Teresa Hill's Bed of Lies is a sequel to two previous books about the McRae family, Twelve Days and The Edge of Heaven.
Julie Morrison has built a completely new life for herself after leaving her abusive parents. She has a great job and a fiancé from a wealthy - and more importantly, stable - family. No one in Memphis knows about her past until Zach McRae walks in a restaurant and sees her. Zach was her lifeline while growing up, but his presence in town could destroy everything she's worked so hard to achieve. It's obvious that there's something between them, and Zach helps Julie face the demons from her past. Meanwhile, he has problems of his own that come back to haunt him.
Blythe:Bed of Lies is the first book I've read by Teresa Hill (aka Sally Tyler Hayes). I found it to be an angsty sort of read, with a hero and heroine who both have a lot of baggage. A little too much baggage for me - on the whole I found the book depressing and moody, and I got tired of everyone wallowing in self-pity. Did you fare any better, Linda?
Linda: Well, I guess I must have been in an angsty mood - because I loved it. Both Zach and Julie had a lot of baggage, but Hill dealt well with the effects of dysfunctional families and the long-term emotional problems that result. This was also my first book by Hill, and I plan to hunt up the first two books in the series; I know the second was considered quite controversial.
Blythe: I got the sense that this was connected to something else, so I checked the review for the previous book - The Edge of Heaven - and I believe that one was about Emma, the sister who was a psychologist? Are there three connected books all together?
Linda: Yes, I believe Twelve Days and The Edge of Heaven are the first two. The Edge of Heaven is Rye and Emma's story and from the hints we got of it, I want to read it.
Zach was wonderfully portrayed in this book as an alpha male who finds himself losing control. Unlike so many wounded alpha heroes, he doesn't take it out on those who love him. Instead, he admits he's losing control and actually seeks help. I found it very refreshing to read about an alpha male letting others help him and seeking therapy.
Blythe: AAR reviewer Heidi chose The Edge of Heaven as her favorite romance of 2002, and I know several others really enjoyed it, but there were lots of negative posts on the Reviews Message Board when we posted the review. I'm not sure it's something I will seek out; reading Bed of Lies didn't make me feel like I needed to hear anyone else's story. I thought the book was average - not horrible - but it was a classic "orphan off." An "orphan off" is Suzanne Brockmann's term for a book with two main characters who are both wounded. (They both keep one-upping each other with their difficult backgrounds). In this case we had a heroine who had abusive, jerk parents who are both in jail, and a hero whose father beat his mom to death. When Zach's dad gets out of prison, Zach really falls apart. It's understandable, but we'd already seen Julie kvetch about her difficult childhood earlier. It was all too much for me, even if Zach's breakdown was understandable under the circumstances.
I was also annoyed because Zach had to talk about it with every single member of his family - and we heard it every single time. I think some of that should have occurred offstage because it was repetitive. Or maybe he could have lined them all up at once and explained the situation.
Linda: You've zoomed in on my only problem with the book - Zach's telling each member of the family - some of it could have easily been done off stage. But, that is a minor problem for me. Not only did I love Zach, I adored Julie and how she finally stopped running and came back to face her parents and her past.
It didn't bother me that both characters had dysfunctional pasts, although Zach was rescued when he was five and raised in a loving family. I think that because of it they were drawn together and understood each other.
Blythe: Oh, I agree - it was understandable and believable, but that didn't make me want to read about it. However, I did like that Julie decided to face her past and go back to her hometown and her brother. When I first started the book and saw the title, I was afraid that the whole book would be about Julie lying to her fiancé. Thankfully, it's not like that at all - I'd have to say that the title is misleading and maybe even inappropriate for the book.
Julie isn't honest with her fiancé at first, but she begins to be honest quite early on, thank goodness. I guess I should also mention that Julie and Zach are both engaged to other people when they sleep together for the first time. I could see some readers being bothered by this, but I actually wasn't... at least not much. I saw it as their necessary wake-up call that they were engaged to the wrong people, and neither of them defended what they did. I liked that Zach made fun of guys who called "cheating sex" something that "just happened."
Linda: Yes, I thought that it was dealt with well. When Zach immediately went to his fiancée and told her the truth, it showed his deep integrity and inherent honesty; he was truly distraught about being unfaithful.
Julie's lying in the early part of the book was well done, but I too was glad that she didn't spend the whole book lying. Julie's lying by the way, is very typical of growing up in an alcholic family. Children in this situation are taught to lie literally at their mother's knee. An alcholic or dysfunctional family is full of secrets and lies which can emotionally destroy the children and carry over into their adult lives.
Julie was smart to run at 18, but she didn't face up to the effects that her family had on her. Instead she created a fantasy background for herself and pretended she was a "normal" person. It wasn't until Zach confronted her and her house of cards crumbled as her lies were revealed to her fiancé, Steve, that she faced up to the fact that she was still carrying all of this baggage.
