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Willaful Review: Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers

It can be difficult for me to read a book or write a review objectively when I have a bias towards the author. Oddly enough, in this case, the bias might be working the other way. I like the author very much online, and I loved her first book, The Lady’s Secret. I have to ask myself, if this had been a book written ten years ago, from an author I had fewer expectations of, would I have found it so disappointing?

First, the good. The story was riveting, and I hated to put it down to go to bed. As far as my favorite romance gut-punch goes, it delivered in spades. Tears even prickled in my eyes a few times. Basically, this was a classic old skool romance, but with a kindler, gentler asshole — i.e. he punches the wall instead of her. (To be fair, only once — he is not violent overall.) Gil has a grievance — he felt forced to marry the very young, plain Rose, instead of the woman he wanted — and he not only holds onto that grievance with both hands, he adds to it whenever possible. He’s one of those frustrating Diana Palmer-ish heroes who turns any understanding of his own faults into anger at the person he wronged. And he does this and does it and does it… it’s psychologically interesting and understandable, I suppose, but it sure made it hard to like him, or to believe he could ever truly change.

I felt that Rose was always the one who had to reach out, always the one who had to give. Although she did make some mistakes, she was largely, as another reviewer pointed out, an innocent bystander in her marriage. I enjoy vicarious suffering in romance, but I need more of a balance and a payoff than I got here. I was also disappointed that the story’s dark moment comes from a very obvious, conventional place that punishes Rose even more than it punishes Gil. Perhaps most disappointing of all, although Gil also learns to appreciate Rose’s fine character, he initially falls for her as the beautiful woman she grew into. Not enough balance, not enough payoff.

I want to reiterate that I was totally caught up and emotionally involved in the story, and that’s why I’m giving it the relatively high rating of 3 1/2 stars, rounded up to 4 when I must. It might well work better for fans of angsty romance who didn’t come in with high expectations, or with strong desires for originality. You can buy it for Kindle here or from Samhain in all popular ebook formats here. (30% off for new releases til 1/22/13.) I’m guessing they’ll have a print version at Samhain eventually.

Published by Samhain. Review copy purchased by me.