Dafina, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-61773-566-0
Contemporary Romance, 2015
Benita Hawkins is dumped by her boyfriend Vaughn Brooks when the story opens. You see, she is a talent manager in Los Angeles, and Vaughn can’t understand why she wants to live there. She could do work by Skype and stuff, after all, and we all know that a woman is supposed to wait personally on her man in case he wants a beer or needs his dirty boxer shorts laundered. Benita can’t understand why Vaughn wants to stay in Trinity Falls, but at least she’s willing to talk things out. Vaughn, however, sees her disagreement as evidence that LA had changed her into clearly a different person, so he cuts her off, still hovers around wanting to cop a feel anyway even as he tries to date some local girl in front of Benita.
Meanwhile, other town folks insist that Benita is wrong to even want to go back to LA. Stay in Trinity Falls! It’s an utopia for virtuous xenophobes! What, Vaughn keeps humiliating her and making her feel like dirt? That’s because he still loves her! These town people just know it, don’t you know. They probably have her bugged so that they can listen to her every move, I tell you.
Mystic Park is the fourth book in the author’s Finding Home series, and while the core romance can stand alone, I don’t recommend this book as an entry book into the series. This is because the author has completely lost control over her sequel baits – they are like wild dogs let out of their pens and crashing into every scene. The thing is, their roles are not interesting at all – they are basically an endless parade of cheerleaders insisting that Vaughn is amazing and Benita is so, so wrong for ever wanting to leave Trinity Falls. Worse, the main characters here are barely developed. I know the author can write amazing characters, so I can only hazard a guess that the resemblance of Benita and Vaughn to two planks with a sad face sketched on one side must be due to the presence of so many intrusive secondary characters eating up space that could have been used to develop the main characters more.
This is a huge problem because the main characters need to resolve this problem on their own in order for the happy ending to be believable. Compromise is needed. However, the author instead has the town consistently making Benita feel like an idiot and a fool for even daring to go against the grain. Basically, the poor girl is the town public toilet – everyone takes a dump on her while pretending to be sweet and caring.
Vaughn doesn’t even pretend to be sweet – that man comes off like a control freak of the most brutal kind. He has no self awareness – he lashes out at Benita for “wanting to make decisions for everyone” when he is doing exactly the same thing to her. He bodes no disagreement from her – he reacts with the drama raised to over 9,000. She is no longer the woman he loves! He will dump her… again! And again! And again! I won’t wish Vaughn even on my worst enemy – that’s how toxic he is. He’s really the worst combination of stupidity and cruelty. In the end, he gets what he wants – by the last chapter, Benita is a broken person, beaten into submission into wanting to stay in Trinity Falls, only to get reamed out by Vaughn in a spectacular last minute “he’s determined to think the worst of her because she dares to disagree with him” spectacle. She actually whimpers to herself that she can’t bear to have Vaughn hurt her any more when he shows up in the last chapter. He apologizes, but she’s already tripping over herself to run to him because, oh joy, Ike Turner-wannabe here loves her and her life is complete!
Mystic Park is not going to be a pleasant read for any reader who does not believe that life in a small town is the start and end of everything good and holy. The author blatantly uses the plot and the secondary characters to hold the heroine down, and let the hero be the baseball bat that beats the heroine into submission. Benita is never given a chance to come to a decision on her own terms, and given how the hero treats her in this story, I feel really bad for her. Just like how I’d like to see a terminally ill dog put down to end her misery, I find myself wishing that she’d get fatally run down by a truck or something by the last chapter. I used to like Trinity Falls, but now I’m starting to suspect that the folks must be all minions of the devil hoping to recruit newcomers and breed spawns of Satan on these newcomers.