The front of this book claims that the hero and heroine “make perfect harmony.” Unfortunately it’s the kind made by two wet cats in a sack.
At 25, music teacher Joanna Lofton is the self-described “little gray mouse” of Mystery, Montana. Forced to live all he life in her vivacious mother’s “beauty queen shadow,” Jo was devastated when she discovered the man she finally fell in love with was married with children.
Staggering under all this baggage, Jo agreed to go on a ten-day Mountain Gals Rendezvous. Supervised by three septuagenarian gals, Jo and two other young women will “take turns leading each other in a series of mental and physical challenges” designed to knock the “girlie froufrou” out of them and “put some stiff in their spines.”
The leader of the group is Hazel McCallum, the folksy 75-year-old “matriarch of Mystery.” In addition to spine-stiffening, Hazel is an enthusiastic amateur eugenist trying to save Mystery from modern development by matching the town’s young people with dynamic outsiders to keep the population vigorous.
For the Rendezvous, Hazel has rented two remote cabins in the Bitterroot National Forest. On arrival, the gals discover that there is a forest fire “a few ridges over,” but Hazel scoffs at any suggestion of danger.
Although the event is supposed to be gals only, Hazel’s matchmaking instincts go on high alert when one of the young gals goes out for wood and brings back a hunk instead. Hazel immediately recognizes Nick Kramer as a Hotshot, or elite smoke jumper. She also notices that he’s intrigued by Jo.
Why this interest lasts more than two minutes is incomprehensible. When Jo and Nick meet up later getting water for their teams, she’s having trouble with the pump. Nick offers to help and Jo instantly interprets this as evidence that he’s a “fast mover” with a “far flung sisterhood of harem partners” and announces that she doesn’t intend to join them.
Although supposed to be shy and insecure, Jo instantly leaps to the conclusion that Nick’s putting the moves on her. And the nicer he is, the more convinced she becomes that he’s a “horny con man” who only wants One Thing. Her self-obsession is so delusional that when Nick misses a meeting with her, she assumes he’s blown her off and decamped with his entire crew rather than see her again. It never crosses her mind that, since he’s a fire fighter, and there’s a fire nearby, they might actually be putting out a fire. Earth to Jo.
Not that Nick is all that charming. He’s dragging around a truck load of his own life luggage, and his response to Jo’s snapping and sneering is to snap and sneer back. The second time a meeting turns into a confrontation he helpfully suggests that she “should see a shrink to deal with this man-hating thing.”
Their “relationship” consists of leaping to unfounded conclusions about each other and lots of fuming. Then Nick grabs Jo and she finds herself “thrilling at the bulge of his arousal.” Ain’t love grand?
The writing is often stilted. For example, instead of simply saying things, people constantly volley, state, affirm, announce, assert, interject and retort. That’s in addition to the fuming. And, I hate to tell you this, authors, but if what the characters say isn’t funny, then telling us they quipped, joked, or observed drolly won’t get the right kind of laugh either.
The Mountain Gals Rendezvous is ludicrous. When the younger gals are dropped off in the night forest (yes, the one that’s on fire) to find their way back to camp, and Jo returns six hours late, everyone’s in bed. Hazel assumed she’d met up with Nick and apparently no one else cared. And, in spite of knowing that the fire is getting closer and worse, the gals trot off to go white water rafting without checking the conditions. What? Aren’t smoke jumpers supposed to risk their lives rescuing clueless Mountain Gals?
I didn’t find the overall effect particularly harmonious, but if a defensive loner and a defensive whiner snarling at each other is your idea of beautiful music, go for it.
-- Judi McKee