Summer Days

Susan Mallery
June 2012, Contemporary Romance
HQN, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373776837
Part of a series

Grade: D
Sensuality: Hot

As readers, aren’t we supposed to like at least one character in a book? If so, I can’t figure out anyone to like in this one at all. Am I supposed to like a feisty old man who sells his granddaughter’s property without telling her? A shrewd, high-powered executive who supposedly looks over the sale papers and doesn’t recognize that the landowner has nothing to do with the deal? Or the naïve goat-raising landowner who’s trying to pay off her grandfather’s fraud one goat cheese at a time?

But in order to enjoy this Mallery novel, readers have to like all three and want to follow their story. I didn’t.

Heidi Simpson (no doubt related to Homer) finds out the man she calls grandfather, former circus carnie Glen, has sold her goat farm to Rafe Stryker’s mother May. She assures Rafe that she’ll repay the $250,000 even though she just has a scraggly herd of seven goats and a handful of goat cheese and organic soaps and no marketing plan.

She’s going to pay back the money selling the cheese and soap to independent shops in rural nearby towns even though she lives close to the San Francisco area and could tap into Whole Foods or other large natural foods shops. But that kind of revolutionary sales plan has never occurred to her.

Having grown up on the ranch Heidi now owns and having vowed never to return, Rafe can’t believe he didn’t read the sale papers when his mother gave him a copy and said she was buying the place. In fact, he can’t understand why his mother, who was the housekeeper for the evil old owner, wants the land. As far as he can remember his desperately poor upbringing, the place only left bad memories.

When Rafe on his mother’s behalf initiates a lawsuit against shyster Glen, even though his mother doesn’t want Rafe to do so, the story gets even more bizarre — the judge postpones a verdict on the case and says they can all live together at the ranch while she makes up her mind if Glen is guilty of fraud or not. Even lesser legal eagles should be able to decide this case, but evidently not this particular California judge.

Complications ensue, including a planned casino resort, a housing development, and rare cave paintings, each putting another nail in the coffin of a mutually acceptable settlement and Rafe and Heidi’s happily ever after, each more eye-rolling than the last.

I could go on and on ridiculing the plot, but why? After the first chapter, I decided this book had to be an author bet: See how ludicrous a plot and unlikeable the characters can be, and then work author magic to make readers accept both.

Unlike Mary Cassatt and her “ugly” models, what results from Mallery’s mix of plot and characters isn’t fine art.

Rafe comes across as arrogant and unpleasant even though Mallery tries to make him more likeable when he decides he likes repairing fence lines and doing ranch work. Readers, however, will see him as the urbane idiot who’s really lackadaisical in his job and unbearable to anyone he perceives to be in a lower social or economic strata. His ideal woman is a simpleton who loves and dotes on him.

Heidi is the poster girl for heroines too stupid to function on their own. Her most positive attribute is that she loves goats. That she puts up with the duplicitous Glen and thinks he’s done her a huge favor by hauling her from town to town and growing up as a carnie follower demonstrates how shallow her thinking is. That she thinks she must pay back the money he embezzled is ludicrous.

May, for her part, is the shallow, oblivious woman for whom women’s rights struggles are a waste. She’s been bilked by the deceased ranch owner who promised her the ranch after he died but didn’t provide for her, and she’s now relying on her slipshod son to save her while she falls for smooth talking Glen.

However, Glen, the happy-go-lucky former carnie, is the worst of them all. A friend of his needs an operation and doesn’t have the money to get it. Instead of finding a legitimate way to raise funds — even something as hokey as bake sales and asking for donations from carnie friends — his big plan is to sell the ranch his adopted granddaughter has mortgaged her soul for. And that’s seen as really, really loving on his part.

Needless to say since this is an upbeat romance, everyone turns out to be good and loving. That bad taste in the back of the readers’ throats? Just residue from the bull they’ve been given to swallow.

I usually like Mallery’s books, but this one not only left me cold, I was repulsed by it. None of the characters seemed capable of running their own lives, much less looking after someone else. And none of them had the first clue about what it means to love someone, at least as far as I could tell.

-- Pat Henshaw

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