When Assistant Director Jeri showed me the brand new Harlequin Romance novel A Roof over Their Heads, by local author M.K. Stelmack, I was instantly swept back to my distant past. In antediluvian times, when I had just reached adolescence, my mother kept her stash of library books under her bed. I think this was more to keep her room looking tidy than it was to hide her reading proclivities. My mother read Harlequins, a lot of them. As they were hidden under her bed, the allure of reading the seemingly forbidden was overwhelming and I would succumb to temptation, time and again.
My mother’s choices were hardly salacious, although every now and again a hearty bodice-ripper slipped into the mix. They were tame and felt more realistic to me than the more lubricious ones, hardly contributing to the delinquency of this particular minor. (I was only twelve, after all.) I think that this is what appeals to me most about Stelmack’s story – the tension is more intellectual and emotional than physical.
The only nudity in A Roof over Their Heads is that of a young boy, whose manner of dealing with his anxiety is to strip down and run away. This actually sets up the meet cute of the two main characters. The boy, upset by his new surroundings, dashes off sans clothing, and jumps into the front seat of a truck at a stop sign. The driver’s discomfort is palpable. No other nudity occurs, other than that, and some kissing is the most physicality on offer.
Stelmack follows much of the prescriptive format of romance novels. Two characters meet and form an instant dislike to one another, although they still manage to enumerate each other’s attractions. But what Stelmack does with the storyline is far more than what I remember from those old romances my mother used to read. She provides dimension to the characters, both primary and secondary. Most characters have backstories that affect their current actions and reactions. Some of these backstories are merely hinted at, never fully divulged, which left me remembering the story and wondering long after I finished reading it.
What I really enjoyed was the setting. The story takes place in a lake town, 10 minutes west of Red Deer, called Spirit Lake. I found it fun to trace the whereabouts of the characters, relative to the layout of Sylvan. The first setting actually had me picturing events occurring right in my own house, the key landmark being the Mac’s store, where the kids get slushies.
The ending, while unusual, felt a little contrived. Yes, the story needed a happy ending, but how it actually concluded had me giving it mild side-eye. Still, the overall effect was a romance with twists and turns that had me trying to figure out before the last page how it was going to end with everyone being happy.
The worst part of the book was that it made me cry. Maybe I was coming down with a cold or something, but my eyes watered to overflowing. But I wasn’t crying about the main characters. The secondary characters roped me in and had me cheering for them, being anxious for them, and wanting to look out for them. And they made me cry.
If you’re looking for a gentle romance, A Roof Over Their Heads is a good book to go to. It’s a fairly quick read, but one that does leave the reader guessing right to the end.