by LuAnn McLane, contemporary (2004)
NAL, $13.95, ISBN 0-451-21316-5
If stories of painfully codependent women devoid of self-esteem doing stupid things just to have sex with men whom they allow to get away with treating them like crap are your cup of tea, LuAnn McLane's collection of three short stories are just your thing. There isn't enough detox centers in the world to get me through another round of Hot Summer Nights.
By the way, the level of sensuality in Hot Summer Nights is actually comparable to a tamer Harlequin Blaze novel than, say, a typical Brava offering.
Hot August Night kicks off this baseball-themed anthology. It's a reunion story. Erin O'Shea needs a baseball coach for her highschool (she's the principal) and her ex whom she of course still carries a torch for, former pro player Michael Manning, is ready to step in and swing his bat at her. If there is any chemistry between them, I don't see it. Michael is a slimy creep who is more nasty than romantic to Erin in his words and actions and Erin lets him get away with his nonsense because she is too desperate to have him back in her life. Did Ms McLane get the memo that it is not romantic when a story reminds the reader of every lousy ex-boyfriend she has the misfortune to have and then some?
Heatwave has a truly pathetic heroine, Josey Cooper, who has been waiting all this while for her jerk ex to take her back. When he calls her for a date, she can't jump up fast enough in joy. He doesn't show up, she gets drunk, and sleeps with Chase Matthews, the manager of the Sanders City Flyers baseball team. There is nothing like a weepy, spineless woman finding "strength" from the bottom of a bottle to move on to a new masculine host for her parasitic codependence and insecurities. I guess Ms McLane doesn't get the other memo either, the one about good girls who give out when they are drunk aren't romantic as much as they are pitiful. This story feels like the prologue to a longer book: The Pathetic Adventures of An Alcoholic.
I really want to like Hotshot because it goes straight to the jurgular of a theme normally taboo in romance novels: a white woman entertaining sexual fantasies involving an African American man. Halley Smith attends a bachelorette party at a club where every lady present is encouraged to voice out and act on their sexual fantasies. Damn, how come no one throws such parties for me when I was about to get married? All I had was a lecture from my future mother-in-law about my wifely responsibilities while my husband-to-be went out and got smashed with his buddies in town. Halley wants to sleep with a Black man and says this aloud because she reasons that there is no such men in the club. What, is the club run by the KKK or something? But lo, in walks Reese Taylor.
I am hoping for this story to break some barriers where the subject matter is concerned but damn, Halley is tragic. She acts like an African American man is an exotic alien from another planet. Even so, the fantasy may still work if Halley doesn't act like sex is painful and flies off the handle every time her Goody Two-Shoes guilt kicks in. After a while, I'm all for seeing her either put out or get out once and for all.
Three horrible heroines acting like they will just die if they have sex but Oh! They Must! Have Sex! are three too many for me. I have better things to do - like rewatching the Athens Olympics diving competitions and slow-motioning the tape whenever Alexandre Despatie arches his back and leaps while calling up Hildy and speculating on how low Mathew Helm's trunks can go without getting him arrested - than to have wasted my own hot summer night with this book.
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