Tides of Passion
Grade : B

Take a little trip to a coastal Carolina town and meet a couple of engaging characters whose struggle against each other – and themselves – provides for a few hours of entertaining reading. A solid sense of time and place, and a good dose of humor, add to the enjoyment of reading Tides of Passion, Tracy Sumner’s latest installment in the lives of the Garret brothers of the Tar Heel State.

Suffragist and sometime agitator Savannah Connor has come down from New York City to help her friend, newlywed Elle Garrett, run a school for the women of the small coastal town of Pilot Isle, North Carolina. Along with the teaching, Savannah hopes to help the women better the working conditions at the oyster factory that employs them. The biggest obstacle to her success is the town’s constable, Elle’s brother-in-law Zachary – not just because he’s the law, but because he’s very attractive, to boot.

In spite of the fact that every eligible lady in town is after him, Zach hasn’t looked at another woman since the childbed death of his wife two years ago – so what is it about this out-of-town rabble-rouser that’s got his blood up? Once they face up to their mutual attraction, they decide to embark on a no-strings affair. Savannah is certain she’ll never enter such a constraining, slavish relationship as marriage, but she reasons that that shouldn’t stop her from enjoying some male companionship. As for Zach, he figures that he can enjoy a physical relationship with the beguiling, infuriating teacher, as long as they both keep in mind that he does not want to re-marry – ever. Why, he wouldn’t marry her even if they were caught buck-naked together on Main Street!

Well…never say “never”…

What I liked best about this book is the fact that Savannah and Zach were able to talk to each other. Their dialogue is terrific. He just loves the twenty-dollar words that roll off her educated lips – in fact, her vocabulary is a turn-on for him. Savannah realizes early on that for some reason Zach is telling her things he’s never told anyone, not even members of his family, and the more she learns about him, the more she wants to know. The more she knows, the more she has to reevaluate what she thinks she knows about men, and herself, and what she wants in life. Although there is a misunderstanding in the second half, it doesn’t feel artificial or forced, and the characters resolve it while staying in character.

Ms. Sumner has a good grasp of what it’s like to live in a small town, where everyone has an assigned role and is expected to live up to it, whether that person wants to or not. As someone who had responsibility thrust on to him at too early an age, Zach has accepted his role as protector, and when he fails in that role, he’s overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and self-recrimination. Even though his rational self knows it’s not his fault his wife and child died, he can’t help but think that he should have been able to prevent it from happening. Savannah sees herself as the outsider, so when she begins to feel as if she fits in somewhere she’s pretty apprehensive about it. Again, the resolution of these problems flows fairly naturally, and everything fits without feeling as if it’s being jammed into place.

On the down side, I’m getting a little impatient with virginal heroines who have scads of theoretical knowledge when it comes to sex. Savannah’s read some pretty explicit books, so she’s got a reasonably good idea of not just the basics of the act, but also a few intermediate techniques. Is it just me, or are we seeing a lot of this lately? And Zach’s inconsistent cussing patterns pulled me out of the story more than once. With some of the other words that came out of his mouth, all his “darned”s and “heck”s were a little jarring. One final niggle: if Zach was considered such a great catch to the spinsters of Pilot Isle, how come they didn’t resent Savannah more? I kept looking for some jealousy on their part when it came to Savannah’s appearance on the scene. On the other hand, it was a relief to be spared the Evil Other Woman scenario.

There’s a nice balance of humor and seriousness; some demons can’t just be laughed away, but there are plenty of entertaining scenes that raise a smile or two. And did I mention that the love scenes are fairly hot? Without going into graphic detail, Ms. Sumner conveys the notion that when Savannah and Zach are alone in a room, no piece of furniture is off limits. If you haven’t read Tracy Sumner before, Tides of Passion is a good place to start – and a good time, too. Something tells me there are lots of good stories left in her repertoire.

Reviewed by Nora Armstrong

Grade: B

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : August 3, 2002

Publication Date: 2002

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