Wildfire Romance – A Kiss for Tomorrow – Maud Johnson – A stalled out romance with a non-mysterious mystery.

            Wildfire #20 A Kiss for Tommorow - Maud Johnson

           Ever feel like a cover rips you off? You pick up a book with a splendid cover and creative juices start wildly,  spinning imaginative scenes in your head – only as you actually get into the meat of the story it fails to make good on any of the promises the cover intimates. For instance – A Kiss for Tomorrow has a wonderfully breezy cover ( it totally reminds me of that old baroque painting called The Swing.) Both hero and heroine look playful and upbeat , the faux out-doorsy set up – with fake flora wound round a rope swing hanging from a plastic tree,  achieves a duel symbolism – a summery tale albeit a synthetic summer tale. I’ll buy the synthetic angle because despite the carefree nature of the cover this book seldom achieves much momentum. 
    As about as much momentum as a stalled swing. 

            The book starts with our frightened heroine Edie leaving Chicago to North Carolina , but it’s not the plane trip that scares her it’s her complicated personal life that’s got her in a state of  upheaval. And it takes an entire chapter to sort it out. Her parents are split , and she had been enjoying ( after she accepted their divorce ) summers in New York with her father and the entire attention of her mother in Chicago. Only now her mother has remarried an okay guy named Perry , the main burr under Edie’s saddle is that he came with an ugly old chair. That and the fact that Edie is beginning to feel like a third wheel in her own home. While she mopes – her mom has some interesting news – Perry’s firm is sending him to England for the summer – and we’ll be leaving next week. A whole summer in England! Edie is bubbling with excitement until she notices her mother’s white face. The ‘we’ hadn’t included Edie. Her mother wants the trip to be the honeymoon they didn’t get to have.
              Turning to her father she finds that New York is out , too! He’s living out a dream of owning his own newspaper , The Gaynorsville Gazette in the dogpatch town of Gaynorsville North Carolina population 3, 000. Well 3001 with her arrival.
             Not all that anxious at the thought of spending her summer in a dreary small town , she is however amazed by her father’s enthusiasm at his new ‘dinky’ acquisition. As a reader we can sympathize – slightly,  considering we haven’t seen another teenager yet , she’s hardly a martyr – no bff was left behind , no boyfriend or even a prospect of one. Plus every reader knows some boy’s going to come along and make it all worthwhile. And whaddya know he’s closer than Edie thinks,  boarding in the first floor of her father’s new home which also holds the offices of the newspaper.
          Extra! Extra! Romance on the horizon.
           Not so fast.
           First to the details – the fellow is college boy Nick Hunter. A likeable sort whose excited about interning on her father’s paper and doesn’t want to mess that up by falling for the bosses daughter. This isn’t actually said until the very end , and it’s barely implied because we don’t have time to stall off their romance, cause we’re already fifty pages in and something has to happen!  So they frequent a Dari bar for some ice cream. That’s about the highlight of their ‘dates’ – more like chums arranging an outing. The best chapter however includes no romance it’s Edie’s chat with her father over dinner out – chocolate meringue pie – yum! He hopes she’ll write for his paper which is the best news Edie’s heard in a long while , and she’s excited , realizing as they walk home together in “the warm , hazy twilight filled with blue shadows.” , that he is finally treating her as an adult. It’s by far the best scene.

             Just when the reader is praying something exciting would happen two plots enfold , one is boring and old hat – ( it’s so old hat Napoleon could’ve worn it ) It’s the old can-I-compete-with-his-stunning-ex plot or rather gripe. It’s the kind of self doubt that coils it’s way through the story making our heroine seem paranoid rather than likable. She doubts every word he says. Rather than bring in the ex – she’s becomes a subtle entity in the form of a framed photo left on Nick’s bedside table. Edie believes he’s carrying a torch for her cause the picture’s still there and when he goes home on weekends it’s more in a wink, wink he’s really seeing her kind of way. Any eleven year old reading this however picks up on the clues the writer drops that Nick is such a slob the picture has been left there out of sheer laziness and blends into the background much like a calendar someone forgot to flip to the right month. By now the reader welcomes the other plot – which is a mystery ( I use that term loosely )  involving a boarded up house out at the end of an overgrown drive. Wondering why someone would board up a house ( in a small town in which crime is practically non existent ) Edie ventures to ask Sara Graves her fathers beautiful but distant secretary also a native of Gaynorsville. Sara freaks out and locks herself in the washroom for twenty minutes. Subtle – maybe she has something to do with it …        

