Tucker, by Juliana Stone
Amazing, I’m going to make this month’s SLWendy’s TRB Challenge–even if by the skin of my teeth.
Two things to know before you read this review: first, I met Ms Stone briefly at RWA 2009 in Washington DC. If memory serves, it was also her first RWA, and she had just signed with HarperCollins (which published His Darkest Hunger, first in her Jaguar Warriors series). I have not kept in contact with Ms Stone, and I still have my copy of His Darkest Hunger somewhere in the TBR mountain range of doom.
Second, I won a copy of this book in a giveaway for Jen’s July Monthly Glom over at the Fiction Vixen blog, which is where she recommended it.
Without further ado, the blurb (from the author’s website):
When all hope is gone, can love still find a way?
Tucker Simon has given up on love. After a tragedy, it’s just not in the cards for him, and he wishes his family would get off his back. He’s fine—or at least he thought he was–until a family wedding forces him to address a few things, namely his date, Abby Mathews. She’s been put in the ‘friend’ category, mostly because she deserves so much more than what he can give. But the more time that he spends with her, Tucker begins to think that maybe there is a chance for love after all…
Abby Mathews has been in love with Tucker Simon since he walked into her family’s bar nearly a year ago. But he’s got baggage and heartache a plenty. His one-night-stands aren’t going to lessen that no matter what he thinks. Tucker needs a friend, but Abby wants to give him more, and as they navigate their way through a weekend in Florida, their attraction can’t be ignored. Abby has to make a choice. Does she cherish their friendship and take what she can get? Or does she go after what she really wants, which is Tucker’s heart…
Tucker is the first book in Ms Stone’s The Family Simon series, which follows her Barkers Triplets trilogy. The hook for the series, we learn pretty quickly, is that the Simons are American Royalty (the Kennedys comparison is made, I believe, only the present generation is if anything more successful than the previous ones), and therefore everyone and their nosy brother is interested in the most trivial details of their lives.
This particular installment deals with the third (or perhaps second, he’s a twin) Simon brother, Tucker.
Tucker has a bit of a problem, and a helluva lot of baggage. Three years before the story starts, his wife vanishes into thin air. No, he’s not a suspect–three other people disappeared with her–but still, it’s obviously a big deal, and more so because they were very much in love… Okay, I’ll come back to this. At any rate, you can see how life is not a bed of roses for this scion of the family Simon.
Anyway, Abby has been in lust from the beginning, but as he gets to know Tucker, she falls harder for him, so that by the time the story starts they have been friends for about a year and she’s pretty much gone. Then there is a family wedding to which Tucker most vehemently does not want to go alone, and the perfect (if I bit contrived) opportunity to spend time with Tucker outside of the bartender/friendly regular dynamic falls on Abby’s lap.
Of course, she takes it.
Which in short order leads our protagonists to have unprotected sex–but the reader is told that it’s all good, because Abby is on the pill for some pseudo-medical reason. Pardon me while go, what the fuck? for a moment.
To be clear, I do not have any moral objection to sex, so long as the people involved are capable of consent, so it’s not the “oh well, we are sharing a room, of course we are going to end up having sex” schtick that irked me. And while it’s pretty damn stupid, I do understand how people can and do get carried away when in the throes of irresistible horniness, so it’s not even the impulsive unprotected sex.
It’s the fact that the author goes out of her way to make sure we know there was no condom, that the characters thought about it, and that then they dismissed it, because the risk of pregnancy has been addressed.
What about the very real danger of STDs? Oh well, no, those are never mentioned. Not in conversation, not in exposition, not in any of the characters’ thoughts. In this magical world, there is not such thing as chlamydia, gonorrhea, AIDs, genital herpes, or human papillomavirus. No siree.
So as a PSA to any writer reading this: if you do have your characters indulge in unprotected sex without prior discussion of health history and the like, at the very least have them freak the holy fuck after the fact, like normal people do.
Here endeth this rant.
Then there’s some hand wringing on both Abby’s and Tucker’s parts about feelings, some pointed not talking to each other, followed by a bit of talking, the beginning of a relationship, then a piano drops on everyone’s head, then Abby and Tucker live happily ever after, the end.
Unfortunately, I never quite bought into their relationship, for a number of reasons. For starters, let’s take a closer look at our protagonists, if we may.
