Long Summer Nights
Long Summer Nights, a Harlequin Blaze title from 2010, was something of an unusual read. Unlike many category romance books I’ve read, it’s actually rather unsentimental and filled with awkward moments and sharp edges by design. Many readers will likely find it unlikable and yet there’s just something about it. Its tone just fits the characters and story perfectly, even as it might fall outside what some readers would consider a comfortable read.
The basic setup involves a heroine and hero kept in isolation. Jennifer Dale has landed a job at her dream paper, but she’s been sent from the city to upstate New York to stay in a rundown cabin at an isolated lake. There’s not much going on except for her reclusive, people-hating neighbor and his grouchy one-eyed cat.
Though the reader knows his real name right away, Aaron Barksdale initially hides his real identity from Jennifer. When they meet, she thinks he’s just a difficult recluse who writes. She doesn’t know that he’s actually a well-known writer living in exile. The two end up falling into a grouchy yet passionate affair that’s far from the usual emotional arc I’m accustomed to seeing in romance. On the one hand, I felt like I shouldn’t be liking this book because Aaron really is a cold-hearted jackass much of the time and yet I couldn’t stop reading.
If you need for your leads in a romance to be sunny and likable, this probably won’t be your book. Aaron can be off-puttingly cold and Jennifer is sometimes painfully unsure of herself and lacking in direction. Neither of them may be what traditional readers would consider an ideal person, but there is something deeply compelling about them, particularly when they are together.
One thing I did like about this book was that both of the leads changed over time. Through her interactions with Aaron as well as her professional career arc, Jennifer learns more about herself and what she wants. More importantly, she starts to become more confident about standing up for what is important for her. At the beginning of the book, she may have been someone who would let Aaron roll over her, but that changes.
As for Aaron, he is truly a character who doesn’t entirely know how to love. In romance we often encounter the hero whose parents were either absent or cold/unfeeling, but who somehow magically springs to life to become the perfect lover when confronted with his perfect, radiant heroine. This is not Aaron. He really did come from a cold, unfeeling home and he does not know how to connect with others very well at all. What made this book stand out for me was that Jennifer did not magically cure him. She does, however, awaken some impulse in him that makes him want to try to figure out another person and to try to connect. His efforts don’t always work, but he tries. And his declaration of love near the end of the book is just plain beautiful.
Neither of these characters is made perfect by the end of the story, but they are brought together. More importantly, they’re together purposefully in way that made me believe their relationship could work. I suspect this book may not be for everyone, but this unconventional summer fling turned long-term romance story did make me think and I can’t get it out of my mind even several days after reading it. Long Summer Nights isn’t sweetness and light but it’s clearly not meant to be. Even though I would have liked to see some of the plot points explored a bit more deeply, I ended up enjoying this one.