Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review of Coleen Kwan's When Harriet Came Home

Title: When Harriet Came Home
Author: Coleen Kwan
Publisher: Carina Press
Format: eBook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: October 24, 2011
Rating: 3 out of 5

One of the reasons I’m enjoying the eBooks published by Carina Press these days is that I get to read authors from other English-speaking countries. When Harriet Came Home author Coleen Kwan is from Australia, and every now and then a lovely phrase or reference will draw your attention to her small-town setting of Wilmot, Australia. It’s not that different than most small town contemporary romances I’ve read, but I like the variety. This book is short at only 50,000 words, but it’s a quick and engaging read.
Harriet Brown finds herself returning to her small town of Wilmot after a decade of self-exile when her father is injured in a car accident. Ten years ago she unwittingly caught the town’s mayor on film taking a bribe and meeting women for sordid affairs. He’s killed in a car accident shortly thereafter, and the town turns on the overweight, shy teen they consider responsible. The situation was all the more upsetting for Harriet because the teenager had a crush on the mayor’s son, Adam Blackstone. When years later she’s forced to return to Wilmot after her father’s accident, the first person she sees at the hospital is hunky carpenter Adam, and he is not pleased that she’s back in town.
But Harriet’s father wants the two to reconcile, and his accident provides the perfect excuse for his matchmaking. He was supposed to cater the town’s charity Harvest Ball that Adam’s organizing, but his injury has made that impossible, so he volunteers Harriet’s catering services. Harriet reluctantly agrees, because it’s obviously important to her father, but she’s not thrilled that she’ll have to spend more time with Adam. He’s not happy about it either, because the shy teen he remembers is now a beautiful, curvaceous woman who’s proving irresistible to the handyman. Sparks fly between the two, but will Adam’s love be enough to keep Harriet in Wilmot?
This is a cute small town romance with one sexy carpenter hero, complete with “mean girls” who never grew up after high school and a lot of nasty gossip. Ms. Kwan’s writing flows smoothly and the premise of the heroine returning home after making good in the big city is an appealing one. Plus, Adam is a really great hero material. He confesses to Harriet that he was really self-absorbed in his teens and that he enjoys working with his hands (nice!!). He’s clearly turned his life around, despite the painful events of ten years ago. And let’s face it, sexy carpenters who are good with their hands and have sexy Aussie accents are a win-win in the hero category!
So why didn’t I like it more? I actually remembered most of the details of the plot from when I read the novel well over a month ago, but I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt indifferent about it, so I re-read the book. As I said, the writing is good, and the pacing of the romance and the nature of the conflict were all good. And truthfully, there’s nothing wrong with the story; it just didn’t capture my interest.
I think part of why I feel “meh” towards this book is that Harriet is not as enjoyable a character as Adam. She begins strongly, since she’s lost weight, had eye surgery, and founded a successful catering company in Sydney in the last ten years, setting her up for a triumphant return to the town that cruelly rejected her in her teens. When Adam meets up with her again he’s surprised by how sassy she is compared to the awkward teenager he knew. But she’s not actually all that sassy. In fact, she’s a bit of a wimp and really insecure. She constantly questions herself and Adam’s motives towards her, allows her sister to use her for free babysitting services, and nearly has a breakdown during the Harvest Ball. That struck me as odd, given that she’s been catering for years and owned her own company for three. Harriet is a likeable character, but her insecurities left me wondering what Adam saw in her.
Despite the flaws, I liked Ms. Kwan’s writing, and on her website it mentions that she just sold her second novel, a steampunk romance, to Carina Press. Given the sexy hero and solid writing in When Harriet Came Home, I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with in the steampunk genre.

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