Review: Stolen Summer

Stolen Summer Stolen Summer by Anne Mather
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m a huge fan of the “older woman, younger man” trope. With the proliferation of “older dude, young ingénue” pairings in Harlequin Presents---dude, you’re 35, she barely turned 18 last week—it’s nice when the older ladies (heaven forbid, past the age of 25… *shudder*) get some action, too. And I always enjoy that the young bucks who love them are like, “I don’t care how old you are! You’re sexy as hell to me and I’ve had a crush on you since I was ten years old!” or something.

Shelley had a pretty messed up post-adolescent childhood experience. Her parents died while she was in university and she was an only child, so when she moved to London she really had no one. While working for a newspaper, she meets a harried single mother who is also an artist named Marsha Manning. The two immediately click and Marsha becomes the older aunt/older sister figure in Shelley’s lonely life. They begin to hang out together all time, even if it’s just Shelley sitting around in Marsha’s studio while Marsha painted. She comes to depend on Marsha as her rock and guiding light. But soon, Marsha tires of London and moves to a small out-of-the-way village called Craygill. Still, they continue to be friends, writing letters to each other and talking on the phone, keeping each other up to date on each other’s lives.

~~Years Pass~~

Shelley starts dating her boss, Mike, at the television production company where she works and it’s not until she is deeply involved with him that she finds out he is married. Mike gives her the old cock-and-bull about his marriage being a sham, that he no longer loves his wife, that she doesn’t understand him, that Shelley is the one he really loves, etc. But Shelley is determined to keep him away from her. When Mike’s wife dies from cancer, Mike is suddenly free and ramps up his terror campaign to make Shelley his next wife. With the stress from Mike compounded with exhaustion from her job, Shelley suffers from a nervous breakdown and is told by her doctor to take three months off of work and go somewhere quiet and stress-free. She finally takes up Marsha’s invitation to visit Craygill, packs up her car, and leaves London.

On the way to Craygill, her car breaks down and she is rescued by a super-hot, super-sexy Farmer Ted type blond guy in a smelly Land Rover, which he tells her he uses to transport animals. AND FOR SOME REASON, SHELLEY DECIDES TO ACT LIKE A COMPLETE BITCH, but the guy takes it in stride. He tells her his name is Ben Seton and she says grudgingly that her name is Shelley and she’ll be staying with Marsha Manning. She asks if he knows who that is. He gives a wry little smile and says yes. Within the confines of the car, Shelley can’t stop thinking about how hot and sexy he is and how hot and bothered she’s getting about him, considering he’s a hick and just some kid. She puts on an air of importance and tells him she’s a big-time television producer in London and the guy just kind of laughs at her. Annoyed that he’s not taking her seriously and seems to be laughing at her, she demands to be dropped off in the town proper, so she can make her way to Marsha Manning’s house on her own. Stupid…hot… blond guy.

She gets to Marsha’s house and they have a nice reunion. Marsha immediately starts talking about her son Dickon, who is now all growds up and a veterinarian about to get married to a nice girl. The last time Shelley had seen Dickon, he was only seventeen years old. Wait… Marsha and Shelley are the bestest of friends AND SHELLEY NEVER ONCE VISITED MARSHA IN EIGHT YEARS?!? Some friend! Anyway, Dickon was supposed to come over for dinner, but some vet emergency came up and he cancelled. Shelley and Marsha catch up on each other’s lives, but Shelley doesn’t mention the young, impudent, gorgeous, Farmer Ted stud that drove her into town. The next day, Shelley wakes up and is about to get dressed for breakfast when Marsha tells her not to bother since they’re not a very formal household. Shelley goes down in her jammies to eat some eggs and bacon… and promptly walks into Ben.

As it turns out, BEN = DICKON. Same guy. HUH. His name is Benedict Seton. He uses his father’s last name. He prefers to go by Ben, but his mother has always called him by his childhood nickname of Dickon and that’s how Shelley knew him as. Wait… HOLD UP. SHELLEY DOESN’T EVEN KNOW THE NAME OF HER BEST FRIEND’S SON? What a selfish bitch. Poor Marsha. I bet all she and Shelley talk about is Shelley. I bet Shelley doesn’t even know that Marsha gets teary whenever she hears the theme from “A Summer Place.” Or that she liked Rhoda over Mary.

But back to all the hotness. Shelley’s love jones get activated at Ben’s nearness and she finds herself all flustered and getting hot flashes likes she’s fifty instead of thirty. Poor Marsha is oblivious to all this and even tells Shelley that Dickon talks about her all the time and used to have a major crush on her when he was younger. He is all of twenty-five now. Meanwhile, Ben IS engaged to a “nice” girl (who is a snide, bitchy, mean girl, really—but of course!) and they just really need to set a wedding date and everyone in town is excited about it, especially since Jennifer’s dad owns the vet practice that Ben will be taking over once the old guy retires. Marsha proposes a dinner party and invites Ben, Jennifer, and the village doctor, a handsome widower named Charles, for whom Marsha hopes Shelley will take a liking. The dinner is predictably awkward, with Charles’ fumbling attempts to flirt with Shelley and Jennifer’s snide comments about Shelley’s age, Marsha’s peace-keeping attempts and this obvious weird tension between Shelley and Ben that everyone frantically tries to ignore.

Hey, Ben! Yeah, you, Captain Obvious McObvioustein, maybe you can direct your gaze somewhere else and stop staring at Shelley for two seconds, huh?

