Wednesday, August 17, 2022

#TBRChallenge 2022: Stranded With The Sergeant

The Book: Stranded with the Sergeant by Cathie Linz

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Silhouette Romance # 1534, 2001, Book 2 in series, Out of Print, Available Digitally

Why Was This Book In Wendy's TBR?: Linz was responsible for starting RWA's outreach to librarians and spearheaded those efforts for many years. This book was published several years before I started regularly attending conferences and I have an autographed copy. My guess is I either won this in a contest or Linz sent it to me as part of a congratulations package she sent to me in honor of my RWA Librarian of the Year award in 2011.  I suspect it's the former though...

The Review: The book I was reading prior to starting this ended up being a DNF because of pacing issues and my general disinterest, so I'm happy to report that I wasn't disinterested in this book, I kept reading it, and I zipped through it rather quickly. All signs that Linz knew her way around the category format (the misconception being that category is "easy" to write). Unfortunately I ended up having a few issues with the story, making this one a mixed bag for me.

First things first, it's got the sort of preposterous plot that could only exist in a category romance novel. Sergeant Joe Wilder (of course his surname is Wilder - it's how we know he's the hero!) is a fairly new arrival at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and has been called into his CO's office. Joe has been tasked with giving a class of pre-teens a tour of the base with instructions to watch out for the Commanding Officer's daughter, his "little princess."  Oh, and after the tour, Joe will be escorting a smaller group of the students with their teacher into the mountains for a weekend in the wilderness.  Joe is not excited by this detail but when he enters the conference room things start to look up because the teacher is very pretty.  He, of course, starts flirting with her, only to realize his error.  The CO's daughter, the "little princess," isn't a student - she's the teacher.

Prudence Martin grew up a military brat and has no patience for Marines. Her father's over-protective nature, a prior bad relationship with a Navy man - well she's not interested in dipping back into the military dating pool. Sure, code, honor, loyalty, blah, blah, blah.  She's past done with insufferable men who always think they're right. And here comes Joe Wilder, all slick talk and flirtation. No thank you ma'am.

These two get off on the wrong foot and start rubbing each other the wrong way from the jump, which of course is really hiding a sizzling attraction. Eventually what happens is that a freak spring snowstorm finds the wilderness party taking shelter in a cabin and the simmering pot starts to boil over.

If you can get past the plot of some random Marine being tasked with taking charge of a school field trip without any prior authorization from the school (Joe is a last minute replacement for this assignment), what will await you?  Well it's pretty much as advertised with some niggling issues that are partly to blame on the book being published in 2001 and partly on the need for a keener editorial eye.

Mel Gibson's name is dropped a few times, in relation to Joe's piercing blue eyes and good looks. Yes, 2001 - five years prior to Gibson's infamous traffic stop - but this is yet another example of why authors really, truly, need to avoid celebrity comparisons and keep pop culture references to a minimum.  Best case scenario? It dates your book exponentially as the years tick by. Worse case scenario? Mel Gibson.  Mel isn't the only such example in this story though - the book features some pre-teen secondary characters so what they're interested in, what they think is "cool," definitely has a 2001 feel to it. The first Matrix movie for example. Also, one of the students has a Palm Pilot.  Oh, those were the days!

A lot of this stuff though rolls off my back. No, the bigger issue is the fact that there's a throw-away sentence about the heroine seeing somebody who happens to be out of town for a family wedding.  The guy is mentioned once (in the heroine's internal musings) and never mentioned again. Like, she's getting warm for Joe's form and there's not even a single thought bubble about this poor schmoe that's out of town at a family wedding. I mean, even if it was still in the casual stage, you're hooking up with some dude while he's gone - like, I'd pause for half a second. And given that this is a Silhouette Romance Joe ends up proposing marriage at the end of the book and still - no mention of this poor schlep who the heroine was dating who happens to be out of town?!?  It felt like something that should have been left on the cutting room floor entirely. Instead here I am obsessing over what ends up being a throw-away sentence that doesn't go anywhere.

One of the things Joe and Prudence have in common is that they both have Survivor's Guilt lurking from incidents in their pasts, which was a nice touch.  Unfortunately Linz doubles-down on Joe's baggage and throws another piece of luggage to the pile towards the end to explain his reticence around kids. It felt a bit out of left field for me, almost like a piling on. Like truly - the helicopter crash was honestly enough yo.

