Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Which Trai Reviews 'Tempted in the Tropics'

The Book: Tempted in the Tropics (Book 2 in March's Suddenly Smitten trilogy)

The Author: Tracy March

How I Found It: I read and loved March's The Practice Proposal so much I requested a review copy from Entangled, who were obliging enough to provide me with one in exchange for a review. My thanks to them! (As a disclaimer, my review is honest and in no way influenced by my receiving the book from the publisher.)

The Review: Paige Ellerbee first appeared in The Practice Proposal as Liza's endearing, endlessly supportive best friend, who worked hard at her own bakery, Sweet Bee's. Now, it's Paige's turn to take center stage and find some romance of her own. In the past, she moved to the sleepy small town of Maple Creek when her mother was terminally ill, and later stayed on to keep her now-widowed father company. Maple Creek is mostly composed of elderly residents, and Paige helps out the local physician, Dr. Hartley, by making special muffins (gluten-free, sugar-free, etc., as required) and providing them at low cost to his patients to help them eat healthy.

The Special Recipe program is quickly endangered when Dr. Lane Anderson, Hartley's nephew, comes to town to fill in for his vacationing uncle. Betrayed personally and professionally by his ex-fiancee, Lane knows every professional move he makes is going to be carefully scrutinized, and can't risk the slightest association with the HIPPA-approved but still questionable program. He inadvertently insults the within-earshot Paige by shooting down the locals' belief in the "magic" of her muffins, and later learns that Paige thinks of him as an "uptight jerk." Both of them find the other attractive, but is it any wonder they don't get along?

But they're going to have to get over that, as both of them are invited to take part in Cole and Liza's wedding. Soon enough they're off to the island paradise of St. Lucia, and Paige calls a truce. They both want to be civil for each other for the duration of their stay. Some swimming and mudbathing in a local tourist attraction alerts them both to their simmering physical chemistry, and their pact to be civil quickly evolves into a steamier one: a fling, no strings attached, to be ended upon their return to Maple Creek. But what happens when they both start wondering if a fling can turn into something more?

I spent a slow Sunday reading this book, and while I'd already really enjoyed March's writing style, particularly her skill at crafting a relationship dynamic, in the previous book, I was uncertain how I'd feel about this one. I so enjoyed reading the slow buildup of Cole and Liza's relationship, seeing how they waited to have sex until they were ready, that I wasn't sure I'd be as taken in by a book that was founded on the exact opposite dynamic--a sexual fling lasting only a few days.

I needn't have worried, because just like The Practice Proposal, the couple felt so real to me that I found myself turning the pages faster and faster, hoping they'd work things out. Paige is just as likable here as she was in the previous book, and though she has a slightly wild side, it's never taken so far as to become grating. It's easy to root for her to find love after she's already spent so many years valuing her parents' happiness before her own. Lane's struggle to trust again after being burned so badly in his previous relationship isn't the huge point of contention other novels would've made it out to be; Paige never presses for the whole story and asks for it at the right time, without having made ghastly assumptions about what it could be, and allows them both time to process the revelation afterwards.

The characters were so well-handled it was easy to be taken in by their sexual tension, and though the scene always fades out before the act itself, there's still plenty of steam to be had! Whether it's swimming naked or giving a whole new meaning to the word dessert, there's just such a sense of fun and exuberance, fitting for a book that's based around a vacation. While disapproving parents do figure slightly in the narrative, what Lane and Paige are doing is never made into something shameful or wrong. And while the relationship starts off as purely sexual, that's never all it is; Paige and Lane tell each other about themselves, their pasts and their presents, and make apologies for the wrongs they've accidentally done each other.

Overall, Tropics really defied my reservations about the premise and became something I truly enjoyed reading; I came out of it just as eager for another book by March as I had been after I finished The Practice Proposal. I eagerly guessed which character (or characters!) could possibly serve as the hero or heroine in the next book. Regardless of whether or not March does return to Maple Creek, I'll eagerly read anything by her, and recommend this one to anyone who wants a fun, steamy romance to offset that coming fall weather!

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