Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"One Reckless Summer," by Toni Blake

The Chick: Jenny Tolliver. After her husband cheats on her because she wears her Goody Two Shoes even in bed, she's tempted to rethink her "good Jenny" approach when she embarks on an affair with a Troubled Man With a Dark Secret.
The Rub: She could spend time exploring the meaning of Good and Evil when she discovers the Dark Secret, but she's too busy having Animalistic Monkey Sex.
Dream Casting: Jennifer Garner.

The Dude:
Mick Brody. When his terminally ill brother breaks out of prison and begs him for help, he uproots his entire life and heads back to the hometown that never truly accepted him to help his brother spend his last days out of prison.
The Rub: Mick's past Denial, Anger, and Acceptance - once he meets Jenny again, he moves right past to the Eternally Horny Stage of Grief.
Dream Casting: Ben Affleck.

The Plot:

Jenny: Gee, sure am ticked my husband cheated on me, but I'm still "Good Jenny," yes sir!

Mick Brody: Get off my land!

Jenny and Mick: *Woodsy SexyTimes*

Jenny: Whoopsie. Guess I better not do that again.

Mick: Hey, baby!

Jenny and Mick: *SexyTimes in the Rain*

Jenny: Well shoot. I'm just so clumsy. I'll be more careful not to have sex with you again!

Mick: 'Sup.

Jenny and Mick: *SexyTimes on the Ice-Cube Tray*

Jenny: Doggone it! Oh well, tee-hee, guess it might be love.

Ornery Meddling Dad: *meddles, ornery-ily*

Mick: I'm out.

Jenny: Really? No more sex?

Mick: Oh, all right.

Jenny: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Troubled Hero with a Dark Secret

1 Case of Abandonment Issues

1 Obsessed-Over Dead Cat

1 Ornery Dad

1 Dead Mother Who Continues to Influence from Beyond the Grave

Two Forgotten Condoms

The Word:
This book I read? It wasn't a romance. I don't know what it was, but it was neither what I was expecting nor what I was looking for. When I read the positive reviews and the backcover blurb, I know what I thought this story would be. An across-the-tracks class-difference romance. A small town romance. Or at least a story about two people who get to know each other and establish a deep, emotional connection that makes sense within the context of the narrative.

Instead, I got a story about two people who find out they really really really like having sex with each other, so it must be love.

What a disappointment. I mean, the writing in One Reckless Summer isn't terrible, and occasionally rises above the average, but when all is said and done, the novel has a weak and tired storyline that mainly serves to give the hero and heroine more excuses to bone each other in new and unnecessarily difficult ways when they're together, and angst endlessly to themselves when they're apart.

Jenny Tolliver has always been the "good girl." Never got in trouble in high school, married young, always returned her library books on time. When her husband accuses her of being "too good" (i.e. passionless) in bed to justify his cheating on her with her teaching assistant, Jenny gets a quickie divorce and heads back to her hometown of Destiny to find her bearings and indulge in her passion for star gazing and astronomy.

Unfortunately, the best view in Destiny for stargazing lies on the other side of the lake from her dad's cottage - the seedy side, where the troublemaking Brody family used to live. Jenny's one major teenage transgression was to steal across that lake and onto forbidden Brody territory, so she does so now, although it's only a token gesture as the Brodys are long gone.

Or so she thinks. She arrives on the other side of the lake only to literally run into Mick Brody, our Tortured Hero with a Dark Past, who orders her off his land. Jenny, tired of being the "good girl," refuses, and Mick chooses the most unorthodox Scaring-Off method possible: having sex with her. No matter how many times I read that scene, I don't understand how "Get Off My Land" turns into "Condomless Sex In the Woods With a Man Of Whom I Know Only A Little and All of It Bad." And as this is the Inciting Incident of the entire plot, you can tell that this novel doesn't even start on the right foot with me.

Afterward, during The Most Awkward Pillowtalk Ever, Mick orders Jenny not to tell anyone he's in Destiny and says he'll check up on her to make sure she sticks by her word. He then slips off into the woods to give his penis a stern talking-to for boinking the chief of police's daughter, especially since he's hiding his Terminally-Ill Escaped Convict Brother in his cabin so that he can live out his last days outside of a jail cell.

I thought the novel might pick up from there, because at least we have Drama. Mick's from the wrong side of the tracks, criminal activity and all, and Jenny is the squeaky-clean daughter of the chief of police who's never kept secrets from her father.

