Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-207292-4
Historical Romance, 2013
Maybe it’s just that my tastes have changed, but my reaction to The Sum of All Kisses can be summed up in three words: I am bored. I don’t know what happened. I used to enjoy this author’s way with her characters’ conversations, but here, I don’t crack a smile even once.
Anyway, this one. Perhaps it can stand alone, but if you have not read the last ten or so of the author’s books, I have to warn you: you will be plunged right into a party where it seems like everyone with pre-existing relationships – and there are so many of them – is talking at the same time. This book is part of the Smythe-Smith quartet, and their family know the Bridgertons – the family that the author has been writing about since the 1920s, or so it seems – and, therefore, everyone is everyone and knows everyone else unless you are new to the party, and then you’d be the poor sod standing at the corner, drink in hand, hoping that someone would take pity on you and talk to you about the weather.
That’s probably what our hero Hugh Prentice feels when he attends the wedding party of his buddy Marcus Holroyd to Honoria Smythe-Smith (you can read their story in Just Like Heaven). He once accused his buddy Daniel, Honoria’s brother, of cheating in cards. These guys were all drunk, so things got out of hand and a duel was called for. Daniel shot Hugh in the leg, causing permanent injury, and was forced to flee, thanks to Hugh’s father being a faithful follower of the Yosemite Sam School of Cartoon Villainy.
So, when the story opens, Hugh and Daniel have kissed and made up in a totally not-gay One Direction-are-bros way, and Hugh is here to show the world that he and Daniel are totally best buddies now. Honoria is worried that people would still act like Hugh’s breath smells of herpes, however, so she asks our heroine, Sarah Pleinsworth, to act nice to him. The problem is, Sarah and Hugh don’t like each other at all. She thinks that he’s a stuck-up prig who ruined her life when he got involved in that duel with Daniel, while he thinks that she’s a drama queen that just won’t shut up. Yes, they are perfect for one another.
Well, this simple set-up gives Hugh and Sarah plenty of opportunities to bicker and show the finger to one another, but somehow, the whole thing is nowhere as fun as it could have been. I’m bored by the childish bickering. This could be because, for the most part, Sarah is nowhere close to being a match for Hugh. Without effort, he constantly has her flushing, blushing, feeling awkward, being affronted, and generally being a hot mess of confused, flustered feelings. For the first few dozen pages, this is mildly amusing – like watching so-called grown-ups screaming at one another over dozens of pages on a message forum, arguing over which member of One Direction is the hottest – but things become monotonous fast when Sarah just keeps reacting to Hugh without putting up much of an effort to give back as good as she gets.
It also doesn’t help that Sarah is often put in the spotlight – she’s selfish, she’s told, and more – while nobody seems to expect Hugh to change. I don’t find Sarah that bad – she’s at the same level as Hugh when it comes to self-absorption and immaturity – so I don’t understand why I am supposed to be calling for Sarah to undergo a personality makeover when everyone seems to give Hugh a pass for his own nonsense. “Character development” in this story seems too much like “let’s tell the heroine to conform into genre standards and become another stereotype”. That’s a pity, because Sarah, if allowed to be less flummoxed and flustered in Hugh’s company, could have been a lively heroine while Hugh is already an interesting hero in that he’s in many ways a nerd, but he thinks and behaves more like an arrogant romance hero. He’s a nice mix of both traits, but alas, the story doesn’t really let him develop into a more interesting character.
The last quarter of the story, when Yosemite Sam’s bastard son starts showing up to do everything but to wag his eyebrows and step on Scooby-Doo’s tail, is not good, but at least the things happening at this part are more interesting than the contrived and stilted attempts at humor that plague the last two hundred or so pages. The characters here subscribe to the whole “the first orgasm is so amazing that it completely changes our personality” school of thought, because by this part of the story, Sarah is a completely different person, a more sensible lady that knows how to deal with psychotic future daddies-in-law, and Hugh has transformed into a sad little boy forced to play the martyr card to keep his father from pressing the screws into his best friends and his girlfriend. I have no issues with these characters being what they are at this point, as they are certainly not boring by this stage, but I’m still not sure how they went from one end of the personality spectrum to this end. No matter how good sex can be, it’s never that good to change one’s personality completely… right?
Anyway, I’m quite indifferent to The Sum of All Kisses. Technically, this book is average, but it is so bland to the point that I would probably be happier if this book was atrocious. At least then I would feel something for it, if I am making sense here. The cover is pretty, the title is a nice play on the hero’s affinity for mathematics, but the story itself is a complete wash.