Then there's the heroine's over-protective father being all paternalistic and some "not like other girls" nonsense that creeps in towards the end (the heroine is, of course, a natural beauty and doesn't need a bunch of make-up or red lipstick to look pretty which just makes me want someone with long acrylics to show up on the page and claw the hero's eyes out...) - but these are issues that aren't exactly uncommon in category romances of a certain age, or even of a more current vintage unfortunately.  It boils down to how much stuff like this irritates you. 

So what am I left with?  Well, it was an easy read, Linz hit her beats, and it kept me turning the pages.  But I didn't love it and it was about half a step down from "OK" given my niggles.  Would I read another Linz category romance? Yes. I didn't love this, but I also didn't hate it - and Linz handled the format well, which in a category romance is half the battle.

Final Grade = C-

Postscript: Linz passed away in 2015.

8 comments:

azteclady said...

Oh boy, those "throwaway" sentences that are anything but can truly bring down a story, no?

I also ended up with a category (I have literally hundreds of print TBR books, why can't I plan better and find something that even comes close to the theme? ::sob:: ), which was unfortunate--two novellas, trying to do the job of a full category title in less than 90 pages each. Did not work for me.

Whiskeyinthejar said...

Sergeant Joe Wilder (of course his surname is Wilder - it's how we know he's the hero!)

This is definitely romance reader if you know, you know.

The set-up of Sgt. taking the class into the woods, liking the teacher, and then finding out she's the "little princess" is my kryptonite but then you had to thrown in a Palm Pilot reference and SWOON. Lol.

no mention of this poor schlep who the heroine was dating who happens to be out of town?!?

Well, he shouldn't have left town, Wendy! The book I read had the guy married but he's suddenly just marrying someone else, with the first wife still alive, and then like three chapters later there was one throw away line of "Oh, yeah, he got that first marriage annulled." Definitely a missed in story editing, super quick fix.

eurohackie said...

The struggle was real with me on this theme, but it was a good excuse to dip into the clutch of Loveswept novels I'd picked up from the thrift store. It is primo late 80s/early 90s contemporary fluff, right down to the silken chest hairs. My expression was mostly o.O as I read it because the prose was ultraviolet in spots, but you know what? It was more or less good cheese, and I'd dine again at that buffet.

Jill said...

I loved Cathie Linz back in the day. I think you are right that she was very much a pro at hitting the right beats in category. I feel like her Silhouettes also were sweet but not too sappy or over the top. Some of them used to put me in a sugar coma and hers weren't 'edgy' by any stretch of the imagination, but they had a little zip in the execution that set them apart.

I'm pretty sure I read this one b/c I liked this series (back before I burned out on even "sweet" romances with military heroes) but I think I will pass on revisiting them. Some things just don't age well. I am 100% with you on not ever mentioning the hero or heroine looks like a specific person. I can't remember the book, but I swear I read an older one where the hero was compared to Richard Chamberlain (from the Thornbirds) and my immediate thought was "you mean that sweet old man who had to live most of his life in the closet b/c of bigotry?" I'm sure that was not the writer's intended "vibe" as they say.

Wendy said...

AL: Yeah, this was a theme that I really should have planned for in advance as well instead of blindly diving into my category pile. I feel like a military hero is skirting the theme more than landing firmly on it. But whatever - one less book in the pile now!

Whiskey: Well, he shouldn't have left town, Wendy! LOL! Point taken!

Eurohackie: True story - some of the most epic purple prose I've ever read was in a Loveswept. Lightning That Lingers by Laura London. Honestly I was in awe with how much purple was squeezed into a mere 180 pages. It was a sight to behold.

Jill: That is an excellent point! This book was sweet without descending into saccharine. No toothaches! And yeah, not edgy but a little something extra, that little bit of oomph that's hard to define. And LOL! Yeah, a Richard Chamberlain reference definitely hits differently in 2022.

azteclady said...

Test

(I think blogger just ate my comment about Lightning That Lingers)

Jen Twimom said...

Snickers... This is why I don't think I could read something from that long ago. Some of the romances of the times, like fashion choices, are so cringe-worthy now.

I was not able to complete my book for this month, but I've got one picked out for next month. Woo hoo!

Wendy said...

AL: It did 😞. I checked my spam filter to be sure and nada.

Jen: Most of the time things like that roll off my back, but when it goes wrong, it can go spectacularly wrong! There's a Molly O'Keefe book that is pretty great - Crazy Thing Called Loved - but the morning TV show host heroine idolizes Matt Lauer. The book came out 4 years before Lauer's true colors exploded into the newscycle...