Book Review

Long Time Gone by Meg Benjamin


Title: Long Time Gone
Author: Meg Benjamin
Publication Info: Samhain Publishing 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60928-108
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book CoverI started reading Long Time Gone by Meg Benjamin because the description intrigued me, and because the cover caught my eye. The hero is an eldest brother and the acting chief of police – and isn’t as sure of himself as one would think. Erik Toleffson has a lot of regrets in his life, particularly that in his youth he was a rebellious fuck up and a bully to his younger brothers, up to and including beating the tarnation out of them. Now that he’s back after two tours in Iraq and Kuwait and a few years in a different police force outside of Texas, he’s trying to make amends.

As the book opens, his brothers are friendly towards him, though he’s very quiet and sort of low-grade perpetually ashamed of himself and angry at the damage he did to their relationships. The trouble was, I didn’t see that damage. I didn’t see any strain except from Erik’s own ruminations, and never thought his brothers treated him as if they were wary, afraid, or angry at him.

As I read the first few chapters, I liked the introduction of Erik’s character, and the cast of brothers who made up previous installments in the series. I liked that they all gathered at the same bar, Erik refusing alcohol while his brothers give him grief about the politics that bring him to the temporary position as acting chief. I liked that his sisters in law form a larger circle of family around him, and I was settling in for a quirky small-town contemporary in Texas amid many many Swedish and Germanic named families.

Enter the heroine: Morgan Barrett is the temporary manger of her family vineyard. Her father broke his leg, and so she quit her job in PR and marketing to come manage Cedar Creek, a winery with some fine vintages stocked by local restaurants that seems to enjoy a good measure of success. Oddly, Morgan’s sacrifice is greeted with abrasive hostility from her father’s partner, who is on site managing the harvest, and the partner’s wife, who is openly critical of Morgan’s ideas to increase the marketing for the vineyard and raise the local and national profile of their wines. I didn’t understand why she put up with either of them, except that this was her family’s business, and she was trying her best to learn it.

Both Morgan and Erik are in positions they didn’t anticipate having to manage, but there’s no one else to do the job. Morgan has to step in to help her father, though no one in the vineyard seems to appreciate that she quit her JOB to be there. Erik applied to be interim chief despite knowing that the corrupt mayor had someone else in mind because Erik was certain the department and the police force would fall apart under the mayor’s preferred candidate. He didn’t expect the job, but compared to the other officers, Erik’s MP experience and police experience outside of Texas put him head and shoulders above any of the other applicants. It seems bizarre that his qualifications were even in question, or that anyone would be surprised that he got the job, including Erik himself.

I started the book hoping to read a new type of internal conflict for the hero – guilt that in his youth he’d been a bully to his brothers, and a desire to make up for it as an adult years later. But I didn’t see enough of that conflict outside of the hero’s head. And I didn’t understand why Morgan put up with any of the disrespect she received from her coworkers at the vineyard. The biggest conflicts that I saw were outside of the protagonist’s relationship.

There wasn’t much tension between Erik and Morgan. They notice each other… and then they’re kissing and then Erik can’t stop thinking about her and she can’t stop thinking about him but there wasn’t any real spark between them. It was a lukewarm attraction at best from my perspective, more due to the fact that the two of them are the protagonists in a romance novel than the fact that they have identifiable hornypants for one another.

I was honestly thinking that I’d start skimming the book about the time Erik and Morgan decide to get it on, when I came upon The Line. You read it on Twitter. Here’s the full scene.

Morgan and Erik had stopped at diner to get food – Morgan spends much of the book tired or sleepy or asleep, and she doesn’t eat enough because she’s working all the time. Erik, in just about every encounter, feeds her something, and this encounter is no exception. He orders a tuna salad sandwich for her. Then they leave, find themselves alone, and ahoy there, it’s time for hot sex.

Erik plunged his hands into the soft tangle of her hair, pulling her head back gently, then sank into her mouth again.

For the record, he’s kissing her, but the language is almost sexual. But no, they’re just kissing. Let’s move on. The next line. The Line. The one that bent me in half with screech-laughter.

He tasted desire, heat, and a mild hint of tuna.

Now, look. There are a few rules in romance land, and breath is one of them. No romance character EVER has morning breath. Making out just after you wake up? Sure! In Romancelandia, that’s totally fine. Moreover, if you read my review of Who’s the Daddy? you know that even after throwing up with first trimester morning sickness, the heroine’s breath is immune to any bad smells that might interrupt the kissing. Because there will be kissing after you heave and no one will think this is potentially problematic.

And after a tuna sandwich, one does not have tuna breath. Moreover, the hero wouldn’t think upon the mild hint of tuna because then the READER is thinking about hints of tuna and that absolutely does not get the sexy going. A hint of tuna does not a sex scene make. A hint of tuna is a sign of potentially bad gunch, a possible infection, or many other unsavory possibilities.

