That Summer
by Joan Wolf, contemporary (2003)
Warner, $5.99, ISBN 0-446-61044-5


Joan Wolf's third attempt at writing a contemporary romance is more successful than the her last two flops. That Summer is written in first person - the heroine Anne Foster tells the story - and perhaps to be expected, this story is one of those stories where the heroine is appropriately feminine and the hero is appropriately manly. Or something.

Anne Foster is a vet and when her father is struck down by a heart attack, she comes home to Wellington to attend his funeral. There, she meets the hero Liam Wellington, whom she has a crush on since forever. Sparks fly - mostly on her part, and she decides to use Liam's movie star buddy to incite his jealousy. Apparently in a time when men are men and women are women, women like Anne can't get up to the guy and smack him with a big one on the lips or something. No, Anne has to play silly games instead, reasoning that movie stars don't get hurt by such games even as in the same breath she sighs about how those poor movie stars don't get any privacy. She isn't a very good character in that she doesn't actually do anything in this story except to cry or to play silly games to make Liam jealous while pining away for him. Meanwhile, Liam was involved in a mystery involving a missing girl, and it's one of those annoying mysteries where everybody knows something but won't tell until the author needs to wrap things up.

Because That Summer isn't too contemporary in any sense, Joan Wolf manages to acquit herself well. I doubt though whether anyone outside her loyal fans will appreciate this story of horses and family secrets, especially when the end message of this story is: screw justice, screw the law, when it comes to family, justice is secondary to making sure that the evidence that implicates your family members remain buried. Anne is a terrible person, no matter how much Ms Wolf tries to convince me otherwise, because she withholds information that will aid the cops because what she has seen may implicate Liam and she can't have that. After all, she loves Liam. Liam, she loves you! Eee, isn't that sweet? Worse, of course, is Liam, who ends up obstructing justice and even wanting to take the blame to make sure that the people who don't really treat him that nicely in the first place to get away with it. Justice for the dead girl? She's a ho, so who cares? Mommy, Daddy, Liam loves you!

That Summer is a cleanly written and readable story about simpletons trying to play at falling in love. It will be a harmless average read if the author hasn't put in that mystery subplot that ends up driving home the message that Virginia smalltown people will happily turn vigilante and lie and cheat and obstruct justice just so that one of them don't get punished by the law, even if it's punishment for murder. In this context, That Summer turns into an unintentionally macabre horror story of smalltown psychology. Maybe next time the author should have just remove the dead bodies and substitute with more Seabiscuit pretty horsey antics instead.

Rating: 69


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