Same Time Next Summer by Holly Jacobs

book cover showing the couple embracing on the shore of a lakeThere are things I liked about this book, and it’s a different sort of story than you generally get from Superromance, but the way it was written drove me up a goddamned wall.

In a nutshell, this is a second chance story. Sort of. Carolyn and Stephan grew up together, spending their summers as lake cottage neighbors (all women’s fiction requires a lake cottage), then hooked up for a summer fling as teenagers before going on as friends as adults. The bulk of the action takes place when they’re in their early thirties, after a severe injury to Carolyn’s young daughter brings them back together. Left by her cold ex-husband and her unsentimental parents to keep vigil alone over her comatose daughter, Stephan leaves his life in Detroit to be at her side in Cleveland.

One of the things I liked most about the story is Emma, Carolyn’s daughter. As the action opens, she’s lying in a hospital bed in a coma after a car accident. Carolyn is, of course, keeping watch and determined to see her get well, despite everyone telling her that it won’t end happily. The doctor tells her that when comatose people wake up, if they wake up, it’s not like the movies. They wake very, very slowly, and are rarely the same as they were. And what happens? Emma wakes slowly, needs extensive rehab for a long time, and isn’t the same as she once was. She’s weak on one side, has problems speaking and uses a walker for a while. And everyone’s just happy she’s alive. Imagine that. Happiness and disability *can* coexist in a romance novel. Neat.

Where it all goes pear-shaped is in the telling. I can’t really decide when the story is set, or if it’s actually a contemporary. Only the epilogue (and it’s an epilogue that takes treacle to brave new heights) is set in the book’s publication year of 2008. Most of the action is set in 1994, with lots of flashbacks to their childhood together at the lake in the mid-1970s. After the couple hooks up and declares their mutual love and gets married, the book then jumps to 1999, where their actual HEA is delayed by a disagreement over whether or not to have children together (and you already guessed how that ends.)

I found all the time-line jumping annoying and unnecessary. Rather than a single, coherent book, it read like two connected novellas. There’s the 1994 story, then there’s the 1999 sequel. As a result, I felt jerked around. They got what sure appeared to be an HEA only to have the author yank it away and yell, “psych!”

For all its faults, I did sit down and read it straight through without stopping. The characters and the drama was compelling enough, but I just wish the telling was a bit smoother. C

~70,000 words
Published August 1st 2008 by Harlequin

If I’d Never Known Your Love by Georgia Bockoven

First book I’ve ever read that had me literally sobbing. Rest assured, there is an HEA, but it’s a brutal trip there.

The book opens as Evan McDonald is getting ready to fill in for his boss on a business trip to Colombia. After telling his wife Julia “I’m going to miss you. Every minute of every hour…” he’s off on his trip. After the time he said he’d call comes and goes, Julia starts to worry. When she tries to reach him and can’t, panic sets in.

Eventually Julia finds herself in a nightmare scenario. The doting father of their two kids and the love of her life has been kidnapped by paramilitary forces.

This heartwrenching book follows Julia through the years as she works to find Evan and bring him home, while keeping his memory alive and keeping life normal for the kids. Though Evan is absent from the present tense of the book, Bockoven develops his character through the letters Julia writes to him in her journal describing their courtship and love.

After being missing for five years, Julia gets the dreaded phone call – Evan’s body has been found and he’s been dead for five years.

It’s the second half of the book that takes your heart and smashes it up thoroughly. I’ve already told you there’s an HEA, but if I tell any more, I’ll ruin it for you, and this book is too emotional to miss out on a good virgin reading. I have never read a book that made me feel like this book did. Bockoven draws you into the characters of Evan and Julia and I mourned for Evan as much as I mourned for her. Their love, as told through her letters, was so strong and such a once in a lifetime chance that I mourned that loss. I had a pile of tissues around me, and I never cry at books or movies.

The only qualm I had was that the book ended far too quick. We get our HEA, after bawling our eyeballs out in empathy with the heroine, but don’t get to see the heroine really enjoy her second chance. I felt I needed more of a debriefing after the strong emotions she got from me.

I read this book years ago and I still get a little sniffly thinking about it. That should tell you something. B+

~75,000 words
Published August 1st 2007 by Harlequin

Lady Lavender by Lynna Banning

I picked this one up because I enjoyed the author’s contribution to Happily Ever After in the West and thought I’d try her out at full length.

Regrets… I have a few…

In a way, I wasn’t actually surprised to dislike the book. It is, after all, a Harlequin Historical, and they almost never seem to work for me (unless it’s by Carla Kelly.) And this book fails the same way HH books generally do: way too much navel gazing. An entire book based around a flimsy conflict like a hero swearing off love after a fiancee jilts him almost 20 years ago is bad enough. Having to read almost 200 pages of the both of them wondering what their feelings are is just tedious. For every page of dialog between the hero and heroine there are 10-15 pages of the hero idly contemplating how he wants the heroine but is afraid of being hurt or the heroine wondering if she’s a fool to get involved with a man who’s afraid of commitment. These exact qualms are pondered over and over again, ad nauseam. Boooooooooring.

To top things off, there’s an undeveloped sub-plot involving a villainous minor character bent on raping the heroine for no discernable reason other than to provide opportunities for the hero to ride in and play white knight. Sexual assault as a cheap plot gimmick always rubs me the wrong way. It’s so trivializing and irresponsible.

I think this is going to be the penultimate Harlequin Historical for me. I own one more to read, and after that, I’m done with this line. It sucks. D-

~75,000 words
Published January 18th 2011 by Harlequin Historical