The best I can say about this patronizing mess of romance cliches is that it had impeccable grammar and spelling. It's going to be hard to review this without punishing it for the sins of other books, but that's just how it goes sometimes.
The book starts off well enough. Sebastian Wolsely is a banker who usually lives and works on Manhattan. He's come to London to settle his wealthy uncle's estate as well as attend an old friend's wedding. Having come directly from the funeral, he's looking somewhat less than celebratory when Matty Lang, cousin of the bride, decides to chat him up. He likes how she shamelessly flirts with him without laying on the giggles, and she's impressed at how he doesn't lose a beat once he notices she's in a wheelchair. When he attempts to ask her out to dinner, however, she turns cold. Unfortunately for her, he's not a man used to taking no for an answer.
Here's where it all goes pear-shaped for me. Now, I understand that the determined hero in pursuit of the reluctant heroines is anything but particular to books working with a disability theme. Where it infuriated me was with her reasons for trying to put off the hero. There's insecurity, which pretty much everyone falls prey to every now and again, and then there's self-loathing.
Matty's behavior did not at all strike me as that of a healthy woman with normal insecurities about her place in relation to the world and the cosmopolitan hero. They were the musings of a deeply troubled woman stuck in mourning. She dwells on everything she's lost since being paralyzed in a car accident she blames herself for. I can understand wistfulness and regrets, but not being able to look at her godson without pangs of sadness at what she'll no longer have, three years on from her accident? Lying to her fiance while she was in rehab to drive him away? Feeling that her fiance's mom was right to have said "thank you" to Matty for setting him free to marry a non-cripple? Isolating herself from clients so they won't know she's in a wheelchair? Or, most dramatically, hacking at her hair with nail scissors to discourage the hero by making herself ugly:
"Painful as the subject was, at least he seemed to have forgotten all about her hair--the reason she'd attacked it with the nail scissors. At least she hoped he'd forgotten. Because it wouldn't take him long to work out that hacking it off in the bathroom that day in the rehab centre had been a symbolic gesture. Severing herself from all that was womanly, alluring in her appearance. A denial of her very femininity.
And then he'd know why she'd done it again today.
So much for keeping him away."
This woman isn't merely insecure, she's more emo than a Smiths album playing on a rainy February day. She doesn't need a husband, she needs therapy.
This being a 45k word Harlequin, this is just completely glanced over. I don't hate this book for having a head-case heroine, I hate it for attempting to pass her off as healthy, normal or as an example of how any woman would behave in her shoes. The book lacks any sort of self-reflection concerning her behavior, leaving me with the impression that she's supposed to be a crippled everywoman, and I didn't buy it.
So, and this is where I punish this book for the sins of others, I walked away angry at yet another romance using physical disability to provide angst and high drama. Independence is not about living alone and working. It's about confidence. Accepting help isn't a sign of weakness, so I'm baffled at how the genre seems to regard a stubborn refusal of help and friendship as some sort of sign for a strong, independent heroine. Conversely, the easiest thing to do is hide, mope and avoid. So when you show me a woman who pushes new friends away, hates herself for needing help and is embarrassed of her wheelchair, I see a deeply troubled woman. I don't see someone who can commit to a marriage after a weeklong courtship. If she can't love herself, how can she love anyone else?
Also irksome is the popular "I don't want to be a burden/I know I'm a burden" theme. Matty voices this about herself clear through the book. She interprets Sebastian's advances and others' actions in terms of how they must be wary of what a handful she is or that if she showed them how she's different they'll distance themselves. Since this comes up often and is never really dealt with, I had to wonder if this is what people think of the disabled. So far as I could tell, I was supposed to admire the hero for being the one to condescend to take on a pitiably crippled woman. That he was a good man for loving her despite her otherness. Her disability seemed to exist to make him look good.
In the end, I just have to say that you're not telling a story about transcending differences if the plot hinges entirely on a character's otherness. As a Harlequin Romance, it's an uninspired three star story of an artist swept off her feet by a lordling in disguise. As a treatment of disability, however, it's a resounding, patronizing fail.