I am not sure how old Abby is, or whether it was even mentioned, but we know that Tucker is thirty one, and while his situation is absolutely not enviable–what with a missing wife, so he’s neither married, a widower or divorced, and that’s not even touching on the lack of closure–he seems to have his shit together for the most part. He’s successful in his chosen field (he’s a high end sports agent), has a supportive family, and while he’s still trapped in the limbo regarding relationships, seems to be on his way to being emotionally healthy. He is no longer drinking the pain, misery and confusion away, and while he’s still on a “can’t have a relationship ’cause missing wife and guilt” place, he’s stopped pushing everyone away–hence his friendship with Abby.
Why guilt, you may ask. The specifics are revealed later in the story, but even though there’s never any doubt that Tucker loved his wife, there were unresolved issues between them at the time she went missing, and Tucker can’t quite reconcile his anger over those issues with the grief of losing her. In other words, he hasn’t yet given himself leave to love as deeply again.
Not that he’s remained celibate. Not half a dozen pages into the book we are told that in the previous year alone, he’s had “a shit-ton of meaningless sex with faceless women.” Later, we are told that what he has is flings with women who “know the score” or some such. Either way, this guy has certainly been around the block a time or twelve. (Here you can imagine me muttering, “walking STD petri dish” in the background.) The only thing Tucker is reluctant about is the emotional connection.
Abby, on the other hand, graduated college (something in publishing, I believe) and, instead of looking for something in her field, continued as bartender in the family pub. I don’t know you, but it feels to me that Abby is happy to coast through life, not striving much, not looking to grow beyond the small and familiar. (By “small” I mean the reach of her life, not that the family business is struggling.)
Late in the story the author takes some pains to make sure the reader knows that she’s talented–in fact, that her drawings are ‘the most beautiful thing’ that Tucker has ever seen. And do keep in mind that Tucker has family connections to some well-known artists, something else we are told at least twice throughout the story, so it’s conceivable that he may know at least something about art.
Frankly, if Abby is so talented, I find it hard to believe that no one, such as a professor in college, has ever suggested to her that she could actually do something with her art beyond drawing for her own pleasure. While lack of ambition is not necessarily a bad thing, in this case it seems to point to a certain immaturity, a reluctance to grow up, take charge of your own life, take risks.
At the end of the story, however, Abby is finally doing something about her art, collaborating with a writer on some illustrated children’s books, but this bothered me because it felt to me as if, without Tucker to empower Abby, she wouldn’t have even striven for it.
The main conflict between these two is that Tucker hasn’t quite let go of his missing wife, which is perfectly natural, along with the need to grow up and talk to each other more frankly about their feelings. Had the story been focused on this, the book would have easily been a third shorter than it was, but alas, the sequel baiting was strong within this novel.
The famous “destination weekend wedding” down in Florida is not only the kick in Tucker’s ass to see Abby as a sex partner. It also gives the author an excuse to introduce, with some detail, four male and one female Simon relatives, complete with heavy hinting at what their issues are.
- We have the flirty, flighty sister with the unacceptable (to the family) fling in attendance.
- We have the rake who sleeps with any woman who’s married or otherwise attached, including his own bother’s girlfriend–twice. (I’m more than a bit aghast at the idea that there is any way the author can excuse this and make this dick a “hero.”)
- We have the up and rising politician who’s determined to marry for the benefit of his career, even though we are told he loves someone else–because she wouldn’t help him reach his goals.
- Hell, even the brother we don’t meet at the wedding is mentioned a number of times, and later does make an appearance, complete with more hinting.
- For that matter, Abby’s so-called best friend only shows up as a prop–someone to spill the beans at inconvenient times, and yet another hint as love interest for Abby’s brother. Who, in turn, seems to only exist to be disapproving of Tucker and to posture as sequel bait.
So while I did read the book all the way through in fairly few sessions, I was too distracted by all this other people, irked by the fairly frequent typos, missing commas and periods, and other editing/copy editing issues (am I correct that this is a self published work?), and not particularly rooting for the protagonists’ relationship to succeed. The balance I’m left with is a meh romance, a couple of annoyances and one rant. Not a good tally, I’m afraid.
Tucker gets 5.00 out of 10. I will give Ms Stone another try once I find my copy of His Darkest Hunger, though.