Miss Bates loved volume two of Stone’s “Bad Boys of Crystal Lake” series, The Christmas He Loved Her. Indeed, it was one of her favourite 2013 reads. As a result, expectations were high for volume three, The Day He Kissed Her. Miss Bates’s response to this romance novel was a reiteration of what she says about romantic heroes and heroines: a hard-to-like heroine, bring her on … a hard-to-like hero? Um, no. It’s difficult to redeem the assholey hero. Though Stone weaves much back-story torment for hero Mackenzie Draper, his behaviour is such that there is hardly redemption for him … and, as a result, not much of one for the novel. The lovely writing and strong use of metaphor that Miss Bates found in The Christmas He Loved Her was, sadly, absent from The Day He Kissed Her. The richness of the former’s relationship between the heroine and hero was not present, shared history and care and friendship, no … the sole link between heroine and hero in The Day He Kissed Her is a one-night stand. And once you get to know these two, there’s not much to build on. It’s a pale companion to the previous book in the series. And yet, when Miss Bates reached three-quarters of the way into the novel, she was affected, moved, by the narrative. Stone has that capacity: to touch and haul you in emotionally. It was too little, too late, but it was there.
Memorial Day week-end finds Mackenzie Draper in Crystal Lake, Michigan, visiting his buddies, Jake Edwards, hero of The Christmas He Loved Her and Cain Black, hero of The Summer He Came Home. Glimpses of the couples’ connubial bliss serve as foil to Mackenzie’s love-’em-‘n’-leave-’em attitude. Except he carries an amorous bee in his bonnet since a one-night stand with Lily St. Clare, Jake’s best friend, who lost her brother in Afghanistan as Jake did. There’s minor “history” between Mackenzie and Lily, but not much. He pursues her, scaring away other men and behaving like a chest-thumping “my woman” irritant. Lily is helpless before her attraction for Mackenzie; attraction turns to love in no time … which is okay, Miss Bates guesses, if there were sound reasons for it, but there aren’t. Mackenzie and Lily sort of date and have wild monkey sex, but they don’t converse, or share much beyond that. Family complications arise in the form of messed up siblings, but those scenarios are strictly offstage from their relationship. Miss Bates couldn’t understand why these two fell in love and wanted to be together. Certainly, she lost sight of that for Lily: who seemed, at least initially, to be a heroine who knew her mind, but took a turn for ninny-hood half way through and never looked back.
“He was the one who left. The one who made the rules. The one who didn’t want a commitment.” That sums up hero, Mackenzie Draper. His attitude toward women is atrocious; yet, characters like Jake keep telling us he’s a great guy. Lily characterizes him as a wounded little boy. If Miss Bates were in her shoes, well, Mackenzie Draper would have received his walking shoes. Note how he thinks and speaks about women he’s dated, “The woman, Dru, had kicked up a fuss, and he’d felt bad at the sight of her tears, but hell, he hadn’t promised her anything more than a good time.” Oh, it’s gets worse, folks: “He was used to women who pouted when they didn’t get their way, women who used their bodies to try and change his mind.” Because he’s such a gift. He gets his comeuppance when he meets the nonpareil of womanhood in Lily; then, he can point to other women’s shortcomings when he compares them, “Mac didn’t like the predatory gleam in her eye. In fact, there wasn’t much about the woman he liked. She was so far from who Lily was, it was hard to believe they belong in the same gene pool.” Olivia Waite wrote an amazing post about the Other Woman in romance wherein she argued that “the symbolic function of the Other Woman is to demonstrate the distance between the heroine and herself.” (There’s so much more brilliance; you should read it.) In this case, there are many named and unnamed “other women.” They are described as sexually rapacious and repulsively sultry: the opposite of the blond softness and desirability of the heroine, Lily. Mackenzie’s attitude towards the women he’s been with doesn’t do him any credit. His frequent humiliation of Lily only added to Miss Bates’s distaste for him. The nail in the coffin lay in this: “She [Lily] was independent and had her own money, so she wasn’t always whining for him to buy her something.” On the contrary, she makes dinner and brings it to his place. But, hey, when he wooed Lily, he did bring her coffee one morning … we really can’t say that he didn’t buy her anything. Mackenzie Draper is as stingy with his feelings as he is with what’s in his wallet … but he’s generous with what’s in his pants. Drippy Lily can’t resist his Golden-Boy looks and sexy ways …
“His mouth curved into a slow grin, and Jesus, her nipples went hard.” Lily is a nebulous character, an inconsistent one. She is introduced as tough-as-nails sexy, someone who won’t take Mackenzie’s gaff. Miss Bates liked her: she got in a few jabs and seemed as willing to play this as “friends with benefits” as Mackenzie. But we learn that Lily is near lily-white and it takes Mackenzie to set her sexually free. Indeed, her reaction to him is so hyper-charged that her nipples greet him first All. The. Time. Here are only minor samplings, “But with just one look, he’d made her gut clench, and right now, her freaking nipples were standing on end … Her nipples were saluting him and not caring one damn bit … her sensitive nipples poked against the fabric.” This goes on and on. We know more about Lily’s nipples than we do about her because, after Mackenzie brings her sexual joy, she turns into a self-sacrificing Madonna, so giving, loving, soft, and pure that … here we go, he doesn’t deserve her. Except he still treats her pretty crappily. At least her happy nipples are matched by his ready and equivalent tumescence. Unfortunately, Miss Bates didn’t find any of this sexy or interesting.
“It wouldn’t take much for him to cross the line into Ben Draper territory.” Mackenzie Draper is right: it wouldn’t take much for him to turn into his abusive father. Stone works hard to elicit sympathy for her hero. She paints him a horrific childhood. There is not, however, much to admire in the man he’s grown into. He never sought help for his rage. Take his response to men who might be interested in Lily: “A broken nose on Hubber looked pretty damn good right about now.” Hubber being Crystal Lake’s mayor and a pretty great guy. He’s proud that he “nailed” Lily: preens like a peacock when other men smirk and indulge in sexual innuendo about her. Then, he turns he-man protective. He’s either unhappily wallowing in a bottle of Jack Daniels, or raging: ” … the everpresent anger inside him, the one that was never far from the surface, had the muscles across his shoulders tightening. He knew his mood would turn black. There was no stopping it. He downed his wine and pushed back from the table. He need to run or punch something … His temper always got the best of him and shit happened.” He’s never sought therapy for his temper and anger, nor for his binge drinking; by the HEA, however, he’s a reformed man. It’s difficult to take this as a given, understanding that what Mackenzie suffered and what it turned him into takes a lot more than happy times with Madonna-figure, who, in the end, holds him to her bosom and forgives and excuses all. If Mackenzie and Lily were Miss Bates’ neighbours and/or friends, she’d be worried about them.
In the end, uninspired writing, an inconsistent portrayal of the heroine, and a hero so problematic it’s near-impossible to see him as heroic (a victim, yes, but not heroic), demanded of Stone’s The Summer He Kissed Her “a high claim to forbearance,” Emma. Stone’s emotionally-charged writing did make an appearance in the last quarter of the novel and found Miss Bates taken into its wake, but in the cold light of day, too little, too late. (With apologies to Robert Graves)
Juliana Stone’s The Summer He Kissed Her is published by Sourcebooks Casablanca and has been available since April 1st in the standard formats and vendors.
Miss Bates is grateful to Sourcebooks Casablanca for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
Problematic heroes? Who are they in your reading? What was your response to them? Which ones worked for you and why? Who didn’t and why not?