Dear Maggie

Of Noble Birth

Snow Baby

Taking the Heat

Every Waking Moment
by Brenda Novak
(HQN Books, $6.99, PG-13)  ISBN 0-373-77045-6
Vanessa Beacon appears to lead the perfect life.  She lives in a California mansion, drives a Jag, and has all the material things anyone could want.  Vanessa and her five-year-old diabetic son Dominick live with Manuel Rodriguez, Vanessa’s boyfriend and Dominick’s father. 

But beneath the surface Vanessa’s life is hell. 

To the rest of the world Manuel seems to be a charming gentleman who spoils his wife and son.  In reality, Manuel is an obsessive, controlling, abusive monster.  He controls every aspect of Vanessa’s life – her access to money, her freedom, her clothing, and her contact with other people.  Manuel never allows her to have money.  He has Vanessa followed to keep track of her every movement.  He only employs house servants who speak Spanish so that Vanessa is isolated (as she doesn’t speak the language).  Recently he’s begun to physically abuse Vanessa in addition to the mental abuse she’s endured for years.

When they met, Manuel swept Vanessa off her feet, but ever since he joined the family business running drugs across the Mexico border, Manuel has changed.  After Manuel burns her with a cigarette, Vanessa realizes she has to escape with Dominick.  Vanessa tried to run away once before, but Manuel found her and dragged her back.  This time Vanessa has to succeed for Dominick’s sake.  Who knows when Manuel will start to abuse his son?

Vanessa and Dominick escape with help of the nanny.  On the run they change their names to Emma and Max Wright. Preston Holman is haunted by his son’s death a couple years ago.  His marriage has fallen apart, and he’s shut off all emotional attachment to friends and family.  He’s spent the past months hunting for the man responsible for his son’s death.  Fortunately Preston is a day-trader so he can move a lot. In Nevada, Manuel’s men track down Emma’s car.  Abandoning the car, Emma and Max hitch a ride with Preston.  Despite his gut reaction against being around a boy his dead son’s age, Preston agrees to take them to Iowa. 

Over several days of travel, Preston and Emma fight their attraction and emotional attachment.  Can Emma and Max evade Manuel to start a new life?  Can Preston finally move on with his life?

In a letter to the reader, Brenda Novak explains the book’s concept came from her fascination with people compelled to control the ones they love.  This came across well in the first half of the book.  Manuel’s obsessive characteristics and dominating actions are intense.  What makes someone behave that way is engrossing.  His hunt for Vanessa/Emma and Dominick/Max makes for some exciting fast paced scenes.  No matter how they evade Manuel, the reader knows there will be another time he catches up to them.

Unfortunately, the second half slows down with Preston and Emma’s romance.  Their romance is rather dull with just no chemistry or heat between them.  The relationship reads almost as an afterthought.

Too much focus is placed on Dominick’s/Max’s diabetes and how it affects their travels.  His blood sugar level is tested five to seven times a day and all five to seven tests are mentioned in great detail.  The difficulties of a child who wants but can’t have candy and doughnuts is overdone, too.  Each day Dominic/Max asks for doughnuts at least three times.  At five, he seems old enough to understand not to ask continually for what he’s not allowed to have.  As a child, my parents didn’t allow my brothers and me to have junk food either, and after a while we stopped asking for it.  This point is emphasized over and over and over again.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced suspenseful read, Every Waking Moment is an acceptable read.  But if you’re looking for a romance, I suggest looking elsewhere.

--Terry Lawrence

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