Her Surprise Hero
by Abby Gaines
(Harl. Super. #1609, $5.50, PG) ISBN 978-0373-71609-8
Set in Stonewall Hollow, Georgia, Her Surprise Hero is a classic big town vs. small town story.  It also has the additional elements of a stranger coming to town from the big city, thinking she knows best.  The characters have issues and yet, love is in the air.  Nothing new here but generally this is an enjoyable tale.

Cynthia Merritt is an acting attorney-general who was about ready to have a nervous breakdown.  Her father, an attorney himself, pulled some strings and got her out of town before she completely blew her career.  Cynthia is now the acting judge in Stonewall Hollow, where the local judge is ill. The Hollow is traditional small town.  Everyone knows each other and appreciates that people go out of their way to help.  One of their citizens, Ethan Granger, helps boys who otherwise might be a lost cause.  The town respects him and appreciates his efforts.

But Cynthia is a by-the-book judge.  Her plan is to take the town by storm, show everyone what a good judge she can be, get back in her father’s good graces and return to Atlanta with an appointment to a superior court.  She isn’t so impressed with Ethan, especially when one of her first cases is his son.  Sam Granger is 18 but still in high school.  He and Ethan have only known about each other for a short time.  Sam was raised by his mother, who never told Ethan he had a son.  Now Sam needs him and Ethan wants to influence his life before he makes a mistake that will result in jail time.  So far, all of Sam’s stunts have been minor – graffiti, etc.  But Ethan knows what it is like to rebel and regret.  He doesn’t want that for Sam.

Cynthia resents that the whole town expects her to take Ethan’s word and just hand Sam over to Ethan.  Instead, she sentences Sam to other types of community service.  Cynthia and Ethan are now at odds. Yet, he is really cute and she does like him.  Ethan finds her attractive but then decides she needs to be taught a lesson.  He sets her up as the County Fair judge…a no-win prospect, especially if you have hopes of gaining relationships with the townspeople in order to advance your career. 

The tale follows these two as they spar, date, spar some more and then come to appreciate what the other has done and who they are.  It is a messy journey. 

I liked Cynthia except for her need to kowtow to her father, who seemed to treat her like one of his protégées and not like a daughter.  Her self-esteem needed a big boost.  I really never understood the whole scandal that got her banished.  She kept alluding to a broom closet, but there was no real explanation of what had happened.  Her sisters play a role, and apparently are part of the series about the Merritt girls.

Ethan was a little too good to be true, given the background we learn about.  His reform was truly remarkable and it was a little amazing that the town idolized him, given some of his history. He also has some angst from his own childhood that is nothing new. But the story would not work without it, so the reader has to accept this. 

Sam was a sullen teenager.  I struggled with his age, as his actions seemed more like those of a 16-year-old rather than an 18-year-old adult.  And as an 18 year-old, he had no legal ties to his father…this seemed off at times.

Overall, while reading Her Surprise Hero, I was engaged and actually enjoyed the story.  But it didn’t stand much scrutiny when all was said and done and therefore gets no more than a mild three heart rating. 

--Shirley Lyons

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