Saturday, July 12, 2008

Taming Natasha (book) by Nora Roberts

Single-father Spence Kimball has just moved to a small town with his daughter Freddie, determined to give her more attention and love than he gave her while his wife was alive. He takes her to Natasha Stanislaski's toy store - Freddie finds a nice doll, and Spence finds a determination to see more of the attractive Natasha, despite the fact that she despises him. Because Spence came to the store with a woman, in addition to Freddie, Natasha assumes Spence is married to that woman, and she is outraged at the idea of a married man flirting with her while his wife is only a little ways away. In addition to being a father, Spence is also a musician and a professor - Natasha signs up for one of his classes without realizing who teaches it and suddenly finds herself unable to avoid him. Although she does eventually get closer to him, Natasha's got her own painful past, and her determination not to tell him about it could damage their developing relationship.

I think this is the first book in Nora Roberts' short Stanislaski series, but it doesn't really matter which book in this series you start with, since each romance is self-contained. Because it's a Silhouette book, there are no sex scenes until about halfway through the book, and what sex scenes there are are vaguely described and traditional.

If one of the people in a romance novel has to have some sort of emotional baggage, I usually prefer it to be the man, but Roberts did a nice enough job that I didn't mind that it was Natasha who had a little more to deal with than Spence. One thing I didn't like, however, was Natasha's "he's a married bastard trying to get himself a mistress" snap judgement. It was annoying and could easily have been cleared up in the first few pages if Natasha had responded to his offer of dinner by icily saying something like, "Well, I think your wife might have problems with that..." Spence would've cleared everything up right then and there, something that makes Natasha's 50-page anger and disdain seem very unreasonable. It was a cheap attempt on Roberts' part to prolong the development of Spence and Natasha's relationship, which she might have viewed as necessary because there's no antagonist and only Natasha's issues to gum up the works.

As for Natasha's issues, it may seem, for a while, that what she is trying to hide involves either a miscarriage or an abortion in her past - close, but not quite. Actually, Natasha, a former ballerina, got pregnant by another dancer, who wanted nothing to do with the child and advised her to have an abortion. Natasha, although hurt by his rejection, wouldn't dream of getting rid of her baby and has her anyway. Unfortunately, the baby doesn't survive long, and Natasha is left with a wariness of men and the pain of a dead child.

One of my favorite parts of the Stanislaski books in general is the Stanislaski family, which is big, happy, and supportive. They're fairly recent Ukrainian immigrants - Natasha was old enough when they left that she still remembers how uncertain and frightening the journey was. Natasha lives far enough away from her family that they don't show up often, just a little bit in a scene where Natasha takes Spencer and Freddie to her family's for Thanksgiving. The whole family is so nice and happy that I imagine most readers would find themselves yearning to be a part of it, so it's no surprise that Spencer and Freddie fall in love with them.

It's not my favorite book in the Stanislaski series, but it's not bad. It's sweet, and no one, even Freddie (I'm not a big fan of most children in romance novels), is annoying for very long.

Read-alikes:
  • High Energy (book) by Dara Joy - Zanita is a zany, befuddled reporter for a small newspaper, trying to investigate a phony psychic. Her befuddled-ness makes itself known early, when she tries to research psychics by signing up for a college course on them and instead signs up for a course in physics. The professor of the course is brilliant, gorgeous, and eccentric Tyberius Augustus Evans, who quickly falls for the very non-linear Zanita and becomes determined to watch out for her as she pursues her story about the psychic. Those who enjoyed the "romantic relationship between a professor and his student" aspect of Taming Natasha might like this book - be warned, though, the sex in this book is significantly more graphic in this book than in Taming Natasha (not as graphic as what you'd find in an erotic romance novel, but more graphic and, er, creative than what you'd find in pretty much any Nora Roberts novel).
  • The MacGregor Grooms (book) by Nora Roberts - The MacGregor family, like the Stanislaski family, is big, happy, and emotionally healthy. The MacGregor Grooms is actually composed of three short romantic stories (100-140 pages each). Each story is about a different man in one of the more recent MacGregor generations. Daniel MacGregor, the grandfather of these men and the patriarch of the MacGregor family, enjoys meddling in their lives (i.e. matchmaking), and by the end of each story one of the MacGregor men is happily matched up with someone who's just right for him. Although none of the plots of each of the three stories are particularly similar to Taming Natasha, the overall tone and feel of the book should be a good match for anyone who liked this book.
  • Snowfall at Willow Lake (book) by Susan Wiggs - Sophie Bellamy, a divorced international lawyer, survives a hostage situation and realizes she's missing out on what matters most in her life, her children (Max, 12, and Daisy, 19 - Daisy has an infant son). She returns to them in Avalon, NY, discovers the rewards of small-town life, and begins a relationship with Noah Shepherd, the local veterinarian. Of course, things can't be entirely easy, and Sophie discovers that Noah is actually 10 years younger than her, 29 to her 39. Those who'd like another book in which one of the main characters is trying to keep a good relationship with their children (albeit older ones than Freddie) and dealing with a move to a less hectic way of life and closer community might like this book. This is the fourth book in Wiggs' Lakeshore Chronicles series, but it shouldn't be a problem to start with this book.
  • Irresistable You (book) by Francis Ray - This is the fourth book in Ray's The Graysons of New Mexico series - the first book is Until There Was You, but each book in this series sounds mostly self-contained, and the fourth book seems to be the closest match to Taming Natasha. This series is about five American Indian/African American siblings living in Santa Fe. In each book, the siblings' matchmaking mother does her best to match them up with the perfect person. The fourth book focuses on Pierce, who's determined to resist his mother's matchmaking until he meets Broadway actress Sabra Raineau. Pierce is determined to win Sabra's heart, but she doesn't want anything more than a temporary diversion. Her career keeps her busy, and she's had her heart hurt by a man before. Okay, so this isn't another romance novel involving an immigrant or a daughter/son of immigrants, but readers who are looking for romance with non-whitebread American cultural aspects and a main character with a large and loving family might like this book. Also, those who'd like a romance novel with a reluctant heroine who's been unlucky with men before might want to try this.

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