With two excellent AAR reviews to her credit, it was with a fair degree of anticipation that I first opened Total Rush, the latest release from Deirdre Martin. Though I can’t comment on whether or not there was a precipitous drop in quality between those books and this one, I can tell you that for me at any rate Total Rush was a not very interesting romance between two not very interesting people with quite a bit of growing up to do.
Set in the same Italian family-hockey milieu as her previous two books, practicing Wiccan and occult shop owner Gemma Dante is the “different” member of her clan. Being the New Age-y type that she is, Gemma burns heavy incense in her apartment in the evenings – a habit she doesn’t even consider breaking after receiving an anonymous “stop stinking up the building” note under her apartment door. Stressed out after a busy day at work, she lights up and settles down to meditate until she is interrupted by a knock at the door heralding the arrival of sexy firefighter Sean Kenenaly. Her incense, Sean and his partner tell her, is too strong – so strong that a neighbor reported a possible fire in her apartment.
Bowled over by Sean, a man she never expects to see again, Gemma is delighted several evenings later to discover the blue-eyed babe playing on the FDNY hockey team in an exhibition game against her cousin’s team and then, even more surprisingly, at a party several days later celebrating the arrival of a new baby in the Dante family. They connect and start to explore their obvious chemistry – an exploration that is interrupted when Gemma learns from her cousin’s wife (the woman whose former apartment she is now occupying) that Sean is actually a fellow resident of her building.
Of course, Sean is the one who left the anonymous note and, after charmingly apologizing by leaving a menagerie of stuffed animals outside her door the next evening, the two give into the powerful attraction between them and have hot sex. All that is derailed, however, when, a little late night exploring in her apartment leads Sean to discover the truth about Gemma’s beliefs. More than a bit freaked out, Sean slips out in the middle of the night, something that Gemma is, not surprisingly, not pleased to discover when she awakens in the morning.
If all this sounds convoluted and a bit incestuous, it is. Everybody knows everybody here and the author seems to assume that the reader does, too. But this advanced case of series-itis isn’t why the book was a less than average read for me – all the credit for that goes squarely to the immature behavior of Sean and Gemma. Both of them, frankly, seemed more than a little bit clueless about life and relationships and, sadly, not in an even remotely charming way.
Frankly, Sean and Gemma both make idiotic decisions within the course of this book and behave in ways most of don’t indulge in much past the 10th grade. For instance, Gemma’s reaction to the note claiming she’s bothering the building is a defiant continuation of the behavior annoying her neighbors. Sean’s response, however, is just as childish since he chooses to misrepresent himself and the FDNY instead of confronting the problem through the normal channels. And then there’s Sean finally making an effort to overcome the embarrassment his “wacky” girlfriend is causing him amongst his “tribal” firemen buddies and finally setting up an evening to introduce them all. Gemma, however, chooses to dress for the evening in an Indian sari. Frankly, the way I see it Sean is immature for being embarrassed in the first place and Gemma is just as immature by dressing in a way sure to even further reinforce the distance between herself and Sean’s blue collar buddies. I could go on and on, but the fact is, when all is said and done, I just didn’t like either Sean or Gemma very much and cared even less about their so-called “romance”.
Let me clearly state that I don’t expect characters in romance novels to behave perfectly. I do, however, expect them to have moved beyond high school level in the way they choose to confront life and relationships because childishness simply isn’t interesting – eyeroll-inducing, all right, but interesting? Not even remotely.
For we romance readers, the HEA is a sacred thing. We have to believe in our happy ending in order for a book to touch us, something I thought about a lot when I read this book. Considering the growing up thirty-something Sean and Gemma both so desperately need to do, it would be hard to imagine a more hollow version of the HEA than the one found here. This relationship, I think, just isn’t meant to last.