Women’s Fiction is many things, with many labels and definitions. For me, it’s a good story that appeals to women, written by both men and women. It can be serious, sad, funny, heartwarming or heartbreaking. Some have a HEA, while others do not. I read them all. I’ve recently read a few that romance readers might also love, and may even consider to be a tried and true romance.
Jane Porter is no stranger to romance, but she’s also written a lot of women’s Fiction. Her most recent book, The Good Daughter, is the second book in her Brennan Sisters Trilogy and is totally romantic. The first book of the series, The Good Woman, is more in the women's fiction line, but still enjoyable.
The Good Daughter's Kit Brennan is tired of being the most predictable, grounded sister of their tight knit clan. Her fortieth birthday is right around the corner, and she's just broken up with the man she spent ten years living with. He never got around to popping the question, and never seemed like he was going to.
Living alone for the first time in her life, Kit thought to have time on her own to search for herself. But she has responsibilities: her ailing mother, her students, and being the one everyone goes to in a time of need. And someone is always in need of something. Part of Kit is glad. She holds her self back from true intimacy and the thought of another relationship isn’t what she needs or wants. Adopting a child and being a mother is something she does want and for her, that’s enough in life.
During a girls' weekend with her sisters, Kit takes her camera and sets off on the beach to snap some pics, a hobby of hers. She’s taken by a mysterious man caught in her lens. The bad boy type with long hair, a motorcycle, and tattoos. The kind her family would surely hate. The kind she should run away from, being such a good girl and all.
“Kit jerked her head up and lowered the camera just in time to get a glimpse of long black hair, bronze skin, dark eyes, and the slash of high cheekbone before a black helmet came down, obscuring his face… Gorgeous, she thought somewhere in the back of her brain. Dangerous, she thought in a more logical part. He looked like trouble. Tough. Hard. Physical… Sexual. ”
The mystery man catches Kit taking pictures of him and approaches. After a short chat about why she’s taking them and who she is the time comes for who he is.
“Can I have my camera back?” she asked quietly.
“What’s your name?” he said, handing it to her….
“Good Catholic name…. Irish of course. Which means your dad’s a cop. Am I right?”
Her eyebrows arched. He wasn’t far off. “Running from the law, are you?”
He shrugged. “Don’t need trouble… I’ve spent time in jail.”
Of course he had. She took an uneasy step away. “I better go.”
“Smart girl.” He turned the key in the ignition and his bike roared to life.
Mystery man remains a mystery. She never got around to getting his name. But she did get a really good, long, hard look at him as he left. Yum.
Back home, Kit has an unfortunate experience with Michael, a guy she meets at a bar with friends. He looks like the perfect package, the opposite of her sexy mystery jail bird, but he is, in fact, a bit creepy and still very married. He claims they’re about to sign the divorce papers but Kit, being the good Catholic girl she is, refuses to see him again until it’s officially over. Michael is a bit persistent to the point of stalking. It gets really awkward when he signs his stepdaughter up to be in her class. Delilah is now an ever-present connection to a creep she’d rather never see again.
Delilah is a handful, and Kit can tell she has major issues. When a classroom fight breaks out, Kit's mystery motorcycle man is the one who picks Delilah up after school. He’s a neighbor and picks her up because her parents are out of town. His name is Jude. And stepdad Michael seems to be the cause of Delilah’s troubles at home.
Oh, the villain has been cast. This is getting good…Porter offers POVs from Kit, Jude, and Delilah. It’s so refreshing and makes the story all the more interesting to get inside their heads. Kit and Jude are now bound to help Delilah with a potentially abusive stepfather.
During their shared crusade to help Delilah, Kit and Jude get to know one another. For Kit, Jude is so much more than the impression he gives. He is gentle, caring, and being attractive doesn’t hurt or help. He makes her feel things she never did with her ex of ten years. One night they meet to discuss Delilah and some recent events that make Kit believe Delilah is in physical danger. The dinner turns into her confiding in him about her mother’s terminal diagnosis.
“I’m sorry,” Jude said quietly.
She tried to answer, but couldn’t. She swiped a tear, and another, horrified that she was becoming unglued. “Better go,” she said huskily.
Suddenly his large callused hands were framing her face and he pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Don’t worry so much,” he said, letting her go, stepping back. “And try to take care of yourself.
Kit’s heart turned over, and not because of her mom, or her dad, but because this big tough guy in leather and tats made her feel good. How did that happen?
For Jude, Kit is a temptation he can’t afford, but the young girl on his block needs his protection and Kit needs so much support. Jude can’t turn his back on them.
Porter weaves the character and heartache together so beautifully. I laughed, cried, and said WTF quite often. It is a work of Women’s Fiction but it’s one of the most romantic ones I’ve read to date…along with some serious ha cha chas!
Jenny Gardiner’s Anywhere But Here, made me laugh so hard I spit out coffee all over my desk. The book's full of laugh your tookus off hysterical lines like, “My husband’s name is Richard, but I often refer to him as Dick. As in what a dick.”
