The Wild Seasons series is centered around a group of lifelong friends and their post-college graduation trip to Vegas, where they end up drunkenly married to a matched group of men. The individual books dive into the aftermath of these hasty weddings and untangle the authenticity of the pairs’ feelings for each other. The books all follow the same obvious pattern:
1) Couple gets together. Couple has The Best Sex In The World.
2) Couple has blow-out argument and ambiguously break up. Female buddies get together and talk out how she screwed up. Male buddies get together and talk about how he screwed up.
3) Now that they both see it from the others’ perspective, they kiss and make up. Make Up Sex. The end!
It got a little tiresome how rigidly they adhere to the letter, but it is my fault for reading them all so closely together, and I won’t hold it against the authors.
Sweet, Filthy Boy (4 stars) centers on Mia, a reserved former dancer, and Ansel, a French lawyer. Despite not being one for socializing, Mia opens up to Ansel on their fateful night in Vegas, and finds that something about him makes her feel safe and comfortable enough to share intimate details about herself that only her family and two closest friends know. After the hazy night, while the other two couples are scrambling to secure an annulment, Mia and Ansel feel like they may actually have a connection, and they want to give each other a true shot at love. But since Ansel lives in Paris, Mia must choose if she will actually accept his spontaneous proposal to stay with him for a few weeks during the summer. It would mean postponing a move to Boston, where she is due to start business school in the fall, but since she’s not actually all that wild about business school — she’s doing it mostly to please her dad — suddenly her choice becomes clear.
The book is definitely sex-forward. Attraction is initially what brings Ansel and Mia together, and at first, they both seem to solve problems most easily by reconnecting their phyiscal passion. They are both simply sketched characters, so as a couple, you just know they won’t be burdened by such petty trifles as either of them having a “difficult personality.” As such, once the Big Misunderstanding is resolved (and a hat tip to the BM in this story — I didn’t see it coming!) you just get the sense that it will be pretty smooth sailing for them. The story is guilty of a bit of “sex-solves everything,” but despite selling that two people who barely remember getting married would choose to stay married, this was actually an incredibly sweet story, confidently written, and featuring surprisingly convincing and relate-able emotion.
Dirty, Rowdy Thing (5 stars) is Finn and Harlow’s story. Unlike Ansel and Mia, on the night of their whirlwind marriage, they barely spoke, choosing instead to talk with their bodies. Even once Harlow visits Finn sometime later on Vancouver Island (“to see if it was as good as I remembered,”) the two aren’t under any illusions that they actually like each other for anything other than sex. When Finn comes down to visit mutual friend Oliver in San Diego for several weeks, though, he and Harlow find that the more time they spend together, the more that they really do appreciate the person under the sexual bravado.
As this is, again, an erotic romance, the journey from lust to love gets a huge assist from the sex itself being super duper intense, unlike either of them had experienced with anyone else. And let me tell you guys, it was
I mean — by the end of Sweet Filthy Boy, it had been amply demonstrated to me that Christina Lauren is/are gifted at dialing the heat up to 11. For me, Dirty, Rowdy Thing went even beyond that. There’s just a little bit of kink, and, So, So, SO Importantly, Finn is checking with Harlow throughout and after to make sure she likes what they’re doing — no assumptions that because she’s *responding* that she *must* like it, or that because she went along with it once that she’ll do it again indefinitely into the future. THIS is what I like seeing in kinky love scenes, because it proves that it is so much hotter when the kinkier person isn’t a domineering psychopath. Like, seriously. Read the first scene where Finn ties up Harlow, and compare that to ANY scene in 50 Shades where Ana’s inner goddess is doing her cognitive dissonance dance of conflicted-ness (or whatever) and tell me it’s not way better when the heroine actually TRUSTS the hero.
Harlow is someone who, admittedly, I might have trouble being friends with in real life. She’s privileged, a bit of a busybody, and a compulsive “fixer.” But she’s not quite written to the point of being overbearing, and she’s smart. When she meddles, it’s usually because she actually has a legitimate solution. She’s a great foil to Finn, who is someone who generally has his shit together (except for the one thing that comprises the plot of the book) and the perfect person to teach her the lesson to trust people to figure things out themselves. At the same time, though, he learns that it is okay to ask for help, especially from the people who care about you.
