July Thunder
by Rachel Lee, contemporary (2002)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-885-8


July Thunder, in its first few chapters, seems like your usual smalltown family values love-ya-Rush romance stories Granny Ozarks will love to receive as a Thanksgiving present. You know, heroine who doesn't do evil things like having a male-dominated career (Mary McKinney is a nurturing schoolteacher) and a manly hero (Deputy Sheriff Sam Canfield) who will wear the pants around the house because unlike the woman, the man knows best. The setting is the town of Whisper Creek where everybody's favorite pasttime is preaching and spying on his neighbors to make sure that they are behaving just like the Good Book tells us all to.

I stick this book between the gossip pages of Entertainment Weekly. Ha, take that, prudepots!

Then comes Elijah Canfield, Sam's religious crackpot father. But be warned, Rush Limbaugh supporters, Elijah is portrayed in a really crackpot light. And he apologizes for being a crackpot at the end. Won't that make those people throw up and petition for the banning of all Rachel Lee books from libraries, ho ho.

Still, July Thunder is a very predictable and uninspired read. It is a by-the-book standard contemporary smalltown romance with all the usual hero-with-bad-past-with-love and heroine-with-bad-past-with-love-too that doesn't stand out in the glut of such books in the market. Maybe that's why the author creates Elijah and gives the crackpot so much limelight, only to gleefully plot his downfall later in the story, because she knows that's the only way the readers may remember this story long enough to sign the Ban Rachel Lee and Harry Potter Porno Books From Our Country petition.

Sam's past is that he is disowned by his father for not being a preacher and his wife died so he now could never love again. Touching, if overdone. Mary lost her child and her marriage went under soon after that, so now she is afraid to love too. Touching, if overdone redux. Then Elijah comes to town to be the new preacher at church, and Mary and Sam's relationship becomes rocky when Sam and Elijah's issues start coming between the lovebirds.

Unlike, say, Deborah Smith, Rachel Lee has no idea how to write things in a more palatable way when it comes to character baggages. Mary, Elijah, and Sam talk as if they are reading aloud from a conversation between Oprah and some shrink from the talkshow. Every single page is spent dwelling on their problems again and again and again in circles that I wonder whether these people actually have any hobby. All they do is to commiserate about how miserable their lives are. Why can't they just go to the movies or at least rent a video for some cozy evening at home? (Oh yeah, movies are bad too, yes, too much sex and violence, euw?)

Standard story and incessant dialogues that seem to have come from pop psychology TV shows make July Thunder an average, sleepy story about boredom and ennui. Don't be fooled by the teases of a giant inferno threatening to burn the town down - the only fire here is right-wing crackpots' preparing a bonfire for Rachel Lee's effigy for the way she throws a spanner into their beliefs that the Moral Right is always Right. Heh heh.

Rating: 68


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