I also thought it was realistic that she was tempted to lie throughout the book and each time stopped herself and told the truth. Lying becomes an automatic response and does take a conscious effort to change and become emotionally healthy.
I really liked the way Julie and Zach communicated and I thought her teenage brother was well portrayed also. I really like Hill's writing style and I thought that all of the characters were complex and well developed. I will definitely read the next book, which I assume is Grace's story.
Blythe: That sounds like a good explanation to me. Even so, I don't know that I could have enjoyed the book much if the whole thing had been about her lying. I was glad that meeting Zach again made her confront reality and change her behavior.
And I agree, there was a definite Grace set-up there. I'm really glad you liked the book; I know Hill is beginning to get some acclaim. But it just wasn't my cup of tea. It's not like I can't tolerate wounded characters in romance, because sometimes I love them. But this one just went overboard for me. Between the two of them there was too much sad back story, and there was too much time spent "processing" the relationship. I guess the upside is that no one could accuse them of falling in love without thinking about it. Sometimes you read a romance and fail to understand how the couple fell in love in the first place. I could see why they did here.
Linda: What I liked about this story is even though their pasts were angsty, Julie and Zach also had great senses of humor - Julie always found something to laugh about. Since my own personal motto is: "you might as well laugh as cry," I identified a lot with her. I also liked it that Steve was not portrayed as a jerk or turned violent when she told him the truth. I did think Gwen's response to Zach's confession was a little over the top; but I guess it did enable her to salvage her pride. I really didn't see this story as a "downer" at all. It seemed more like a story of redemption that was quite upbeat considering the baggage of the two main characters.
Blythe: I thought Gwen was a little on the bitchy side, and I wondered why Zach stayed with her so long without realizing that he wasn't really in love with her. Julie's engagement to Steve made more sense to me, even if she was also with the wrong person. It was understandable that she would crave stability and security, although naturally I don't think she should have lied to get it. Fortunately, she figured that out for herself.
Linda: I think Zach would have realized the problems with Gwen sooner if he hadn't been so wrapped up in his career - they really weren't spending much time together. We haven't mentioned Zach's career and it is certainly worth mentioning. Zach is a lawyer who specializes in defending children accused of murdering their abusive parents. When his pitiful client is convicted, it is the last straw for Zach and his emotional collapse precipitates the sexual encounter with Julie. In truth, Zach couldn't have continued on the same track much longer even if his client hadn't been convicted.
The ending of the book put a tear in my eye and left me with a smile on my face - which is my main requirement of a romance novel. Also, about 2:30 this morning I said to myself "boy can Hill write!" I really hated putting the book down to get some sleep.
Blythe: That's always the true test for me, too. The book that kept me up recently was The Chestnut Tree by Charlotte Bingham, a novel about WWII England. It was one of those books that got better at the end, and I found myself reading into the night.
Linda: It makes it a little hard to get up early, bright eyed and bushy-tailed doesn't it?
Blythe: Fortunately I can usually fake it, unless I stay up past 2:00 more than three nights in a row. And my kids know how to pour their own cereal. <g>
So we had a very mixed reaction to this month's book.
Next month will be quite different. With Linda busy moving and packing, reviewer, Sandy Coleman will be filling in for her. We will be discussing the Georgette Heyer classic, Arabella. It's one of Sandy's favorites and is due to be reissued in May. I've never read it, but I'm looking forward to it.
Linda: I will enjoy seeing your impression of Arabella. I've read all of Heyer's mysteries, but none of her romances! I have been told by several people that I really need to read the Regencies.
This month I have been reading a lot of "comfort" books - after the unexpected death of my sister, I just found myself wanting to pick up safe and happy books. Do you find yourself reading "comfort" books in stressful times, Blythe?
Blythe: You know, I'm not a frequent re-reader at all... I just feel too guilty when I look at my huge TBR pile. But I do reach for comfort authors, which is probably similar. I will also spend ten minutes here and there reading certain scenes over again, like the scene in Voyager where Jamie and Claire meet again after being apart for twenty years.
Linda: I often pick up comfort books and just read favorite scenes too. Sometimes I do feel guilty that I am rereading The Bride by Garwood or Family Man by JAK for the 50th time when I look at all the books that I've bought and haven't read yet. But, I have always re-read books and have a large shelf of comfort books most by just three authors - Palmer, JAK, and Garwood - with a smattering of other authors in it. I guess comfort authors is probably a good term. See you in May.
Blythe: See you then, and good luck selling, packing, and moving.
Linda: I just hope it sells quickly as I am tired of being "homeless." See you in two months. Happy reading.
--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for
-- Pandora's Box
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