Ben becomes persistent in chasing Shelley and Shelley, while steadfastly telling him to cut it out, is slowly weakening. What do you want from the girl? She’s recovering from a nervous breakdown and had just barely escaped from another ardent suitor and now she has to deal with this? Her best friend’s son, all virile and golden tan and handsome and muscled and sporting six-pack abs, wants to get it on with her and keeps telling her she’s the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and he’s been in love with her since he was a teenager? Even Mother Theresa would be like, “Staaaahp it.” And the ever oblivious Marsha just keeps pushing the two of them together. She’s busy in her studio and worries that Shelley’s getting bored, so she’s on the phone with Dickon, telling him to pick her up and entertain her. He takes her on a picnic, they get full on meat pies and couple of beers, and while dozing on the grass under the sun, here’s Ben all of a sudden on top of her, nuzzling her and feeling her up. OF ALL THE NERVE! Knee that presumptuous bastard in the balls. But of course, Shelley gets all melty but then she remembers that Dick-ON is engaged and she’s best friends with his mother and she should really stop this harloty behavior, so she pumps the brakes and tells him she has to pee. I’d have to pee after a couple of beers, but that’s a good enough excuse to stop with the making out. Anyway, Dick-ON gets mad and basically accuses her of being a prick-tease, drops her off at his mom’s house, and doesn’t talk to her for 2 weeks, neglecting even his own mother. What a prince.

In the meantime, Shelley tries to go out on a couple of dates with Lonesome Widower Charles, but of course he’s as boring as day-old bread (although he’s got this whole darkness thing going on: his wife is dead, his baby died as an infant, his mom just died not too long ago… jeezus). There’s just no connection with Poor Chuck. And Dick-ON is still on a rampage, openly ignoring Shelley and paying a little too much attention to Jennifer, who loves it. And Mike, the crazy stalker-suitor that Shelley has been trying to hide from is suddenly calling her at Marsha’s house demanding that she return to London and yes, they’ll be getting married the moment she steps foot in London. Damn it… supposed… to be… avoiding… stress…

Shelley and Dick-ON finally have a showdown in the town square and they end up in his house and GET IT ON like it’s going out of style. And Shelley’s all, “Nope, I’m not going to regret this. That was awesome, that was what I really needed…” but then Jennifer calls and reality intrudes and Shelley’s all, “Nope, still not regretting it, but that’s so not going to happen again.” REALLY, THOUGH? YOU DON’T REGRET SLEEPING WITH A GUY WHOM YOU KNOW IS ENGAGED? Come on, Shelley!

Shelley and Dick-ON do this push-and-pull dance for a bit; meanwhile, Marsha gets manipulated by Crazy Stalker Mike into coming to London and suddenly Shelley and Dick-ON are alone in Marsha’s house because Dick-ON’s like, “Yes, I have my own house, but this is my mom’s house and I can stay here if I want to. So nyeeeeh.” That night, Shelley, who’s been feeling crappy, looks at herself in the mirror in her nightgown and decides she looks like the Crypt Keeper and realizes that Dick-ON must see her this way, too, so that he’ll leave her alone forever. She rushes into his bedroom and starts babbling about being old and… seriously, skank? You’re thirty. Shut up. Anyway, they get it on. The next day, they get caught by Marsha and Marsha’s super pissed and tries to kick Shelley the Harlot out and Dick-ON’s all, “She’s not a skank, I’m the one who seduced her. AND I LOVE HER, Mother. I’m going to marry her.” But of course, Shelley had to cut in with, "It's not what you think, Marsha! Of COURSE, I'm not going to marry Dick-ON." So Dick-ON gets pissed at Shelley and leaves her to deal with his angry, rampaging mom.

What a hot-ass muddle. It wasn’t until I started writing this review that it hit me that BEN CHEATED ON HIS FIANCEE by sleeping with another woman TWICE. AND Shelley was OKAY with that! In the romance forums, we’re always up in arms about Heroes Who Cheat, but this is a Hero Who Does Cheat, even if the person he’s cheating with is the heroine. That’s… not right.

Shelley is a hysterical mess one Xanax away from a complete and total breakdown and Dick-ON is a cheating bastard. Not only that, Shelley makes too much of a big deal about their age difference… FIVE FRICKIN’ YEARS! If I were Marsha, I’d be worried about my son getting involved with an obviously disturbed woman. And I’m totally not comfortable with a woman getting it on with her best friend’s son… It’s like, “Hey, your baby boy got hot. Rawr! Can I take a bite out of him?” Gross. And you can’t even talk about your sex life with your best friend anymore because the guy you’re doing it with is her son. So you can’t be like, “Dick-ON is such a useless bastard. He always finishes first, then just turns over and goes to sleep. I’m sooooo unsatisfied.”

Wow… this is not a bad read, but I couldn’t empathize/sympathize with ANYONE in this book. I guess I can muster up some sympathy for Marsha. I even totally understood when she got pissed at Shelley and kicked her out after finding her with Dick-ON! I would have done the same thing! Having sex with MY son under MY roof while I’m out? Dude, that is so disrespectful! Plus, she knows, the bitch knows that Dick-ON is engaged to be married. As Marsha says, Shelley is older. SHE SHOUDDA KNOWN BETTER. But… she sure didn’t. Oh, and Dick-ON is a cheating bastard. I just had to say that one last time.

Oh, and I guess I felt for Lonely Widower Charles, too. His wife and kid are dead, then his mom just died. He could talk about it easily enough to Shelley, that I got the feeling he milks the widower thing from time to time to get laid. I mean, maybe he's a good guy (he does kind of help Shelley and Dick-ON get back together after the whole blow-up), but I don't think he's above using the sympathy angle. Poor Lonely Widower Charles. I'd like to read his book.

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