Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-4708-2
Contemporary Romance, 2009
The cover art of Julia London’s Summer of Two Wishes is pretty much an encyclopedia of Hallmark clichés, from a rainbow over the horizon to candles to the obligatory pier beside a body of water motive. However, this cover is a good representation of what you will get should you turn the pages: a story not about falling in love but more about relationships. After all, the heroine has two husbands here, not by design of course, and she has to pick one.
Now, I don’t believe I am spoiling the story by revealing the man who ends up being picked by heroine Macy as her permanent husband, because there is a big giveaway reference in the synopsis on the back cover, and also because the author early on lets me know that Macy doesn’t feel that way for one of the two men. But if you think you will enjoy this book better without knowing which man she picks in the end, then you’ve better stop reading here and hit the back button on your browser.
Okay, where were we? Macy’s husband Finn Lockhart joined the Army and was sent to Iraq about four years ago – which was something Finn did despite Macy’s objections – and only his half-melted dog tag came home. The years passed, and seven months ago, Macy married the local real estate fellow Wyatt Clark. When the story opens, Macy is helping with a charity party that she takes part in organizing when she receives news that the Army has made a little mistake and Finn is actually still alive. The rest of the story deals with how Finn tries to revert to normal life after the horrors he had experienced at the hands of the Taliban while Macy tries to sort out her feelings as well as her situation when it comes to her two husbands. Various secondary characters from Finn’s family members to Macy’s friends also get into the fray.
Okay, if you think that a rich real estate fellow has any chance of competing with a former Army guy who owns a ranch, you must be new to the genre and unfamiliar with the tropes and conventions of the genre, heh. This is a problematic aspect of the story: the author lets me know early on that Macy will pick Finn in the end and she never even tries to create any suspense there. One good thing here is that Wyatt gets to retain some degree of dignity by the last page of the story despite being the designated loser in the story, but at the same time, I feel that the story would have been stronger if there is actually some suspense as to which man Macy will pick in the end.
Another problematic aspect of the story, I feel, is the introduction of various subplots, such as Finn’s mother being a rather creepy religious person whose zeal intensified after Finn’s return and a jealous friend of Macy, that end up taking up space and distracting my attention from the main story line. The two men also aren’t as well developed as the fawning bonus author interview is suggesting.
Also, I find it pretty disappointing that in the end, it is Wyatt the designated loser who sets in motions things that allow Macy and Finn to be together. Macy cries and whines a lot, and she also stands up for herself most admirably now and then as well, but she ends up playing a quite passive role in the end nonetheless. It’s the same with Finn. Despite his bluster and his insistence that he loves Macy, he doesn’t really do anything other than to drink, get into fights, and aggressively pushing Macy into doing things his way.
But, while these issues can be problematic, they do not cripple the story or render it unreadable. The characters are flawed, but they are flawed in a way that makes them human beings rather than faulty accidents. Finn’s confusion and anguish feel very real, painfully so. He is not some poster boy for right-wing propaganda, don’t worry, because in this story, all he wants is to be left alone and to start life anew with Macy. Macy spends a considerable amount of time in this story trying not to make decisions and running away from her problems, but her emotions feel real. I like that she also doesn’t let Finn run all over her. Were not for this, Finn would have become a pretty big asshole as some of the things he throws at Macy’s face are very unfair. It is because she has the guts to defend herself and tell him off that her interactions with Finn become tolerable. Oh, I have plenty of reservations about this couple – his creepy mother, the fact that he expected her in the past to remain a pretty but useless wife in his ranch when she’d rather be more useful, his creepy mother, his drinking habit, his creepy mother – so Macy having some spine goes a long way in reassuring me that she won’t play the victim in the relationship.
It is the painfully real and raw emotions emanating from the pages that make Summer of Two Wishes a difficult but compelling read. The last chapter is a little too saccharine for my liking, but on the whole, this book offers a turbulent but satisfying emotional rollercoaster ride.