Unfortunately, the only time our protagonists spend time together (before the inevitable Kiss and Make Up at the end of the novel) is during (or directly before) sex. Mick shows up at her door, drinks ice tea, they have crazy sex, and then he leaves right away. Jenny spends the day promising herself she won't do it again, until Mick shows up and they have sex again. Condoms are forgotten again (and the heroine goes to the clinic one town over, again). Jenny thinks Deep Thoughts about Good and Evil and her Desireability as a Woman - until Mick shows up, they have sex, and he leaves.


They never meet in public. Mick's hiding a fugitive, after all, and no one's supposed to even know he's in Destiny. He shows up at Jenny's back door (only in the literal sense, pervs), they have sex, then he leaves.

They never talk. Or at least, more than the incredibly basic and vague conversations they have before sex like the one where Mick admits he's never Slow Danced with a Girl, which reminds Jenny of his Underprivileged Roots, which suddenly makes him Super Hot and quickly leads to bootknocking. Okay, I'm exaggerating a little, but the conversations and interactions in this novel are completely dwarfed by the sex. The main source of communication between Jenny and Mick is sexual, and frankly, given the extreme differences in their upbringing and backgrounds and interests and moral attitudes, I just didn't buy that sex alone would suddenly build up this Unbreakable Forbidden Love between them.

The romance itself is all internal - born not of the hero and heroine interacting with each other, but of both of them coming to isolated realizations on their own while analysing their past behaviour. And even then, while Jenny and Mick think more Romantic Thoughts when they're apart, they still spend a lot of their alone time thinking about, reliving, and obsessing over sex.

Mick spends a large chunk of novel thinking of Jenny as some sort of Sexual Teddy Bear to bang in order to comfort his grief at his brother's impending demise. Jenny spends it going "Don't have sex - don't have sex - don't have sex - d'oh!" and then quickly, "Don't fall in love - don't fall in love - don't fall in love - D'OH!" Their interactions are based so tightly around their sexual encounters that the romantic relationship with them is poorly developed and pops up out of nowhere.

It's because of this that I have a hard time considering this book a romance. Maybe it could be considered Erotic Woman's Fiction - Mick's POV is considerably limited compared to Jenny's, and her story is more centred around how she can change her life for the better and escape her patterns of limiting behaviour. Banging a complete stranger is definitely a way to change her life, but it's only a part of the story, not the story itself.

There's nothing wrong with Women's Fiction, but, like romance, it relies on strong characterization and it seems on both counts I'm doomed to damn One Reckless Summer with faint praise. Mick is - okay. He spends the majority of his "screen time" having sex or thinking about sex so his past is sort of glossed over. He's not explored very deeply and most of our understanding of his character comes through what the author or the character tells us, instead of demonstrating it with his behaviour. He does get points in the romance world for being a legitimately blue collar character - he's not the owner of a small, independent, and yet incongruously successful and money-making business. Or a secret artist. Or a soldier or spy. He's a bricklayer, and pretty much broke. So props to Toni Blake on that score.

Jenny only succeeds in being mildly sympathetic. We spend a lot of time in her head, but it's a surprisingly roomy space, if you catch my meaning. This story is supposed to be about her, and her decisions, and how she finds herself - but she still comes off as a passive participant in her own story. Things seem to happen to her more because she has little to no willpower than through any conscious choice on her part. She doesn't decide to have sex with Mick Brady until the middle of the book - for the first, oh, three or four times she swears she will NOT have sex with Mick Brady. It is wildly irresponsible (this much is true) and they are So Different and Wrong For Each Other. But then Mick shows up and touches her boobies and she melts like an ice cube on a barbecue. Um, you go girl?

I have to admit that my own disappointment contributed to my negative reaction to this novel. I was expecting it to be so much more, and instead it turned into the type of romance I absolutely despise, where the sex makes no sense and when it pops up it brings the pacing to a crashing halt. Around the seventh sex scene, I found myself going, "AGAIN? I have to skim another ten pages AGAIN? Come ON! Where's the story?!"

Objectively, however, the writing isn't bad. The characters aren't terrible caricatures. But the pacing is almost episodic and the romantic entirely unconvincing. I found myself bored more than once, and if you are like me, and don't like sex scenes that don't contribute to the plot, you'll find yourself skimming a great deal of this novel.

Save your money, and get a Victoria Dahl novel instead - she, at least, knows how to mix Business (Story and Romance) and Pleasure (bow chicka wow wow) in her novels.


  1. Yes. In retrospect, I wonder why I bothered to finish this. I also found Destiny like something caught in the 50s full of women dressed like June Cleaver. But I guess cute dresses and skirts are handy for sex with scary strangers you run into in the woods.

    How about a believable small town? Dahl's better at that, too.

  2. This sort of reminds me of One Summer by Karen Robards (which I'm re-reading now). Robards' version is an "across-the-tracks class-difference romance." Plus, it's got a yummy hero and a strong heroine. :)