Too Wilde To Tame by Janelle Denison

toowildetotame.jpg Before I get into reviewing Janelle Denison’s Too Wilde To Tame, I am declaring a new romance rule: no more characters named Wilde (Wyld, Wylde, and Wild are also unacceptable). The clever factor ceased to exist in 1980, give or take. Resist temptation. You will feel good about yourself later, I promise.

Thank you for your attention to this issue. Now on to Too Wilde to Tame.

It is not enough in the romance genre to write about one member of a large, or even small, family. The practice, unfortunately, is that each and every sibling, cousin, and close friend must have his or her own story. Also parents if one or more should be single. Bonus points are accrued if you can unite the hero’s single mother with the heroine’s single dad.

Series conventions have evolved to the point where the next relationship isn’t as much anticipated as inevitable (easy challenge: find the starting point for the next Wilde story). This is where Series Fatigue Syndrome (SFS) sets in, and Too Wilde To Tame suffers all the symptoms. The burst of energy opening the story was too much, too soon, and the story took to its bed for a long rest.

It’s time to stop the madness. Not every character needs his or her own book. Janelle Denison is too talented to keep revisiting the same territory. As this book shows, she’s locked herself into a world that limits her creativity. I never thought I’d say this about Denison, but it feels like she phoned this one in.

Mia Wilde is wild. I know this because Denison told me over and over in her two-page introduction to the character. I also know because the hero, Cameron Sinclair, thinks constantly about Mia’s wild(e)ness. And Mia mentions her character flaw. A lot.

I’m hoping that Denison let Mia run with the bulls in previous stories because she’s pretty tame here. Her acts of rebellion seem limited to wearing a bra during a wet t-shirt contest (I’ve been assured that this is, indeed, a radical departure from the expected), an occasionally smart mouth (a sign of Denison’s SFS is that she overuses dialogue tags rather than trusting what her characters say), and a revealing wardrobe. For my money, Mia is just one step away from suburban staid. This makes her eventual self-enlightenment less wrenching, from a character-angst perspective that is.

Cameron is Mia’s opposite. Or so I’m told. He shows up for work and gives it his all, pays his bills, and owns his house. It turns out that being grown-up is the new uptight. Give up now, all you crazy mortgaged-to-the-hilt hipsters. You’ll never be cool again.

There isn’t much more depth to the other characters. Mia’s Wilde relations are anonymous, blissful, and fertile (I expect we’ll next see Mia barefoot and pregnant). Their lack of distinctiveness meant that almost every time one was mentioned, Denison added a helpful descriptor, assuming (often correctly) I’d forgotten the character’s relationship to Mia or Cameron. Cameron never thinks about Steve, only “his partner, Steve.” Just in case I’m confusing this Steve with Steve, Cameron’s imaginary childhood friend.

One line, a description of a Cameron’s niece, sums up my character issue nicely:

“As Marisa’s aunt, she [Heather, Cameron’s sister] was very aware of her personality and mood swings, as they all were.”

I turned the page eagerly, expecting something unexpected to happen. Unpredictable Mia, who has helped the women in the kitchen and charmed Cameron’s family while wearing the latest in preppy chic, is now showing her maternal potential by cuddling a cute kid. The scene is beyond cozy and domestic. But wait! The kid’s like Jekyll and Hyde.

Or not. This was a big tease. Even the next generation’s wild child had been lulled into complacency.

Denison lays out the major conflicts pretty quickly, some of which gave me hope for the kind of strong story I’ve come to expect from this author. Cameron wants Mia, but worries about the reaction of her overprotective Wilde relations (let me assure you that they think he’s the bee’s knees). Mia is still acting out from the death of her mother (Mom died when Mia was a rebellious five-year old, and nobody told her to get over it already). Mia’s roommate is involved in an abusive relationship. Mia’s friend Carrie is jealous of Mia. Someone’s stalking Mia. Oh, and Mia, that crazy chick, is working as a secretary for the family business, sublimating her dreams of becoming a stained-glass artist.

Cameron also does some private investigator stuff because we had to see him working with his partner, Steve; had it been left out of the story, it wouldn’t be missed.

Conflict, conflict everywhere, and Denison, normally a deft juggler, drops balls left and right. The most emotional of these conflicts – I’m not talking about Mia and Cameron’s relationship – suffers from lack of through-line. Mia realizes how important her stepmother is to her, but since I’ve only been told what a little bitch Mia was, their tearful reconciliation feels like an afterthought. Must. Add. Last. Minute. Tension.

Denison introduces two darker characters/elements in the story – a stalker and a man who abuses women, though that isn’t his only evil. He’s just bad, drawn without any subtlety. His downfall is so predictable, you don’t actually have to read the scene – here comes Cameron just in the nick of time! Likewise, the stalker is obvious from the beginning, despite a weak-willed attempt to throw out red herrings (look, I know you can’t tell that a guy is gay just by looking – mostly – but, come on, give the reader some credit here), and dispatched with a stern warning. These aren’t plotlines as much as excuses to get and keep Mia and Cameron together.

Denison has a potentially great theme when it comes to Mia’s particular sexual quirk (not kinky nor wild, but different enough to pique my jaded interest). Given that sex played such a major role in this book, more careful exploration of the ideas of sexual satisfaction and control could have elevated this booik. Threading the issue throughout the story would have created a strong argument for keeping her characters apart. Because there’s not a lot standing between Mia and Cameron. Her family is enthusiastic, his family is enthusiastic, her dream of becoming an artist comes true. Flick, flick, flick, it’s like bulldozing through Styrofoam blocks.

