TBR Challenge: Tempting Fate, by JoAnn Ross

January’s TBR Challenge theme is “We Love Short Shorts!” and I planned to pick one of the many category romances languishing on my Kobo reader. But then I knocked JoAnn Ross’s Tempting Fate off the bookshelf in my bedroom, and decided a book with a university administrator heroine might be just the thing when I felt overwhelmed by my own first-week-of-semester administrative duties.

The copy I have is a Mira re-release very kindly sent to me by Janet because of the heroine’s job. But Tempting Fate was first released as the last of a Harlequin Temptations trilogy called “Lucky Penny.” There is, in fact, a lucky penny in the book, but it features very lightly. Ross hints at a contrast between the supernatural/superstitious idea that the hero and heroine are “fated” to be together and their rational, logical natures–she’s an accountant and he’s a scientist. But this contrast isn’t really sustained or developed. 

I spent the first part of the book going “Oh, come on” every few pages. The heroine, Brooke, is Director of Appropriations at a college, which means that she reviews everyone’s research funding and decides what to cut, because federal funding has been cut. That’s not how research funding works! (Although the part where she has to take everything to the Board is spot on). There are also some howlers like the professor in the “poly sci” department. And did people still refer to female undergrads as “coeds” in the 80s?

Then there’s the research the hero, Donovan, is conducting: teaching sign language to Gloria the gorilla. I used to assign a couple of readings on apes and language, so I’m aware of the controversies around such research (to be fair, some of them post-date this novel). Gloria not only signs but types, and she uses more abstract language than I think any researcher has claimed for a real-life ape. This part was sheer fantasy. But we’ll come back to Gloria.

About 50 pages in, I decided to think of this book as set in an alternate reality, kind of like Harlequin Presents Greece is not real Greece. Once I willfully suspended my disbelief, I found the book an easy if unexciting diversion in a stressful week, a C read but not a disaster.

This is a second chance romance: Brooke and Donovan dated in college, but broke up when Donovan turned down Brooke’s marriage proposal and went off to Cornell for grad school without her. He loved her. But they weren’t open with each other, something they aren’t that much better at when they reunite 10 years later, both now employed at the same college. They’re as attracted to each other as ever. But Brooke, in particular, is wary of being hurt again. Plus she’s cutting Donovan’s budget, and doesn’t expect that to go over well–he’s always put his apes ahead of her.

I liked that Brooke has been married and divorced, not celibate, in the time since her romance with Donovan (although of course things were never as good as with him). I liked that she went to work for a Silicon Valley startup out of college, when Silicon Valley was just starting up. She is good at her job, and not swayed from doing it well by her feelings for Donovan. She keeps confidentiality and won’t tell Donovan what she’s doing with his budget until the Board approval is final (though I wish they had talked frankly about how he’d feel and what they’d do if she did have to cut it, like grown-ups).

Donovan was fine, but I was disappointed that I was promised an “absent minded professor” type and got a standard-issue hot romance hero who one time wore two different colored shoes.

I liked that the sex scenes weren’t explicit (although they were rather flowery). It made me wonder why, exactly, such scenes have tended to get longer and more graphic in the last 30 years. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I don’t believe that it makes them any better at conveying emotion or advancing the plot or character development.

Sometimes, the writing in this book made me cringe. Remembering some woodland sex in their college days, Donovan tells Brooke, “God, you were beautiful, your slim girlish body bathed in the gold and claret glow of the sunset.” Yeahhhh. I’d give that language a pass from the narrator (although I wouldn’t admire it) but in dialogue?

Most of the book didn’t go that overboard, although I did get tired of hearing about their golden (hers) and emerald (his) eyes. But there were good bits too:

In this community of scholars, unlike in the rest of the world, the new year did not arrive when the calendar turned to January. It began, as it had for the last one hundred years [since the college was founded], on the first Tuesday after Labor Day. The first day of classes, the opening day of the fall semester. A time when both students and professors maintained the loftiest of ideals and no goal, no matter how ambitious, seemed out of reach.

I know that feeling well, and here I saw the slightly over the top language–“the loftiest of ideals”–as gently mocking our tendency to make, in the fervor of the new year, plans we ought to know are overly ambitious.

