Pandora's Box

Where Is He Now?

Jennifer Greene
2003, Contemporary Romance
Avon, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0380819732

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

A letter from her high school reunion committee forces Jeanne Claire Cassiday to finally confront her high school sweetheart Nate Donneli. Jeanne wants to know why Nate ended their relationship with a curt note. The answer to this question leads Jeanne and Nate to look at their lives, dreams and how their lives are different from what they planned as high school graduates.

There is also a secondary romance between Tamara Whitley, Jeanne's best friend (and class Wild Child) and Class Nerd Arnold Graften, who heads the reunion committee.

Linda:   I have been a big fan of Jennifer Greene and her idiosyncratic writing style for a long time. Her hallmarks are likable characters with a bit more depth then the average category character and a good story. I was happy that all of her hallmarks were here in her second single title release. I loved it and after reading a lot of romantic suspense lately, it was nice to just read a good old fashioned character driven love story. So, Blythe what did you think of 'Jennifer's world' where nouns are verbs and it isn't just cold, it's "witch-tit-freezing cold?" Also, didn't you love the opening scene? I was rolling on the floor when Nate's Charlie came to attention as "the sexiest thing to pop-up in his driveway for a long time" appeared in front of Nate's business.

Blythe:  Yes, I thought that opening scene was very clever. I was completely fooled. And the book as a whole? For the most part, I really liked it. You've often mentioned her different style and creative use of language, and I enjoyed that; I found it kind of playful. I liked all of the characters here (although I have to confess my favorite was Arnold the nerd). I had a few nitpicks, but on the whole I thought this was a solidly enjoyable read. It was one of the better contemporaries I've read this year.

Linda:   Oh my gosh, we actually both like the same book. <g> Amazing! I loved the secondary romance with Arnold and Tamara. It was so sweet that it made me cry a couple of times. I loved the emotional growth that all of the characters showed throughout the book. Especially Jeanne Claire finally realizing that she was enabling her father. These characters were all well written with great depth. Also, I was happy that Greene did not go over the top on her description of Nate's Italian family - they rang true for me. I have always thought Greene's use of language has been playful and fun and never detracted from her storytelling skills.

Blythe:  I thought the Italian family was a huge contrast to the one in Millie Crisswell's book that we did in another Pandora. Remember how I found them angry and mean? Here I thought the family was a little overbearing, but in a believable way. In fact, the hero himself is overbearing. While Jeanne realizes she's been enabling her father, Nate realizes he really has been bossing everyone around. One of the subplots of the book is that Nate knows one of his brothers is stealing from him, and the reason stems from the brother's resentment. The culprit was obvious early on, but I don't think it was supposed to be a big mystery.

Linda:   I agree, I thought the fact it was fairly obvious helped the readers to see how completely out of touch Nate was with the fact that his brothers no longer needed him to be a father to them. I thought it was easy to see how Nate got the way he was and really admired him for being able to take a good look at himself and accept the fact that if he didn't change he could lose all of the important people in his life.

Greene also let us know that Nate and Arnold got turned on by the women in their lives, but she didn't dwell on it to the point of annoyance as some authors have done. I also loved the scene in the back of the Mustang - those back seats were tiny and I was laughing my head off at their contortions.

Blythe, these people were in your age group, did the pop culture references ring true for you? They were the ones I remember my 31 year old daughter liking.

Blythe:  Okay, well, you've touched on one of my pet peeves. These people were exactly my age (like both the hero and heroine, I graduated from high school fifteen years ago), and I had several problems with how they were portrayed. First of all, there are two scenes where characters recall songs they loved, and they recall more or less the same five or six songs. I think Greene could have dug a little deeper with the pop culture research. In particular, Jeanne and Nate have a short conversation about songs they remember, and I think it should have been longer. Usually people can go on for some time remembering songs that were popular when they were in high school, and usually they remember more than just Tainted Love (which would have been junior high) and, of all lame songs, Never Gonna Give You Up. Who on earth ticks off late 80s songs in their head and thinks of that one as really memorable? To be fair, I am something of an 80s music fan, and I score quite well on Internet eighties music quizzes (there's a useful skill for you). But I think that most people have special memories involving songs that were popular when they were teenagers, and most people can really talk about them. It is also easy to spot any type of pop culture mistake when you are the same age as the characters. I know this is picky, but Jeanne doesn't get her movies right either. Dirty Dancing came out the year after Top Gun. There, I've said it, and I feel better now.

And one more final nitpick in this area...why is this their first high school reunion? I have never heard of anyone having their first big reunion at fifteen years. Everyone has them at ten years.

Linda:   Well, I did like the Dirty Dancing reference - my daughter loved that movie and had Patrick Swayze's poster on the wall for a long time. On a personal note, I just went to two 40th high school reunions (I went to two schools) and you are right we did talk a lot about songs that were popular then (The Twist being #1 the year I graduated).

