Harlequin HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77886-7
Contemporary Romance, 2014
Well, isn’t this a surprise. If you have read my review of the previous book in the O’Neil series, Sleigh Bells in the Snow, you will know that I enjoyed reading that book as much I enjoyed having an electric drill being taken to my head. Suddenly Last Summer is an unexpectedly pleasant read, however, most likely because the tropes it throws at my face are, for once, not irritating despite the fact that this is a small town romance. This is due to the fact that the hero Sean O’Neil is the one who comes home to the small town, and. because he’s the hero and hence we need to preserve some of his masculine mystique, he is not raked over coals and made to feel like a traitor for taking off to the big city once upon a time. Which is what would have happened if he was the heroine, heh.
Sean and his father had a rocky relationship, especially since he left Vermont to become an orthopedic surgeon. According to the author, Sean has wanted to be one ever since he was seven – pretty impressive considering that most kids at that age probably can’t spell “orthopedic”, much less know its meaning. Ever since then, he has never formed a meaningful relationship with another woman, mostly because his job comes first and those women invariably get fed up being stood up without him even letting them know he wouldn’t make it to the date.
Of course, it’s because those women are all clingy and dreadful – he’d change his tune for the heroine Élise Philippe (who’s French, just like how Markos Pirtophilippotamus is always Greek) because it’s really true what your mother said: when a man says he’s not ready for a relationship, what he’s really saying is that he doesn’t want one with you. He’d have one eventually with someone else, just not you, sorry dear.
So, Sean comes back to Vermont when his father is hospitalized. This is also a chance for him to catch up with Élise, who is determined to keep him at arm’s length after their one hot encounter a while back, as she’s not ready for a relationship too. To be fair, her horrible past relationship that put her off being steady with another man was pretty brutal.
The rest of the story is pretty predictable in a romantic TV movie of the week way. Sean patches things up with his father, gets together with Élise, and everyone’s happy. Élise is in many ways the author’s typical hyperbolic harpy heroine who can be too shrill and overemotional for her own good, but this story never allows that creature to get too obnoxious. Sean gets to come back and stay in Vermont for good, although because he’s a hero, he makes this decision out of his own free will (if he’s the heroine, he’d have lost all his job and friends and money so staying in the small town would be his only option).
The whole thing works in a cheesy sort of way. Suddenly Last Summer reminds me of a formulaic Hallmark flick at times, but that’s not entirely a bad thing when the end result is a nice way to pass the time. The characters are fine, the plot is okay, the romance is okay, the father-son emotional moments are alright. Nothing here really stands out as outstanding or memorable, but at the same time, nothing feels very wrong or annoying as well. Compared to the previous book, I’d take this one any time – it is a masterpiece in comparison.