Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Pressed Pennies, by Steven Manchester

It's tough to find the conflict of a story compelling when it can be simply resolved by a grown-up conversation with the obstinate daughter: "Paige, I am dating another man who I love very much, and he is going to be a part of our lives. You're going to have to accept that." One's child should not be allowed to dictate the private life of her mother, and being a loving, caring parent does not mean one should give in to her child's every whim. That's the conflict at the heart of Pressed Pennies, by Steven Manchester, an otherwise very sweet romance. This romance has some of the features of a Nicholas Sparks story, featuring an attractive man and woman who fall deeply in love, but lacks the tragic features of Sparks. This isn't a bad thing. Sparks' stories tend to be way over the top. What they do (sometimes) feature, though, is a conflict that makes you worry the man and woman won't end up together and makes you want them to be together. Pressed Pennies is all sweet and its conclusion is inevitable from the start.

Abby Soares lives alone with her daughter, Paige. She recently divorced her alcoholic, good-for-nothing husband, though they still scream at each other over the phone and he forgets to pick up Paige on the weekends he has her. I think this is a good thing, for Paige's sake. Rick Giles lived a different sort of life. He became successful in his career, made a lot of money, married a good-looking woman, but began to grow disillusioned with the lack of love in his life - both his marriage and otherwise. His fat paycheck was no longer enough to sustain his happiness, and his wife saw this as a weakness. Like Abby, Rick is also recently divorced.

The connection these two have is more than just divorce. The two were high school sweethearts who separated when Rick had to move due to his family's poverty. They did not remain in contact and their lives drifted apart. Now, with Abby moved into a new neighborhood - his neighborhood - the two meet again at a neighborhood party and instantly reconnect. The memories rush back to them. The times of sweet joy and the time of sorrowful parting. They fall in love yet again, though it takes a long time for them to act on this love. For Rick, being with Abby at every possible moment is a no-brainer. He asks her out to dinner. But Abby has some reservations. Not about Rick, but about the fact she has an obligation to her daughter - and she promised her it would just be the two of them. This seemingly innocent promise dooms the romance to be put on hold far longer than necessary.

I won't say anymore about the plot, but I have no doubt that from these introductions to the plot you will guess correctly at the conflicts that come up and even how they are resolved. This is a shame because Manchester has some talents. It's rare that a story so sweet comes up, one without violence or gratuitous sex, without cynicism and with a genuine belief in the power of true love. Yet that's not enough. The story would have been more compelling if it wasn't so focused on Abby and Rick trying to make Paige happy. I can understand Paige being upset by her mom having a new boyfriend. What I understand less is why Abby allows her daughter's unhappiness to dictate her relationship with Rick. I find the novel's handling of this conflict difficult to forgive. Sure, it would have been a hard pill for Paige to swallow if her mom did the adult thing and told her daughter this is the way things are and if you don't like it, tough. What the novel does to Paige instead is far more cruel.

Manchester's writing style is very subdued, and I like that. It doesn't aim for flowery prose or quotable one-liners. Sometimes Manchester goes into a tad too much detail and has scenes whose importance is questionable (such as one where Paige and her friends ride their bike to a shop run by a cranky old man). The dialogue is mostly good too, and spot on. It doesn't feel forced and has an everyday quality to it. There are some moments when the dialogue comes off as less than believable, but it's the kind of dialogue that seems to be a struggle for more well-known authors, such as Stephen King. The kind of dialogue I'm referring to is spousal arguments. For whatever reason, an argument between a husband and wife, or of the ex variety, always comes off as phony, or over-the-top. Maybe this is really how we argue, in cliches, or maybe we just aren't good at reproducing such an argument. Yet Manchester's arguments come off more gracefully than others I've read, even if they do come down to shrill screaming.

This probably just isn't the genre for me, anyway. I like a good romance, but I prefer romances that are of the comedic variety rather than the serious ones. Romance should be fun. Man and woman should be making each other laugh because romance is all about being happy and making the other person happy. This is a romance of the serious, true love, soul mate variety, where passion is constantly talking about how much in love you are with the person across the table. And if that sounds like something you'd like, this book is right up your alley.

*I received a free copy of Pressed Pennies in exchange for an honest review.*

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