Unexpected Marriage
by Anna Adams
(Harl. Super. #1023, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-71023-2
Unexpected Marriage is the story of a woman who learns that true love should be embraced; not pushed away there is a guarantee it will succeed. It is a story that is often told in “second-chance romance” books.

Caroline Talbot Manning has just learned her 19-year-old daughter Shelley is pregnant and getting married to a 20-year-old named Jake Kearan. It is déjà vu, as she was 19 when she had Shelley. But the difference is that she convinced herself that the right thing to do was to marry the father, an irresponsible man named Ryan Manning, who took off and abandoned both of them when Shelley was only a small child. Everything Caroline has done in her life has centered on being both mother and father to Shelley. Now Caroline feels she has somehow let Shelley down, so decides to fight the marriage to help Shelley avoid making the same mistakes she did.

Jake has had a less-than-perfect family life. His parents are divorced. He then lost his mother to a car accident, and went to live with his dad, Matt. Matt felt a lot of guilt over the divorce and didn’t know how to make it up to Jake, so he kept their relationship emotionally distant. Matt is scared for Jake and Shelley, but he has decided he wants to support Jake. If Jake wants to do the right thing and marry Shelley, then he will go along and Caroline is not going to stand in their way. Matt convinces Caroline to give in by telling her it is better to be there for the young couple as they attempt to make a life together than it is to alienate them by forbidding the marriage.

Constantly thrown together, Matt and Caroline realize they are drawn to each other. They fight that feeling for a couple of reasons. One is Caroline’s lack of willingness to think she can love and not be hurt. Another is because Caroline fears that Shelley will think less of her. .

Matt is easy to like. You are able to identify with his feelings from the divorce and you cheer for him when he is able to open up to his son and new daughter-in-law. It is fun to watch him be surrounded by this large family that is so foreign to him and grow to accept their love and to love them all back.

Caroline is a heroine who takes some time to get to know and like. She is very stubborn and set in her ways, almost to the point of being a caricature of the protective mother and dried-up unmarried woman.

It takes Caroline a long time to let Matt into her heart and her mind, and for her to take a risk on him. There were several times in the book when the reader is certain she has made the leap and the happy-ever-after scene is next, only to have Caroline put up her wall and withdraw. This happens one too many times. It was frustrating that she was willing to give up this great guy because her daughter, who is now a married woman, might object to her mother having sex. This drawn-out angst left a feeling of dissatisfaction. It is only the strength of Caroline’s relationships with Matt and her family that help you see her in a more positive light. Other readers may like the emotional upheavals and not be bothered by her lengthy learning curve.

The Talbot family, subject of other books in the series The Talbot Twins, is a fun group and one you love to be around. Uncle Ford is a feisty older man who helped raise Caroline and her sister. His growing relationship with Matt is fun to watch. Aunt Imogene and her love life is a nice secondary story, although most of it was watched from afar and not detailed well. Jake and Shelley’s relationship is a nice touch, but treated peripherally.

Overall, Unexpected Marriage is a humorous and entertaining story with a strong hero. But it also has a frustratingly slow-moving heroine who verges on the edge of not being likable. It is a combination that leaves the reader feeling content in the happy ending, but little more.

--Shirley Lyons

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