And Gloria the gorilla? She was my favorite character, implausible as she was. She has a taste for TV cop shows and can be found watching Streets of San Francisco dubbed in Italian, or anything else that’s on. Unlike Brooke and Donovan, she knows exactly what she wants, and says so–“You Gloria new television buy. . . . Good idea, yes?” And she has a part to play in the book’s climax. Maybe, for Gloria, I’d bump my grade to a C+. I won’t forget her in a hurry.



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16 Responses to TBR Challenge: Tempting Fate, by JoAnn Ross

  1. merriank says:

    Need to get Gloria DVDs of Inspector Montalbano, stat!

  2. Jorrie Spencer says:

    Donovan was fine, but I was disappointed that I was promised an “absent minded professor” type and got a standard-issue hot romance hero who one time wore two different colored shoes.


    They have no idea.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      He was late to a meeting at the beginning too. Now, he was pursuing the heroine and trying to mend his ways, but he wasn’t exactly dedicated to his research.

  3. azteclady says:

    I don’t think I can justify buying a book I don’t want to read simply because of the typing gorilla… ah well.

    On the other hand, I am now curious about Inspector Montalbano (seriously?) and pondering whether Jorrie Spencer was being sarcastic with her comment.

    Just how does absentmindedness express itself, in real life? It’s often portrayed as lack of hygiene in fiction, but I wonder.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I have not seen the TV series of Inspector Montalbano, but I have read and loved a lot of the books. Set in Sicily and translated from Italian.

      The gorilla is great but the romance is nothing out of the ordinary.

      • azteclady says:

        There you go, I think this one is a pass–though I’m now curious about the Sicilian mysteries.

        • merriank says:

          I would actually call the TV show a cosy police procedural whose hero is your classic sexist but sexy middle aged man. There is a thesis in the gender relations (there are no main cast women) and the sentimentality. Sicily is a star of the show; the heat and the old stone buildings. The Inspector (Commissario) has a long distance, long term relationship and lives in an amazing house by the sea, eating all the good things his housekeeper cooks. I think there are 10 seasons now, so they can be glommed. I see it here on SBS TV and can get the DVDs from my library, they are in Italian, sub-titled in English. I gather Italian speakers take issue because The Commissario speaks Roman Italian, not Sicilian. There’s even a prequel series now of Young Montalbano making his way as a new Police detective. In the United States, it is broadcast on MHz Networks’ Worldview Channel. There’s a wiki page if you want to know more.

        • azteclady says:

          Thank you, Merrian; I actually did a quick search and found some information, and I’m intrigued.

    • Jorrie Spencer says:

      Sarcastic. In that, imo anyway, absent-minded professor types in real life leads to ongoing and sometimes wearing situations, not silly one-off mistakes. Not lack of hygiene, but constantly misplacing things, constantly late for things, constantly surprised afresh every single week for the last ten years that it’s garbage day. Etc. etc. I’m sure there’s lots of variety though!

      • azteclady says:

        I was thinking that it was more likely they’d be absent minded in the “ooooops, was the mortgage/car payment/phone bill due yesterday?” than in the “non-matching shoes” way. Definitely not funny to live with/through.

        • Jorrie Spencer says:

          Yeah. I pay the bills 🙂

          I should say not all profs are absent minded, or even absent-minded in the same way. But clearly Liz’s description of this book struck a nerve!

        • azteclady says:

          It’s always a bit grating with shorthand/stereotype hit close to home, no? Particularly when they are used in place of actual, you know, character development and the like.

  4. lawless says:

    Lack of realism in an actual real world setting would bug me too. I’m with you on the need for explicit sex in a romance, although I read a fair amount of erotic romance. And boo for bait-and-switch on absent-minded professor!

    As for craft considerations: that is weird dialogue. The insistence on repeated epithets for their eyes reminds me of fanfiction. I like fanfiction and have no desire to slam it, but that’s something that can get on my nerves.

  5. Janine Ballard says:

    Kinsale had an absent minded heroine in Midsummer Moon, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a hero who genuinely fits that description. I’m curious if anyone else has.

  6. Dorine says:

    Enjoyed your review and the discussion.

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