Monday, March 13, 2023

Dark Summer Dawn by Sara Craven


Did you know that there are retro stepbrother romances? With the vast proliferation of such offerings in today's market, this obviously piqued my interest. What were the stepbrother romances of yesterday like? Would they be any good? Sara Craven is a particularly famous retro romance author, too, often mentioned in the same breath as Charlotte Lamb. And since I've read and enjoyed some of the manga adaptations of Craven's old Harlequin Presents titles, I was excited to see her take on the keeping-it-in-the-family trope.

Lisa is a famous model known as the "Amber Girl." She's pretty successful and has quite the devoted following, but she never lets anyone get too close. All that changes when she receives a wedding invitation from her flighty stepsister, Julie, asking for her immediate return; an invitation followed up by a surprise and unwanted visit from her older stepbrother, Dane. Once she's back in the gloomy mansion, she's overtaken by memoirs of her childhood crush on Dane and how it culminated in a betrayal that she's never been able to forget. And as she's torn between the simmering embers of that old passion and the sharp wounds of regret, she also has to navigate the drama of Julie's nuptials.

So I was kind of surprised that this still feels like something that could have been published today. It follows the same formula: stepsister attracts emotionally constipated stepbrother, stepbrother can't deal, stepbrother takes advantage of stepsister in fit of passion, regret and angst. Dane is SUCH a jerk. I bought this book because there were a lot of reviews saying this book was dark-- and while it wasn't quite as bad as what I was expecting, he definitely rapes her and he's not all that contrite. What made this a really tough read for me was how the heroine was such a doormat. She takes all of the blame for Julie's bad behavior and never stands up for herself, and apparently she still loves Dane after all this time and has sort of-- I don't know-- put his abuse of her on a sort of pedestal???

I liked DARK SUMMER DAWN because it was well written and I thought Sara Craven did a really good job serving up the drama. I also liked that Lisa did have a few good moments, like confronting the creepy (and possibly incestuous) neighbors who have been letting Julie go to their bad-girl parties, and the scene where she tries to seduce Dane and he's hanging on by a mere thread. But I wish the author had given her more backbone and agency; I kept thinking of the Charlotte Lamb romance I read, SAVAGE SURRENDER, and how so much of what made that book fun for me was the sharp-tongued heroine who (mostly) gave as good as she got.

Anyone who is a fan of dark romances, and especially dark stepbrother romances, will probably enjoy this one, even if they're just in it for the angst and the drama. I'm probably going to keep this one but it would have been a five if the heroine had been allowed to stand up for herself or if I got more from the hero other than the charming sentiments that "sluts don't get to choose" (paraphrasing) or that the heroine has "the face of an angel and the soul of a whore." Yeeeeeeesh.

4 out of 5 stars

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