Meet Mary Kate Dupree, wife of The Dick. She keeps mentally fantasizing about killing her husband and is fearful she may actually do it. “In my mind I’ve got a gun pointed impassively at his head. Nothing fancy, a simple little handgun. Shiny, black, metal- cold to the touch, but warm with the promise of what could be.”
She hasn't done it yet, but something's gotta change; she can’t continue to live in her personal prison of being Mrs. Dick. Instead of being the dutiful wife picking up the dry cleaning and making dinner, one day she just keeps on driving. And she picks up a hot young stud of a hitchhiker aptly named Smoothie.
Mary Kate would rather take her chances on the road with a stranger who could hack her into bits than return to her miserable life. “I look over to my passenger and my pulse quickens to an anaerobic salsa beat. I haven’t felt this wound up since I took a step class at the Y a few years ago. For a moment I think I might pass out, whether from elevated blood pressure, sheer terror, holding my breath, or heart stopping and long-lost horniness.”
She has quirks that just keep you laughing. She air types her thoughts. As a former but very proficient typist it’s a habit she can’t break. As the story unfolds, you see the broken woman hiding behind the wit and sarcasm. You see her pain and feel it. She tells Smoothie the story of reuniting with her father who left home with the secretary. “My fingers were typing dirty rotten bastard, dirty rotten bastard, dirty rotten bastard, betraying my real feelings only to me.”
As the drive continues, she finds herself telling Smoothie everything. Things she’s never told another living soul, like the emotional abuse she suffered for years.
“You walked home in the dark in your bare feet that far?”
“Look. There are women in the world who have it a lot worse than I ever have. So if I had to walk for a couple of miles in my bare feet, I knew I could do it. I was as strong as they were, I knew that much.”
Smoothie rolls me over toward him and just stares into my face. It’s like the look someone makes when they’re trying to understand a complex math equation. “Jesus, Mary Kate. I’m sorry.”
He pulls me toward him and with his hand behind my head, presses my head to his shoulder and sort of rocks gently back and forth. He doesn’t say a thing, just holds me and rocks…”
Her new buddy, Smoothie, is a perfect gentleman. He never makes a move on Mary Kate, even though they are often in intimate surroundings. He takes care of her and protects her like a guardian angel. He has his own issues and also starts to open up to Mary Kate. Together, they make a pact to drive from the Deep South to Niagara Falls, where she married Dick. She has some life-altering decisions to make—whether she wants to keep on living at all or just take the plunge literally into the Falls, or if she dares to divorce Dick and start all over again.
The cast of characters Mary Kate and Smoothie meet along the way are just as endearing as the two leads. There’s a small town psychic who looks like a member of Honey Boo Boo’s family, an elderly man with no legs who could double for Dr. Doolittle, a pregnant teenage mother from a coal mining town, and that little voice inside Mary Kate narrating the whole journey is like a character on its own.
When Smoothie recalls waking up at a bachelor party, this is inner Mary Kate’s reaction:
“…Sometime in the middle of the night I awoke, and I wasn’t alone anymore.”
“She was there?”
“I didn’t know who it was. I only felt her mouth on me.”
“There?” I’m staring at his crotch. Just what I am not supposed to do. Oy.
Gulp. Gulp. Gulp. Literally. Oh, God. Stop typing Mary Kate!
Smoothie visually gives Mary Kate’s libido a long overdue stroke or two. But the proper Mary Kate would never act upon such a thing. But as each mile separates her from her former life, Mary Kate isn’t good old Mary Kate anymore. Smoothie innocently flirts, while Mary Kate air types a bazillion blushing words a minute.
They purposely drive through small America to see what neither has before. Mary Kate’s never been out of Virginia, except for when she got married to Dick. With each stop, Smoothie gives Mary Kate small makeovers like a country version of My Fair Lady. Is Mary Kate changing or revealing the truest version of herself that’s long been hidden? She doesn’t know, but she likes what she sees.
“As we stroll into the bar I notice something absolutely uncanny. Me. Staring at me. As if I’m worth stating at. I’m usually only gawked at like when I have a piece of parsley stuck to my teeth, so my natural reaction is to pick between my teeth for food, just In case. But I realize that’s not it…It makes me carry myself just a little but taller, walk with a hint of pride, maybe finding a suggestion of value to myself. It’s taken a lot of years, but wow, it’s happening.”
These changes make her rethink that whole plan to jump into the Falls. That and a hitchhiker named Randy “Smoothie” Cunningham.
Both of these women's fiction titles feel like romance—You have both a heroine and a hero in need of a little saving. There are villains in the way of any hopeful HEA. The heroes are smoking hot and the heroines are beautiful. There’s crotch ogling and sexy stares. They made me laugh. They made me cry. And they made me ha cha cha quite a bit. That’s my idea of a romance.