Book Review – Purple Hearts by Tess Wakefield

Book Review – Purple Hearts by Tess Wakefield
Book Review – Purple Hearts by Tess WakefieldPurple Hearts by Tess Wakefield
Published by Emily Bestler Books
Publication date: April 25, 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance
320 pages
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher

When a soldier with a troubled past and a struggling songwriter agree to a marriage of convenience for the military benefits, neither expects much after saying “I do.” Then tragedy strikes, and the line between what’s real and what’s pretend begins to blur in this smart and surprising romance perfect for fans of Nicholas Sparks and Jojo Moyes.

Cassie Salazar and Luke Morrow couldn’t be more different. Sharp-witted Cassie works nights at a bar in Austin, Texas to make ends meet while pursuing her dream of becoming a singer/songwriter. Luke is an Army trainee, about to ship out for duty, who finds comfort in the unswerving discipline of service. But a chance encounter at Cassie’s bar changes the course of both their lives.

Cassie is drowning in medical bills after being diagnosed with diabetes. When she runs into her old friend Frankie, now enlisted in the Army, she proposes a deal: she’ll marry him in exchange for better medical insurance and they can split the increased paycheck that comes with having a “family.” When Frankie declines, his attractive but frustratingly intense friend Luke volunteers to marry Cassie instead. What she doesn’t know is that he has desperate reasons of his own to get married. In this unforgettable love story, Cassie and Luke must set aside their differences to make it look like a real marriage...unless, somewhere along the way, it becomes one...

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Tess Wakefield pens a modern day love story in PURPLE HEARTS, highlighting many of the problems Americans face today—access to healthcare, cost of medical care, issues with veterans benefits, mental health, and addiction. While her efforts to draw from real-life issues are admirable, Purple Hearts is fraught with quality issues in terms of the writing, character development, believability, and pacing.

Cassie is diagnosed with Type II Diabetes towards the beginning of the novel. The medical bills that she amassed as a result are so crippling that she decides the only way she can overcome them is not to get a second job, despite being college educated and an experienced paralegal, but to defraud the U.S. Government and marry a soldier for his health insurance and extra spousal benefits. Luke has his own financial woes as a result of pissing off his former friends who are drug dealers and decides this is a marvelous idea.

When I read the synopsis and saw that diabetes was the culprit of the heroine’s medical costs, I envisioned that maybe this person went into diabetic coma and was hospitalized for a long period of time, while doctors worked to get her diabetes under control. (I had a client who had to be placed in a medically-induced coma as a result of complications from type II diabetes) A health problem in this realm of severity would have made the case for the cost of medical bills from diabetes to be “unmanageable.” This, however, was not what happened.

It’s noted that the author did consult with people who suffered from type II diabetes, so as to portray the illness in a real way. But I didn’t find this particular choice of illness to make a whole lot of sense. There are so many other illnesses the author (or rather Alloy Entertainment since this company came up with the concept of this novel) could have chosen to use in this novel to make this a little bit more believable, especially in the area of cost.

I can’t imagine that Cassie’s medical bills were in the arena of completely debilitating. I’m positive my student loans are more burdensome than this. Cassie’s medical bills are as follows: an ambulance bill, medical testing for diabetes (this is a blood test), a short hospital stay, medications, and diabetes testing supplies. In America, these bills are extremely costly but couldn’t she have made payment arrangements? Well yes, but Cassie refuses to get a second job so that she can fulfill her dream of becoming a successful singer.

Cassie is not very sympathetic or likable character. She and Luke are on opposite ends of the spectrum here. Luke is the more conservative and traditional guy, while Cassie is much more progressive a self-described feminist. But doesn’t marrying a guy solely for his monetary support go against her feminist principles? Aside from that point, her choices alone made her come across as selfish and lazy.

As if readers could forgot that Cassie has diabetes (because she brings it up all the time) there is a large portion of an entire chapter during which Cassie shares all the food that she’s eating. Even when Luke is meeting with someone about his medical problems, she makes it a point to tell the other person that she has diabetes for no reason.

One thing I noticed right away is the poor writing quality. I believe the author wanted to create a quirky heroine who was unapologetically herself but her inner dialogue was terrible. In an attempt to, I guess, foreshadow the impending diabetes diagnosis, the author has Cassie talking about her relationship with her “gut” throughout the whole book.

“We had to be on the same team, my gut and I, because for the past few months it’d been off, cranky. I pictured it as a wise, old, talking anthropomorphized object, like a character in an animated movie. What my gut communicated was usually limited to things like I do not care for these Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, or Good effort with the bean soup, I’m going to expand and sit with this for a while.

“My gut flared again, and I avoided hitting the bumper of the Honda in front of me by an inch. I wanted to slam my head against the steering wheel.”

“The mass had spread through my whole body, throbbing dizzying me. This happened a lot. Like, twice a day, thereabouts. Hence the gut intimacy.”

Luke has his own narrative quirks when he talks about being on Oxycontin versus being sober, “cloud head” and “regular head” respectively. I get where the author was going with this, but this was just another example of the awkward writing style.

“I called it ‘cloud head.’ My cloud head was carefree, dumb, sweet, like a kid. Cloud head didn’t want too many details. Cloud head knew that everything was going to be okay. My regular head couldn’t do that. My regular head would get caught up in everything that could go wrong, and lash out. I needed cloud head for the tough times, so that they looked more simple and nice than they actually were…”

The dialogue in this novel is perhaps some of the most stilted and unnatural dialogue I have ever read. Some of it made me cringe.

“Wanna get turnt?”

Or my favorite line.

“I want to get sloppy.”
“Chyeah,” Davies said. “I’m in.”

Since the author addresses so many hot topics in this novel, she has a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time. There are several passages that are pure information dumping sections in the middle of the story and that read like a public service announcement.

For those curious about whether the love story makes up for the writing quality, let me tell you that it does not. These characters are barely together romantically in this novel. Even when Luke comes back from Afghanistan, Cassie is dating someone else. The author doesn’t spend page time building the relationship between Cassie and Luke in a way that translates to the reader. There is so much telling instead of showing that it prevents the reader from developing any strong feelings towards the characters or their “love story” at all. With Luke coming back from war in the way that he did, that plot point alone could have been used in a great way to beautifully shape a foundation for their relationship. Instead, the author gives us no build-up at all, and at the very end both mysteriously decide they love each other and then the novel ends.

The publisher has categorized this book as Women’s Fiction but honestly it reads more as a contemporary romance. Cassie doesn’t go through any metamorphosis of the heart or a huge character change. The only thing that changed is the fact that she fell in love with Luke and therefore, is no longer committing fraud on the government.

* Thanks to Emily Bestler books for providing me with an early copy for review. 

Teaser - Purple Hearts by Tess Wakefield

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