My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: I’m torn. On one hand, Megan Hart’s “Tempted” was well written, engaged me from beginning to end, and I thought the story was well paced for the respective conflicts and thematics within. On the other hand, the characters frustrated the heck out of me in spurts. I’m not sure which side of the fence I fall in in retrospect with this, but I still say I liked it.
I think I now know why, among some of Megan Hart’s works, “Tempted” is the kind of story that could go either way as far as the appeal is concerned. It has Hart’s signature strong writing, sensual scenes, and developed characterizations to the point where they feel like real people dealing with serious issues. But the drawback for this particular novel is whether you can get behind some of the things the characters do and the way they respond to certain situations. Does it make you feel for them to the point where it hits you at your core or does it make you want to pull your hair out at how they stumble and fall through these situations? That can make or break this novel as far as how it levels with you.
I said before that I may not like the things a character says or does in certain situations, but if I can delve into their perception and level with what they’re thinking or feeling in the moment, it can still have an impact on me. I think Anne, James, and Alex are are complicated characters. Not always complex, but certainly complicated. They aren’t easy to follow without wanting to smack some sense into their heads. Anne, especially considering she’s the viewpoint character of the novel, often had moments where I felt she was too callous and careless. She does have an arc of growth as the novel goes forward that I appreciated to an extent. She starts the novel with this idea that no sense of happiness in her life ever lasts, so she has to put on a brave face, settle for the moment and “fix” whatever problems get hurled her way. She’s a perfectionist in the worst way, and by that I mean she puts on this surface facade and gets it in her head that she has to keep up appearances before her own wants.
Even the relationship with her husband, James, seems to be a temporary happiness. She admits she was never head over heels in love with him, but they make each other happy on a surface level, and considering the disappointments Anne has had in the spectrum of her life and with people who let her down (i.e. her alcoholic father), she thinks that’s as good as she’s going to get. Living the lie as if it is the truth – lying to others as well as herself. And believe me, she lies quite a bit to people around her, or allows assumptions to be made on her behalf.
Until Alex Kennedy comes into the picture.
Alex is James’s childhood friend who has come into a certain amount of wealth and good fortune as of late. They once had a falling out, but Alex and James make an agreement for Alex to stay over for the summer. Anne isn’t thrilled about the idea, but then begins a complicated relationship of three individuals who started off in a trade of experimental relations, but quickly becomes complicated when emotions hit the ceiling, especially with Anne’s growing attraction to Alex and the way he “sees” and attends to her in a way that James does not at first. It’s only then when she starts embracing the “truths” of her life – the memories of her past as wells as her wants/needs in her current life.
I think this is more of a story of what the relationship between these three manage to discover about each other, though of the three, I found I wanted to know more about Alex and I felt that he had more to teach James and Anne about their relationship rather than them teaching him anything. He got the short straw in this story, unfortunately. There’s an interesting triangle of a relationship that I think the surface was scratched upon, but it wasn’t fully realized, especially with respect to Alex and James’ previous relationship and what led up to the falling out. If only – if only – Hart had developed that part of the story with as much realization as the other components of this tale, I think this novel could’ve been easily a knockout in the way that “Dirty” was for me. Yet, it doesn’t ever get there, it sort of fizzles before it ever takes flame. Sure, the insufferable qualities and flaws of the characters are there, and palpable with respect to their experiences, but I think what made me want to throw the book against the wall was how it feels like it truncates to these general expansions and it doesn’t dig as much as it could’ve done. I kept thinking there was more to the encounter between Alex and James than it was because there was emphasis placed in that spectrum of the story, but it doesn’t develop past that very much. And Anne’s relationship with her husband really is surface level in a good portion of the novel. While I felt while they loved and were suited for each other, I still never felt the point where the depth of it – considering some turns of events – came to full fruition and realization.
I did like the side stories this novel had to offer, though. No qualms whatsoever there. Between Anne helping one of her sisters dealing with a financial crisis to another dealing with pregnancy and Anne confronting her old family fears on an internal and external level, I think Hart has a wonderful way of showcasing family. That’s one thing I loved about this novel and found it consistent with her other novels – she knows how to shift the intimate lens to family/friends in the character’s life and make the situations take a life of their own.
In the end, I did like what “Tempted” had to offer, more for its extensions of the story rather than the primary trio (though I did like some of the showcase of humor and developmental growth). I am curious to see how Alex Kennedy plays a role in the other stories following this.
Overall score: 3/5