back to his family. In Rome Ruth meets quiet accountant Bruno, they date every weekend for months but he refuses to sleep with her until their wedding night because the time wasn't right. At the end of the wedding night sex scene the chapter ends and we fast forward about four years to find that Bruno, one of the few safe Maserati drivers in Italy, has died in some kind of car crash (no details given so far). At their wedding Ruth met Bruno's cousin Peter and they had an instant connection across the wedding cake (or something like that). They didn't see each other again until Bruno's funeral and even at a time like that the connection between them sizzled again. Peter kept in touch with Bruno's mother, Nona, who had become like a surrogate mother to Ruth (her mother died giving birth to her), while Ruth grieved for her husband. When Nona judged Ruth to be ready she encouraged Peter to go for it, and he swept Ruth off her feet 18 months after Bruno's death. Their first weekend together Peter proposes and, after a little reassuring that Nona will be ecstatic and God approves, Ruth accepts. Their wedding will be in three weeks and Nona, Bruno's mother and Peter's aunt, will play the part of mother-of-the-bride for Ruth (yes, they have become that close). She's just accepted Peter's proposal when a colleague from the school in Rome announces that she has a letter from T.J., the first guy (a poet), that was sent to the school as Ruth's last known address. In the letter T.J. reveals that he is coming to Rome for a poetry reading tour and wonders if she'd be interested in meeting him between readings. She dithers a bit, asks the colleague her opinion and is encouraged to go and meet T.J., but not to tell Peter because Italian men are known for their possessiveness and their tempers (the colleague's husband hit her after she told him about meeting an old, male friend for drinks, because she had embarrassed him). Ruth does as advised and meets T.J. at his hotel room, and of course, considering the way this romance is going, they have spur-of-the-moment sex on the floor of his hotel room. Meanwhile, prior to getting reacquainted with Ruth T.J. has been dealing with his own problems. His son got pneumonia which put him in the hospital on life support for two weeks, his wife went mad with guilt over their son's condition, or something (not really clear) and had to be sedated before she seriously injured T.J. in a fit of rage. After that episode she became catatonic and stopped doing anything, stopped talking, eating, drinking, even moving and the doctors had to start feeding her intravenously. Weeks later it has been decided that she's in some kind of coma state and will never come out of it. Once Tommy, their son, recovered from the pneumonia T.J. took him home but was faced with a conundrum when he realised there would be no one to care for Tommy while he was at work. Luckily he'd met a very compassionate and caring nurse while Tommy was in the hospital who was perfect as a carer for Tommy and temporary lover for T.J. After the horrendous upheaval his life had gone through in the last few weeks he needed someone to comfort him and help him through make it through the first few weeks, maybe months, without his wife's support. T.J. and Sally Mae are there for each other whenever the other needs support until the term ends for T.J. and his contract comes up for renewal. T.J. decides to leave teaching and become a full-time carer and friend for Tommy, which also gives him the time to dedicate more energy to his writing, which his publishers have been hounding him about for months. That was the last we heard of T.J. and Tommy until he met up with Ruth in the hotel room, the point of view switched back to Ruth and Peter spending their first weekend together and getting engaged.
I hate to think how many more lovers Ruth may go through before we get to the HEA (if there is one, that is). The prologue is of Ruth wishing a man would call, and thinking about her unborn baby. At the moment it's a mystery who the father might be, it could be anyone (except, of course, poor dead Bruno), it could be Peter, T.J. or any number of other guys who we've yet to meet. This romance is unlike any I've ever read - romance with guy after guy, and it's true romance, not just a short-term boyfriend, she's in love with each one (sometimes more than one at once). I can't imagine how this is going to end. To be continued...
15/11 - The original story ends in a very strange place, almost in the middle of a paragraph. T.J. is ripping down the ugly gray wallpaper he covered the collage of photos of Ruth with. The sentence ends and then the next page abruptly begins the prologue to the new writing, the .5 part of the story as it were. It was almost as if the computer died mid paragraph and the publishers took the unfinished draft and printed it without the author's permission. I was quite confused to start with, not realising that the story had fastforwarded 30 years and in the meantime Ruth and Tom (he's not T.J. anymore, probably because he's now 82 years old) have had three children of their own, one of their sons has died and Ruth had or has cancer. That was a lot of surprises to take in within a few paragraphs. The extra pages are written in the same style and voice as what was written 30 years ago, so it doesn't feel like a different author wrote the new pages, it all blends together well. I hope we get to find out what happened to her first son Pietro Morelli II. I hope that she was allowed to see him occasionally, because even though she didn't think so, even if she felt like the six (female relatives of her husband Peter) had replaced her in her son's eyes, all children need their mothers (with exceptions made for child abusers and addicts). To be continued...