Even the setting feels uninspired. When I think of Chicago, I think big city. Jazz. Pizza. Those fire escape things. Instead, I got picturesque suburbs and kids playing in the front yard. It’s an alternative view of Chicago, but the story could have been set anywhere for all the local color Denison adds.

Even Mia’s hangout, a club called the Electric Blue, suffers. Denison does a good job of bringing the club – a Coyote Ugly kind of place featuring music popular just as disco was making one last, desperate stand – to life. With so much page time devoted to the atmosphere, the dance floors, the behavior of the bar staff, I expected Denison to tie the club to the surrounding story in a deep and meaningful way. I am still waiting.

In Too Wilde To Tame, Janelle Denison seems like she’s working hard to color within the lines. According to the author’s note, she built strong sexual and emotional tension for these characters in previous books – by the time she got around to writing their story, everyone’s energy had dissipated. Readers have been, uh, clamoring for Cameron and Mia’s story. The result makes a strong case for leaving something to the imagination.

You can find Janelle Denison here. Buy the book here or here.

8 thoughts on “Too Wilde To Tame by Janelle Denison

  1. Damn. The novellas in this series were pretty good. Not a lot of conflict, but novellas tend to suffer from that issue. I’d hoped the entire series would be sexy and fun. Maybe that this family doesn’t translate into single title so well???
    And, I have to admit that I’m a fan of family series books. I’m thinking about Nora Roberts’ Quinn Brothers series, Linda Howard’s MacKenzie family, and Lori Foster’s Too Much Temptation/Never Too Much brothers. In those, each book stood on it’s own and the series didn’t fizzle out the longer you knew them. But, you’re right, when you hit a bad or boring series, it’s painful.

  2. I’m a sucker for family series — and I think Roberts’ Quinn series was an excellent example of doing it right. There wasn’t a sense of the inevitable and final installment took the series in an unexpected direction (if I were younger, I’d have names and such at my fingertips). But even Roberts wears me out with her trilogy structure — I want her to mix it up a bit.
    I would disagree that novellas suffer from lack of conflict. Conflict should exist in every story, every scene. In this case, it was that there was almost too much conflict (a stalker and an abuser?) coupled with a lack of energy. I’ve been reading Denison for (a lot of) years, and didn’t feel a sparkle in this one. Throughout, it felt like the path of least resistance was employed.
    Though I didn’t go into detail in my review (not wanting to come off as totally cranky), a good example of this is Mia’s desire to be a stained glass artist. Okay, she went to college to study this. She spends her free time creating designs and actually making pieces. She told her family that this was her dream. They didn’t take it seriously. She pushed her work under the bed and continued in the family business. Then Cameron sees her work and decides to call on his (convenient) connections. Poof! She has a one woman show and related success.
    In the above example (sorry for going on so long), the disappointment happened before the story began, so no real sense of conflict or struggle. We see her dreaming, but don’t see her striving to reach her goal. If you want something — and you’re a writer, you know how important it is to keep querying and writing and pushing — you go for it. The dream is the conflict. Having the hero show a piece to his sister who happens to have a friend and so on isn’t really building and resolving conflict — it’s the path of least resistance. It’s indicative, in my mind, of not having the energy for the story.
    I told you that you’d live to regret inviting me to play (g)!

  3. I liked this book pretty well (I think Denison turns out an awesome sex scene) but I have to agree with you about Mia. She didn’t come across nearly as wild as the author wanted her to. Yes, she creates erotic art, and she dresses a little sexily. And that was what bothered me most about the book– the fact that she started dressing more conservatively was presented as proof of the fact that she was “maturing.” What, mature women can’t dress sexily?
    I’ll also agree that the suspense subplot was a bit less than gripping. But despite these problems, I enjoyed this book overall. I’m firmly in the camp of “hates family series,” but this is the one exception to my rule. I found this book enjoyable, if not as gripping as some of her previous work.

  4. Oh, I agree novellas SHOULD have conflict. My point was that a lot of times they don’t. I’ve read several novellas, liked them, then thought back later and wondered what the heck the plot was.
    It’s interesting that you think this book has too much conflict. A lot of books seem to suffer from the opposite. I haven’t seen that many where too much conflict was the problem but there’s no question that’s a bad thing too.

  5. I think too much conflict is a major problem when it doesn’t do anything to address the larger goals. In this case, I think Denison was distracted by all the balls in the air and didn’t do any one thread full justice. Had she focused on major elements rather than pushing two underdeveloped subplots onto the reader, this would have been a more satisfying read for me.
    Ellen, your comment on the clothing is right on. When Mia turned out in her soccer mom outfit (basing this on the soccer moms in my ‘hood; yours may vary), I wanted to bang my forehead on the desk. The clothing, ostensibly, showed character growth, but I wanted to see her change internally.
    I will agree that Denison writes an awesome sex scene, but I am still bothered by the fact that she dropped the issue of Mia not coming with a man. Many authors touch on that idea, it’s a great exploration of self-control, but don’t take it to the limit. I know that perfect sex is a romance standard, but imperfect sex, building real trust, would have gone a long way toward making me identify with these characters.

  6. Ooops.
    And here I’ve gone and given my heroine the surname Tempest – because it was historically correct, a genuine surname.
    On the other hand, it may never see print…so…

  7. I have not, as yet, declared a ban on the name Tempest. If we can eliminate Wilde, etc, I believe my work is done. You may proceed with your historically accurate name, but please (for me!) make any and all analogies appropriate!

Comments are closed.