MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-885-8
Contemporary Romance, 2002
The first few chapters of July Thunder seem like your usual small town family values party hour Granny at the Ozarks will simply appreciate. You know, a heroine who doesn’t do evil things like having a male-dominated career (Mary McKinney is a nurturing schoolteacher) and a manly hero (Deputy Sheriff Sam Canfield) who will wear the pants around the house because unlike the woman, the man knows best. The setting is the town of Whisper Creek where everybody’s favorite pastime is preaching and spying on his neighbors to make sure that they are behaving just like the Good Book tells us all to.
Then comes Elijah Canfield, Sam’s religious crackpot father. But be warned, Rush Limbaugh supporters, Elijah is portrayed in a really crackpot light. And he apologizes for being a crackpot at the end. Won’t that make those people throw up and petition for the banning of all Rachel Lee books from libraries, ho ho.
Still, this one is a very predictable and uninspired read. It is a by-the-book standard contemporary small town romance with all the usual hero-with-bad-past-with-love and heroine-with-bad-past-with-love-too that doesn’t stand out in the glut of such books in the market. Maybe that’s why the author creates Elijah and gives the crackpot so much limelight, only to gleefully plot his downfall later in the story, because she knows that’s the only way the readers may remember this story long enough to sign the “Ban Rachel Lee and Harry Potter from Our Country!” petition.
Sam’s baggage is that he is disowned by his father for not being a preacher and his wife died so he now can never love again. Touching, if overdone. Mary lost her child and her marriage went under soon after that, so now she is afraid to love too. Touching, if overdone. Then Elijah comes to town to be the new preacher at church, and Mary and Sam’s relationship becomes rocky when Sam and Elijah’s issues start coming between the lovebirds.
Rachel Lee seems to have no idea how to write things in a more palatable way when it comes to character baggage. Mary, Elijah, and Sam talk as if they are reading aloud from a conversation between Oprah and some shrink from her talk show. Every single page is spent dwelling on their problems again and again and again in circles that I wonder whether these people actually have any hobby. All they do is to commiserate about how miserable their lives are. Why can’t they just go to the movies or at least rent a video for some cozy evening at home?
Standard story and incessant dialogues that seem to have come from pop psychology TV shows make July Thunder a substandard average, sleepy story about boredom and ennui. Don’t be fooled by the teases of a giant inferno threatening to burn the town down – the only fire here is right-wing crackpots’ preparing a bonfire for Rachel Lee’s effigy for the way she throws a spanner into their beliefs that the moral Right is always right. Heh heh.