16/11 - Finished this really late last night, sorry make that early this morning, so hopefully I can remember what I read. My favourite part of the whole book was the new chapters that Susan Rau Stocker (she wrote the original Heart under the pseudonyn Susan Ross) added to the re-release of Heart 30 years (to the day, almost) after its first publication. The new chapters feature Tom and Ruth in their 80s and 60s respectively (still really in love with each other and having frequent, passionate sex) and their three children Beth, who Ruth was pregnant with at the end of the original book and twins Matthew and Maria. Tommy, Tom's mentally challenged son from his first marriage, died in a boating accident 10 years earlier. Beth is married to Brad and gives birth to their first child, T.J. named for his grandfather and half-uncle (because Tommy was Beth's half-brother) near the beginning of the new chapters. Ruth and Tom see Matthew as a playboy because he's constantly bringing 'friends' home for visits - both guys and girls. Maria is a hippy who gives away her nice belongings to people who need them more than she does.
In the previous update I said that I hoped that Ruth would be able to have contact with Pietro because every child needs their mother, it turns out that didn't happen. Pietro, or Pete as he likes to be called now, grew up surrounded by his father's female relatives (the six who excluded Ruth from all interaction with Pete as a baby). He worshipped his father despite Peter's casual relationship with him - he was never told "I love you" by his father, never received any affection from him at all, but he was always ready to come running whenever his father called. Fortunately for Pete's future relationships with his extended family, he came looking for his mother at the age of 21, but found Tom instead. The only words that came out of Pete's mouth were "I'm looking for the bitch!" (obviously his father's side of the family had been poisoning Pete's mind with lies about Ruth). Tom was home alone and confronted this brash, arrogant boy-in-a-man's-body and told him that he'd be the luckiest man alive if he was ever able to earn his mother's love. Pete saw the difference between Tom's power through respect and his father's control through fear and violence and decided that he wanted to have power like what Tom had. Pete went away for nearly 10 years, learning about the real world outside his father's compound in rural Italy, learning how to treat people properly through a mother/father son relationship with a childless couple who took him under their wing and gave him the love that his biological family couldn't.
So, nine years down the track, a few months before Christmas 2012, Pete contacts Ruth and asks her to meet him, which hesitantly, she does. Tom and his agent Michael arrange for security for Ruth (in case Pete's a chip off the old block) in the dining room of the hotel Pete's staying in, in Boston. But, it's not necessary, Pete took Tom's words nine years earlier to heart and has become a far better man than his father could ever be. All he wants is to get to know his family - Beth (who doesn't know she's not Tom's child) Matthew, Maria and all the significant others. Tom, Ruth and Pete end up talking all that day and at breakfast the next and he is invited to his first family Christmas. But first Tom and Ruth have to get through Thanksgiving. Tom and Ruth, Beth and Brad and T.J., Maria on her own and Matthew and ...... Kevin? Tom is horrified when he happens upon Matthew and Kevin (a colleague from work) kissing and rolling around in the sand down at the beach. He comes back from his walk with Angel, the naughty German Shepherd puppy, goes to bed and refuses to come out again until Matthew and Kevin have gone back home, causing Ruth to worry he might have had a stroke or something serious like that. When he finally admits to what he saw on the beach she laughs at him and asks how he, an open-minded liberal thinking poet (he was happy to have an on-again off-again affair with Ruth, despite being married with a child), can be so hypocritical. Eventually, he admits one of his main problems with Matthew being gay is that there will never be another child with the name Jeffers (obviously he hadn't thought about adoption or surrogacy). Tom gets over his homophobic tendancies and they have an enjoyable Thanksgiving, especially as Kevin turns out to be a great, inventive cook.
I found the Christmas scenes gave me a real homey, family get-together kind of feeling, which I don't get from my own family as they aren't very many of us, we all live on the same block of land, see each other weekly and have dinner together weekly if not more often, which means that getting together over Christmas is not much different from getting together on the 14th of July or the 7th of September - it's just another family dinner. I loved the way Pete introduced himself to his siblings, just sitting there with the dog, waiting for them to arrive, and when they do arrive they just accept that there's a strange man in the living room with no questions asked. They didn't even ask who he was, how he knew their parents and why he was there for a family Christmas. I'm not sure if Beth's reaction, which was no reaction at all, to finding out her father's not her biological father was all that believable. She didn't even remonstrate with her mother over the fact that because Ruth had waited so long to tell her the truth she would never be able to know her father, because he'd died before she had a chance (not saying that he was all that worth getting to know, but I don't think a child should have their choice taken away like that). I was a little worried, considering how the story had played out so far, that Tom might die at the end of the new chapters, but luckily the ending was very happy and cheery. Thinking about it now it was a bit like a Christmas tv movie special with the family all dressed in cute and cosy (not sexy) Santa outfits standing in front of their house (which is decorated to within an inch of its life with lights) in the soft floating snow waving to the camera as it pulls up and away from them. But despite the possible cheesiness I really enjoyed the new chapters, they made my heart go "Aww".