Dark, Wild Night (2.5 stars) is about the remaining Vegas un-pair, Lola and Oliver. This book should have been catnip for me. It is a friends-to-lovers story between two geeks who had been previously portrayed as thoughtful and ambitious, successful in their geeky careers (Oliver runs a comic book store; Lola creates graphic novels and has just had one optioned for a film.) Sadly, I had So. Many. Issues. with it. I’ll get out of the way immediately that Oliver is perfect and flawless and he carries the entire book. I was SO GLAD that Christina Lauren gave him POV sections in this book, which was a departure from the prior two. Onward with criticism:
- Even if I don’t relate directly to the female protagonist, I ALWAYS try to give her the benefit of the doubt and root for her. Lola made it so difficult for me to do that. For one thing, she nearly ruined one of my favorite tropes by embodying one of my least favorites: the “I’m oblivious to your feelings and also refuse to acknowledge and share my own feelings.” So throughout the book, until literally the last chapter, you have Oliver respectfully tiptoeing around Lola’s hot-and-cold behavior, while being so damn sweet and, also, so practical and upfront about how he feels about her. Dude could literally not be more clear, while also being in no way smothering or overbearing. If that is a thin line to walk, Oliver did it gracefully. Lola falls down drunk over some other line separating “silently pining” from “emotionally challenged.”
- Maybe it’s because I feel very recently vindicated by this wonderful post, but the casual misogyny in this book really leapt out at me in a way that it didn’t seem present in the prior two. Constant snide references are made to Oliver’s “fangirls,” who hang out at the store checking him out. Lola is openly disdainful of her father’s girlfriend, a “slutty cocktail waitress with fake boobs.” Harlow gets all indignant when another “whorish” woman with fake boobs (again with the fake boobs) hits on her husband. These are such sharply discordant notes in a series that has overall been very sex-positive, including asides by the male heroes that they don’t respect the female heroes any less for having had casual sex prior to them entering the picture. It’s just disappointing that there still needs to be a thread of tearing down other women who dare do literally the same thing the heroines are doing, i.e. recognize and appreciate the heroes’ solar-flare hotness. It breaks the fourth wall for me as a reader, quite frankly, because the authors are openly inviting us to drool over these men, while chastising the background women in the story who do just that.
- This one is a spoiler, inasmuch as a HEA romance can be spoiled, so proceed with caution. I mentioned earlier that the books have a structure of Fight -> Interventions with Friends of Corresponding Gender -> Reconciliation. That pattern just didn’t really work here in the same way that it did in the first two books, because Lola is overwhelmingly responsible, but Oliver still got the condescending talking to from his friends that was about equal in severity to the one Lola got. Basically, Lola gets really overwhelmed at work, blames Oliver for being a distraction, and tells him she needs to “take a break” until she is less busy. As Oliver himself points out, she’s not only asking him to sit around and wait for her to decide when the time is right, but she’s also setting up a precedent where she can just exit the relationship temporarily any time she gets stressed. To be clear: Oliver at no point was smothering her. She just realized she was missing a few deadlines and was like, “It’s because I think about Oliver too much!” So rather than being a damn adult and figuring out how to compartmentalize her infatuation, she breaks up with the guy. Temporarily. Or whatever. Oliver, in a bit of retaliation but also just curiosity, agrees to have dinner with a woman who had shown consistent interest in him. He feels awful the whole time and nothing happens. I’m not saying it was good form on his part, but the obligatory scene with his friends was super awkward because it felt so detached from reality. I don’t exactly know how a group of guy friends would choose to talk about relationship issues in ANY context, but I highly doubt that they would choose to take a guy to task for going on a date, even if poorly-timed, with an interested woman, over having his back since his girlfriend just blew up their relationship with a pretty weak excuse.
- A sex scene even I found inappropriate, where usually at worst I shrug and mutter platitudes about floating boats: in what has to be the contemporary romance equivalent of sex in the town square in front of the tavern, Oliver and Lola have a very loud session in the back office of his comic book store (!!) while it’s open (!!) and there are customers in the store (!!) Like, public sex is one thing, and I understand the thrill of getting caught, but Oliver is supposed to be able to look those customers in the eye and complete transactions with them after they hear him howling and rattling the walls. That is just too tacky and too fraught with fremdschämen for me, thank you very much.
I had been so enjoying the series, and Dark, Wild Night was such an abrupt record-scratch, that I’m now only cautiously optimistic, rather than unreservedly excited, about the book that follows, which is coming out very soon and promises to capture the romance of Lola’s roommate London and Mia’s ex Luke. The person who I really want a book about is Not Joe, the stoner puppy dog who is second-in-command at Oliver’s store. I’m not sure if the marijuana has given him some kind of universal collective knowledge, or if it’s due to his objective position as “the one who observes,” but Not Joe is the one who more so than the rest seems to always kind of get it — even when he’s talking nonsense.
All considered, Christina Lauren does a lot right. The characters have smoking chemistry, the sex scenes are very good, and the B plots have been interesting as well, even if I didn’t discuss them at length. This is maybe not an author where I will feel compelled to read every release, but there’s enough interest there for me to finish this series and at least pay attention to what else is on the horizon.