With This Kiss
by Bella Riley
(Forever, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0446584227
With This Kiss started out with a great premise, but fizzled after the first two chapters. Add to this a glaring lack of basic research and a pair of annoying leads, and this was a book I was glad to finish.

Rebecca Campbell came to Emerald Lake to run an inn with her fiancé, Stu. After a series of disastrous relationships, Stu was a safe bet: he was an old friend from college, their relationship was physically undemanding, and there would be no surprises. Until the day, with their wedding only weeks away, that Rebecca found Stu in his bedroom, embracing another man. Oops.

Stu begged Rebecca not to out him, asking for a little time to sort things out. Rebecca agreed, but the next day she woke to find Stu gone, leaving only a brief note. Now much of Emerald Lake, including Stu’s opinionated mother, believes Rebecca did something to drive him away.

Rebecca, good girl that she is, keeps her word to Stu. Life moves along. Rebecca immerses herself in planning the town’s first Tapping of the Maples Festival and waits for Stu to return. But the person who shows up isn’t Stu, it’s his long-absent hotshot businessman brother, Sean, who hasn’t gotten the word that the wedding is off. Sean instantly finds Rebecca to be gorgeous and intriguing, but since she won’t come clean on what happened to Stu, he decides she’s a liar who must have a shady past. This even though Stu sent him a letter telling him it wasn’t Rebecca’s fault and to go easy on her.

Frankly, Sean was a jerk. He has Mommy Issues, of course, because his mother swore him to secrecy over an incident when he was fourteen, and for twenty years he hasn’t forgiven her. Since Mom was duplicitous, Sean won’t trust any woman. He even says it himself:

Distrust had always been his fallback. Now was no time to change his MO, not when the welfare of his brother was at stake.

This would be the brother that explicitly told Sean that Rebecca was not to be blamed, right? But in Sean’s world, it’s much easier to stick with his tired “all women are liars” schtick than consider changing his thinking. Except when he wants to get Rebecca into bed.

Rebecca is basically a doormat for the entire novel. The mother treats her coldly, and she doesn’t stick up for herself. Sean tosses veiled insults at her, and she doesn’t tell him to take a hike. And the author includes some absolute howlers when it comes to the maple festival, which occupies part of the plot. Since it looks like the total amount of research into how maple trees are tapped consisted of looking up the word “maple” in a dictionary, readers from Maine to Michigan are likely to roll their eyes at the idea of Rebecca wandering through the woods in the fall wiping the leaking sap from the maple trees, licking it off her finger, and marveling at the pure maple syrup. Yep, in Rebecca’s world, maple trees produce year-round and all you need to do is stick a spigot into them and pure syrup comes out, ready for the container. And you can plan a maple festival two months in advance with no backup plan because the weather is sure to be perfect for tapping, even though maples need warm days and cold nights for sap to run.

This kind of research laziness is pretty unforgivable in the Internet age. I might have gotten past it if there weren’t so many other subplots that seemed to pop up for the moment and then wander out of the story. There’s a ghost in Rebecca’s bedroom and it has something to do with Sean’s grandmother, but once the story comes out, it’s not clear why the ghost is even there in the first place. Sean’s parents apparently haven’t had a decent conversation in twenty years, and their marriage is on the rocks. And we’re told over and over that they’ve been married for thirty years, but Sean is at least thirty-four. Where was the editing on this?

With This Kiss starts out with a great idea, but the romance is unconvincing and unsatisfying and the wandering storyline might drive you to distraction. Save your money on this one.

--Cathy Sova

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