I decided to sign up for SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge again; I missed it last year–the fun of checking out others’ posts, the kick in the pants to read some of the giant romance backlog lurking on my ereader.
This month’s theme is We Love Short Shorts, and I thought “Hey, don’t I have a novella with a winter search and rescue in it? It could fit the #FireandIce theme for that Twitter reading challenge as well!” Of course I couldn’t remember author or title, but browsing my library brought it back: In the Clear, by Tamara Morgan. When I started reading and found it checked off “book with characters who are twins” for the PopSugar Challenge as well, I felt extremely smug.
In the Clear has some of the . . . flaws is the wrong word, so let’s call them qualities that don’t always work for me . . . typical of short romance. To fit the romance arc into a small package, writers tend to draw in broad strokes and take emotional shortcuts. What helps the fast-moving romance along here is Morgan’s trope-tactic set-up: it’s a friends to lovers story in which Sean and Lexie have known each other forever, and a big (though not by much, as they’re twins) brother’s best friend story, to boot. Sean’s been pining for Lexie for years but is afraid to risk their friendship by saying anything. When she finds out he secretly volunteers with the local search and rescue group, though, her view of him begins to shift. Their long history makes her rapid fall for him–or recognition of her feelings–more plausible.
I also really liked the fact that a lot of this change happens when Lexie tags along on a rescue and becomes a useful part of the team. She sees herself, and is often seen by others, as a bit of a screw-up, and being able to help with the rescue not only shows her Sean in a new light, but herself as well. She gains some confidence. And the hero and heroine work as a team, always something I love in romance, as it makes me believe in their future as partners.
What didn’t work as well for me were the rather exaggerated characters. Lexie means well, she’s kind, she cares about people, but she’s clutzy and over-emotional and loud. In the first scene, she gets a run in her tights and takes them off. In the middle of a restaurant. Although she’s apparently great at prying money out of people for the children’s charity she works for, she sounds like kind of a nightmare to work with. Sean’s father died in a plane crash when Sean was 8. Ever since, he’s been afraid of risk or any vulnerability. He’s pushed himself to join the search and rescue because the skilled team makes him feel safe taking a risk, but he’s afraid to send in his application for the EMT program at the local college. Neither of these people believe in themselves or think they’re worth much. That makes their budding romance harder to believe in.
I could see what Morgan was going for. Lexie’s willingness to barge into things, her emotional openness, is good for Sean, who needs that push. As she tells him after discovering her picture in his compass:
“[Joining the rescue] wasn’t an impulse. Why do people always assume that the choices I make in the heat of the moment are the wrong ones? Maybe the fact that it takes you years to decide anything is the real problem.” . . . .
Maybe she made mistakes. Maybe she sometimes acted without thinking, gave in to flights of fancy, leaped without looking. At least she was doing something.
Lexie pushes Sean to act, and he makes her feel valued and needed. Each could help the other grow. It just felt a bit heavy-handed.
I wished the characterization had more subtlety, especially at the beginning. But that’s partly a feature of the genre, especially in shorter forms. I remember once describing Harlequin Presents (another short package) as being like silent films or kabuki theatre, with exaggerated, dramatic telegraphing of emotions. I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading books like this and need to adjust to their conventions. Despite my quibbles, I enjoyed reading In the Clear, especially the search and rescue scenes, which felt very real and weren’t over-dramatized.