               Oddly enough nobody thinks this ( other than the reader who could scream at the characters till she’s blue as a smurf ) or that it includes a touch of tragedy. But then everyone in town wants them to stop inquiring about the house. Are you kidding? Nick wants a scoop , Edie is tired of writing obituaries and the evenings are down to playing a threesome of Monopoly with Nick and her father. They want excitement,  so does the reader. Nick gets a crow bar and pries off some boards and the two sneak into the house. It’s still furnished with items that look brand new , under a layer of dust and though there is no personal items left behind , no clothes in the closet – there are two items that pique their interest. A torn wedding veil and a satin heel – just one,  like Cinderella’s glass slipper.
        Though Edie’s father is furious at them for breaking and entering and rages -[ “I don’t care if you found a dozen gold bars and a bucket of diamonds.” ] I don’t think Edie would’ve come home if she found the bucket of diamonds , ditto for Nick. I sure wouldn’t. But he allows them to continue investigating the mystery of the house which almost becomes humorous contrasted with his initial rage. The reader knows he has to allow it if only to further the plot. It’s like watching a character get strong armed by the writer!
    As for the actual romance of the story, there’s not much to speak of and what there is can be summed up by two awkward incidences ; Soon after they meet Edie comments that Zach is an unusual name ( in the 80’s? oh well ) and Nick in turn makes reference to president Taylor and then tries to link this in as though this info is somehow important , that this Zach ( the one they’re discussing ) is a junior named after his father , who was named by his father , who’d been named by a great uncle who had known the twelfth president personally …o-kay. Why not just say it’s a family name because some distant relative meet President Zachary Taylor? But – Ours is not to reason why-oh-why just to point out the goofiness. His next try to wow Edie, is to tell her she reminds him of his kid sister ( and since no girl wants to be told they remind a boy of a relative,  especially a kid sister,  naturally,  she bristles. ) He attempts to do some fast damage control – she’s an annoying little sister but I love her,  which only digs his grave faster.

          And even though he’s a college boy and a love interest the character of Nick isn’t very impressive. He even has an annoying habit of telling Edie – [“You may not know this but you’re very desirable.” ]after he’s through kissing her , in the manner that if he didn’t drive her home right that minute , he may not be able to control himself. Only by the second time we hear it , and the third time it’s implied the reader knows that – though the writer feels this is a sexy thing to say , we don’t by it. Repetition in my mind only brings about suspicion along the same lines of Are you getting thinner? , doesn’t she look thinner to you , I swear you’re melting away before our very eyes. Coupled with his wooing skills that include talk of the twelfth president , comparing his date to his kid sister and making jokes that fall flat ( i.e.  Edie – Going to the house in this weather is for the birds. Nick – Chirp Chirp. I’m making like a bird , sorry I don’t have wings to spread. ) he’s a bit of a goof.

             I gladly welcomed the house-mystery even if it was clumsily handled – there was no real clues hunted up or scares or threats to back off and it was wrapped up pretty easily – Nick writes a letter to the owner of the house flushing out Sara who,  horrified, reveals the whole story. You know you’re in trouble when a side character’s history makes a better story than the one you’re reading! –  She was once in love with Carson Andrews , a medical illustrator who did text book drawings ( ack, what a wonderfully gruesome profession for a gothic story! ) and new to the town of Gaynorsville. They were to be married, so he hired an architect to build the now boarded up house,  making the hallways extra wide to fit her invalid mother’s wheelchair. ( Letting us know that he’s sweet enough to welcome a mother-in-law to live with him.) Two weeks before the wedding however, Carson calls it off and telling Sara his ex-girlfriend Iris had contacted him , he realized he’s still in love with her and instead,  they are getting married. When Sara informs her mother about Carson’s betrayal, the old woman has a stroke and worse yet , doesn’t want to leave Gaynorsville.  Sara is trapped  into staying and taking care of her. While Iris has the nerve to come to town and attempt to set up house in the home he built for Sara. Tragedy strikes , though when on their wedding day Iris was found in one of the bedrooms dead. She had apparently snagged her wedding veil on one of the bed posts , tripped on a throw rug and snapped her neck. Sara has never really gotten over the event -( maybe she should’ve sang this appropriate song – it is after all GAYNORsville as in Mitzi Gaynor )

  – that is until Carson Andrews shows up wondering why someone is dredging up the past and the two have a talk. Though Edie would love a romance to be rekindled she’s better off keeping an eye on her own!
    As a romance the book was flat , it took so looooong to get going and it was too dry to make a good mystery. Or even delve into the workings of a small town paper. It’s too bad this couldn’t have been polished up a bit,  infused with a bit of lightening bolt thrills and turned into a Windswept. The only rope that should’ve been featured on this cover is a  tug-o-war between romance and mystery – for it fails in both genre’s but still achieves a minimum of goofy likability. Maud Johnson’s definitely done better. I give it ** out of four. Sorry no 80’s nostalgia , I couldn’t think of anything , there was no great 80’s clothes descriptions not even a perfect dress scene.

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2 Responses to Wildfire Romance – A Kiss for Tomorrow – Maud Johnson – A stalled out romance with a non-mysterious mystery.

  1. book chick says:

    Wait a minute…did you just try to judge a book by its cover?

    🙂 Sorry, couldn’t resist !

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