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.