The funny thing about reading a book about finding love with someone you graduated with is that my girl friends and I all decided we wouldn't trade our hubbys for any of the guys at the reunion! In my case it was double funny as I was engaged to a guy in my graduating class and believe me I was glad I didn't marry him!

But, this was a nice fantasy with likable characters who showed real emotional growth. My dad owned a 1964 Mustang and when I was in college I loved cruising Hollywood Blvd. on Saturday nights in it. I still think it is one of the coolest cars made.

I think making it 15 years hit the age when those in their 30's are looking at their lives and trying to decide what's next. 10 years you are still in your 20's and trying to achieve your ambitions, without perhaps the introspection of the 30's.

Blythe:  The Dirty Dancing and Top Gun references were dead on. They were huge movies. In fact, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I saw each of them four times in the movie theater. There's something you don't do anymore when you're 33! My problem was that the order was wrong, and come on, how hard is that to check? Internet Movie Database, anyone? And Linda, I actually did marry my high school sweetheart. Well, best friend and later sweetheart - we only got together right after high school. I was amazed how many people at my ten year reunion were married to fellow classmates.

Linda:   Really? We only had one couple in each class that married after high school and were still together. Roger and I are celebrating our 33rd anniversary this month...where does the time go?

Blythe:  I can see your point about introspection, but I think she really just wanted Nate to have a teenage daughter and this was the best way to do it. But it's not all that realistic. Still, I should stress that these are nitpicks. I liked all four of the main characters and found them interesting and believable, even if I had to stifle my inner movie and music geek.

And yep, there were three couples just within our personal circle of friends, and a few more I heard about at the reunion. Dave and I had thought we'd be the only ones.

Linda:   Frankly when I finished this book I heaved a big sigh of relief - other favorite series authors, for example, Elizabeth Bevarly, have written books I loathed or their single titles had a feeling of merely being a padded category. But, Where Is He Now? had all of the things I like about Greene, with characters that showed depth. In many ways I hated to see this book end, I wouldn't mind reading more of the Donneli brothers' stories in future books.

Blythe:  I've never read Bevarly's series romances, but I did read one single title. Coincidentally, it also featured a couple going to a high school reunion, and Bevarly had the songs completely wrong (Greene at least picked songs from the correct decade).

I also closed this book wishing for a little more (so much better than closing a book thinking "Thank God this is over!), and I would particularly have enjoyed hearing more about Arnold and Tamara. They came close to stealing the show for me. I love nerds almost on principle, and I thought Tamara and Jeanne had a fun friendship. I loved the role-reversal mall scene where Jeanne goes to Victoria's Secret and Tamara buys the tailored blouse from Ann Taylor.

Linda:   Yes, it reminded me of a favorite old movie - Captain's Paradise. One of the things I liked about this book was the friendship of Jeanne and Tamara and the male bonding of Arnold and Nate. These were real people who were surrounded with believable family and friends. Too often a romantic couple seems to function in some kind of vacuum. I especially like a more active voice, where the author reveals the characters by letting us watch their actions and reactions. I would much rather discover for myself the depth of the characters then have the omnipotent author tell me about them.

Blythe:  I had forgotten about the scene between Arnold and Nate. That was nice too. I think you are right about the characterization. I have read a lot of mediocre books this year, and I was almost surprised to enjoy this one so much. I stayed up late to finish it a few nights ago, not because I was meeting a deadline, but because I was enjoying the book. That just hasn't happened to me much lately. I'm sure the fact that Greene actually takes the "show, don't tell" adage to heart is the major reason the book is successful.

Linda:   Well, I am glad you liked this book and the best part is that Greene has written over 60 category books, so lots of backlist you can add to your TBR pile. I've read most of her categories and have always found her a reliable storyteller. Hopefully Greene will get the career boost she deserves.

Blythe:  Yeah, that's what I need....to add sixty books to my tbr pile! When I was first on the internet, I participated on the Prodigy romance bulletin boards (which, incidentally, is where I met LLB). I'll never forget a discussion with Jill Barnett in which she said that category books were very tough to write and that some of the best authors out there were good because they had honed their skills writing categories. She mentioned Sandra Brown and Nora Roberts in particular. It looks like all that honing has paid off for Greene as well. I'll have to search out some of her older titles.

Linda:   I'll be happy to recommend a few favorites.

I understand you are going to take a break from Pandora for the Holidays and that AAR Reviewer Teresa Galloway will be joining me. We will be reading Beverly Barton's The Last to Die.

Blythe:  Yes, this is a hectic time of year, so I thought I would take a little break. But Teresa and I did a fun dual review of Pride and Prejudice that we conducted in Pandora fashion, so I'm sure she'll be a terrific substitute. I'll see you in February, and I hope you enjoy the Barton book.

Linda:   We are going back to Texas for the Holidays and I hope you and yours and all of our readers' holidays will be joyous. Happy Reading!

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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