Risk, by Ann Christopher

10 Jul

Risk by Ann Christopher.

Risk is the first book by Ms Christopher that I’ve read, and I was very eager to read it because the premise of the story intrigued me very much. Unfortunately, this was one of those cases in which my personal baggage interfered severely with my potential enjoyment of the novel.

A spark of desire

Fine and fearless, Justus Robinson doesn’t hesitate to hit on gorgeous law student Angela Dennis at his brother’s wedding, even though she’s the bride’s sister. That night the two share an unforgettably sexy dance, but nothing more–until ten years later, when a tragedy reunites them.

A test of love

Angela has barely healed from a breakup when her sister and brother-in-law are killed in an accident. Sharing their grief, Justus and Angela discover they are still attracted to each other. But when they find themselves competing to adopt their orphaned young niece, their rekindled passion is sorely tested. Justus is determined to raise the child even if it means alienating the woman he’s never stopped wanting. Reeling from loss and tormented by her desire for Justus, Angela makes a drastic move—one that will change the lives of everyone involved.

As usual, the blurb has more than a few things wrong: Angela gets dumped on a Friday evening, her sister and brother in law die in a car accident that same weekend—how much healing can she have done? I’ll say pretty much zero. As for the ‘rekindled passion’ bit… *put upon sigh*

Here’s the actual setup, given to the reader in the prologue: Angela is a 24 year old law student and Justus a 17 year old high school graduate about to leave for college when they meet at their siblings’ wedding (her sister, his brother). There’s attraction, a conversation and a dance. That’s it. Period. No fling, no sexooring, no nothing.

And nothing it remains for the next ten years, because they don’t see each other even once for all that time.

Ten years later, Angela gets dumped by her boyfriend at a restaurant where—oh coincidence!—Justus happens to be having dinner with a female companion. They recognize each other immediately, in the middle of Angela’s emotional crisis no less. Then, after another brief conversation during which she realizes he’s now an adult, and a very attractive one at that, and he once again gets the hots for her, they part again.

Two days later, his brother and her sister die in a car crash that only their three and a half year old daughter survives.

The only family the little girl has left now are: her paternal grandfather, who is wealthy but in fragile health; her paternal uncle Justus, a single man in his late twenties who has a reputation as a womanizer but who also has spent considerable time with his niece and; and her maternal aunt Angela, who is in her mid thirties, single, a workaholic, and who, up to now, hasn’t spent more than three minutes alone with the child.

There is also a minor subplot, set up from the prologue, involving a severe estrangement of long standing between Justus and his father, and how it colors many of Justus’ reactions—particularly when his brother’s death and the issue of Maya’s custody ignite a fresh wave of resentment from his father.

First off, I found it really hard to believe that the deceased couple, both of whom were lawyers, left neither will nor a guardianship provision for their daughter.

Then I had a few issues with the characterization. Justus’ fixation (I can’t think of another word that applies) with Angela seemed problematic to me—particularly since there was no long time crush to feed it prior to those ten years of separation, but also because he’s painted from the get go as a very active player who changes partners very very often.

Angela’s reaction and thoughts upon her boyfriend’s dumping her—during a routine Friday evening dinner at their favorite place, no less—felt very real. They showcased just how self-centered she is, how blind to anyone else’s needs and feelings. I imagine the idea was to show her personal growth through the novel, how being forced to become completely responsible for another person’s happiness and health and safety would make her—finally—grow up.

However, the opposite happened: the further I got in the novel, the harder it became to empathize with Angela. And I certainly couldn’t understand why on earth she would be so determined to gain custody of Maya when just a few short weeks prior she thought the little girl was a pest.

Throw in a moron of an ex boyfriend who keeps showing up, more as a plot device than as a person in his own right; a free spirited friend to contrast with Angela’s primness; and a more than a little contrived change of heart from Justus’ father that felt a little like a politician flip flopping on issues.

Aside from that, the timeline seemed very confusing, perhaps because for some reason I expected things between Justus and Angela to take more time than they did. I kept going back to try and figure out how many days had passed from the accident to the funeral to this scene to this other scene… If I am right, Justus came on to Angela with all guns blazing less than a week after the death of his brother. Which could very well happen, but doesn’t make me hope much for the longevity of such feelings—where’s the grieving period for either of them?

That, however, wasn’t my main issue with the novel. My main problem was that I could never suspend my disbelief enough to buy the idea that Angela and Justus hadn’t crossed paths even once during those ten years. They all lived in the same city—in the same general area of the city even. Angela was close to her sister—more so before Maya was born, but close still. Justus was very close to his brother and to his niece. Justus’ brother was very close to their father.

With such a small family and with most of the members of the same in good terms with each other… how is it possible that two of those members didn’t meet once during ten years? No Thanksgiving dinners? No Christmas parties? No celebration of Maya’s birth, or baptism, or subsequent birthday parties? Not one Sunday barbeque in over five hundred Sundays? The more I read the less I understood the family dynamics.

Of course this is a reader baggage thing—I’ve lived in a different country from my immediate family for some 22 years now, yet as long as I could afford it, I visited at least once a year. I sent my kids to stay with my siblings and parents over the summer and Christmas vacation for over ten years straight. We are close even when geography works against us.

So most of the time I was reading, I spent it struggling to accept that these two have somehow nursed a crush on each other for a decade on the strength of less than half an hour acquaintance, that they have managed to miss each other at their siblings’ house for that same decade, while trying to understand just why would Angela even bother fighting Justus for custody of Maya.

This one is a 5 out of 10 for me.

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