One of the joys of reviewing for The Romance Reader is the opportunity to read books I never would have looked at, left to my own devices, and to find writers I know I will look for in the future. P.S. Love You Madly is such a book, and Bethany Campbell is such an author. She has woven an appealing story of three women - a mother and her two daughters - and effect of their mother's romance on all three.
Olivia Ferrar has been married three times and widowed three times, the last time - after a twenty-year marriage - quite recently. Thirty-year-old Darcy Parker, the sensible daughter, is the product of her first marriage, and Emerald, a senior at the University of Texas and much less than sensible, is the child of the second. Neither of the first two marriages was happy, and the third marriage, to Gus Ferrar, was also difficult. After Gus' death, Olivia bought a vacation condo in her native Maine and left her two grown daughters to fend for themselves in Austin, Texas.
As a going-away present, Darcy bought her mother a computer so that they could correspond via email. In a classic case of "No good deed shall go unpunished," that gift comes back to haunt Darcy. Olivia accidentally sends Emerald a copy of an email to the new friend Olivia found in a chat room, and the email makes it very clear that Olivia and BanditKing have already gotten together in Maine as well as in cyberspace. Since the misdirected email also reveals that BanditKing is involved in Florida real estate and since their mother is notoriously unsophisticated about finances, Darcy reacts with alarm and Emerald with hysteria.
Before Darcy and Emerald can decide what to do next, BanditKing's son arrives on their doorstep and promptly faints at their feet. John English's family is not much happier with his new romance than is Olivia Ferrar's. His son, Sloan, has decided to investigate in person. Sloan, an executive engaged in oil exploration, has over-estimated his strength, however. He is supposed to be at home in Tulsa, recuperating from an attack of Malay fever that he picked up in Kuala Lumpur. Egged on by his alarmist aunt, he decided that he was sufficiently recovered to drive from Tulsa to Austin; he was wrong. The disease was only in remission; the exertion brought on another full-scale attack.
Almost immediately, Sloan and Darcy recognize a mutual attraction, and his illness, combined with Olivia's determination to win him over to her side, by proxy, insures that he stays in Austin long enough for a relationship to develop. In the meantime, the reactions of their families are the first crises John English and Olivia must surmount if their affair is to last.
I read fiction - and especially romance - because I am interested in people and interested in how they react to the problems they confront. The problems Campbell has conjured up for her cast of characters in P.S. Love You Much are all interpersonal and no less absorbing because of that. With the exception of Emerald, her characters have an authentic feel to them. For instance, in the best of all possible worlds, Olivia would not make the mistake of falling in love so quickly with a man she met in a chat room. We as readers have reason to believe that she has not made a mistake but Darcy's worried reaction was believable. I understood both her anxiety over her vulnerable mother and the feelings of disloyalty she felt as she acknowledged her attraction to Sloan.
On the other hand, I found both Emerald and her response to her mother's romance troubling. Even after the first shock has worn off, she continues to react to each development in her mother's romance in ways that demonstrate her emotional immaturity. Although her mother and sister worry about Emerald, in almost all cases their efforts are directed at placating her rather than getting her the help she clearly seems to need. Frankly, had I been either Darcy or Olivia, I would have responded to Emerald with more anger and more concern than either showed.
Ultimately the charming and convincing romance between Darcy and Sloan outweighed how I felt about Emerald, and I am able to recommend P.S. Love You Madly with only mild reservations. Had Emerald's character and actions been less extreme, I would probably have awarded the book five hearts; as it is, I found P.S. Love You Madly a solid four-heart read.
--Nancy J. Silberstein