by Luanne Jones, contemporary (2001)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81613-X
Sweethearts Of The Twilight Lanes, the debut romance novel by Luanne Jones, alternately frustrates and charms me. On one hand, it single-handedly tries to infuse the four-girlfriends formula with the small-town-girl-and-bad-boy-turned-prodigal-son-love-affair formula. Big job for an author whose inexperience and awkward, unpolished prose clearly show here. The result is a less than satisfying actual product that yet somehow manages to charm me with the promise of how much better a story it could have been.
Not that there's anything fresh or new with Sweethearts Of The Twilight Lanes. Tess Redding is your usual small town control freak heroine who couldn't acknowledge the fact that her life is slowly derailing before her. Oh, she has this thing about her lack of social life and how she wants to break loose but can't - the usual drill. She has several friends, Jerrianne, Wylene, and Reni, that make up the SuiteHearts (the Sweethearts in the title, called SuiteHearts because they once shared rooms in college), and trust me, these ladies are the sterotypical "more adventurous hottie girlfriends" three times over.
Tess once has a thing going with bad boy Flynn Garvey. Of course, Flynn is not a bad boy, in the words of the Jets, Flynn is "misunderstood". Anyway, he's now back, rich, handsome as ever, and he has this chip on his shoulder where his father is concerned. This bad father, you see, never acknowledges his illegitimate son Flynn at all. As it happens, Tess is pally with this old bad father.
When someone starts blackmailing the SuiteHearts, Tess realizes that she doesn't want her youthful escapades with Flynn to be exposed. She is, after all, a Southern Emily Post in her editorial post. So she has to see to this matter, and what better than to ask Flynn to play along with her, right?
Hmm, come to think of it, this book is an amalgamation of every happy contemporary romances ever come my path. And the frustrating is, these elements have been done so much better in better novels that this one emulates. Sweethearts Of The Twilight Lanes's awkward repartees and the stereotypical depictions of its main characters only lessen what it has to offer compared to other books that have covered its territory before.
But it does have its charms. Tess and Flynn, no matter how contrived they are, have their moments. Likewise, the depiction of smalltown life - suffocation as well as the extensive support network the suffocating closeness provides - are vividly depicted. When Tess and Flynn finally walk off into the sunset, I do smile, and I wish they will find a better story in their sequel one day. But it is so hard to overlook the familiar elements as well as the unpolished prose, because these outnumber the winning moments of Sweethearts Of The Twilight Lanes. Again, maybe next time.
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