And that’s where I had to stop. No matter how hot the sex might become, or how painful the tension or how challenging the small town politics, I knew I’d forever see Morgan as Hint of Tuna and Erik as Kisses With Tuna and I just wouldn’t be able to overcome that one line. I’d already become sort of bored by the plot, waiting for conflict that didn’t escalate, and waiting for characters to develop that didn’t, but I figured I’d keep skimming to see what happened, how the incredibly overdone villainous villainy vanilla villain of a Mayor was trounced once and for all, whether the brothers ever had a conversation about Erik’s HULKSMASH childhood, and maybe even if Morgan slapped the crapola out of her father’s business partner and his wife.

But once I got to Hint of Tuna, I was done.

Long Time Gone is available digitally for Amazon Kindle, the BN Nook, at All Romance eBooks, and from Samhain Publishing.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    P.N. Elrod says:

    Ye gawds—where was the editor??

    I’d have tossed the tuna into the delete bin about one second after my first shocked “EW!”

    That takes me back to my first real romance in college. They guy was a great kisser, but holding his breath.

    Only later did it occur to me that my liver and onions supper might have put him off!  :D

  2. 2
    Jessica C says:

    Snort!  Thanks for the share!

  3. 3
    redcrow says:

    I can’t help but think about “Ember Island Players” episode of “Avatar The Last Airbender”: “Wait, did you have pickled fish for dinner??” That was even more jarring in context… but intentionally so.

  4. 4
    laurad says:

    Hmmm.  I guess I was enjoying the story so much that I never even noticed the tuna line.  Yeah, that shouldn’t have made the final copy.  But for me, the entire Konigsburg series was made of win.  I liked the big, burly, untypical romance hero brothers.  I loved the big secondary cast.  Morgan was my least favorite of the 4 book series’ heroines, but I was sympathetic with the dynamics of a small family business and a father no longer capable of doing it all by himself. 

    So for me, I think I’ll make a tuna sandwich and have a re-read!

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    LauraD you are cracking me up. ‘Make a tuna sandwich and have a re-read.’

    Which of the Konigsburg series did you like best?

  6. 6

    LMAO! Thanks for the early morning laughter. I needed that!

  7. 7

    LMAO That would have ended it for me too.

  8. 8

    Oh dear! That is too bad that one small line turned you off the whole book!  Meg’s Konigsburg books are so good, and so popular! I am so sorry you didn’t get to finish this book.

  9. 9
    AmyW says:

    Oh Sarah, when you tweeted that line I thought it was something much, much worse than this… I’m actually relieved it’s bad breath.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    @Kelly: if you have a favorite Konigsburg book to recommend, please share! I’m more than willing to try again, as I did like the setting.

    @AmyW: Exactly! Just that “hint of tuna” makes you potentially think of OTHER THINGS that are MUCH WORSE and YANK – I was out of the scene and the book entirely.

  11. 11
    Miri says:

    Okay, now I want a tuna sandwich.
    But you are right, tuna in any way shape or form mentioned in a makeout scene is not allowed in Romancelandia.

  12. 12

    I’m with Amy W. I was imagining something far more intimate than breath. It’s still unforgivable, but … better than the alternative.

    Though the alternative had me thinking about an Alice Walker novel I read a very long time ago. There was some sort of oral sex scene in a boat, and the man rhapsodizes about the smell of his woman’s lady parts. Temple of My Familiar? Can’t remember. But it was rather eye-opening.

  13. 13
    laurad says:

    “Wedding Bell Blues”, the second of the series, is my favorite.  Loved the couple, thought it was a believable falling in love, and there is a rescue greyhound named Olive.

    Although if you like veterinarian romances, the first one is really sweet and neither the hero or heroine are conventional romance stereotypes.  IMHO, of course!

    (BTW, I’ve decided to have seared tuna for dinner tonight instead of tuna sandwich.)

  14. 14
    Carly says:

    The first Konigsburg book was free on Kindle a few weeks ago (last week?) and I while I wasn’t blown away, I liked the setting and went for books 2 and 3. Wedding Bell Blues (2) is definitely my favorite of the bunch, but I think this is a true series where you need the build-up to understand things. I think a lot of Erik’s issues are resolved in the way that he handles crises for his brothers in books 2 and 3. The faux suspense plots just don’t do it for me, and they’re present in books 1 and 3. Fun way to kill some free time, but not re-reads.

  15. 15
    MissFancy says:

    Sarah, I take it that you’ve never worked in a family owned business? 

    I’ve worked in a few, and if the owner’s daughter came in, started making changes without knowing the biz inside and out and threw her weight around in general because she’s the owner’s daughter?  And then whined that nobody appreciated her because she quit her job to be there?  Know what happens next?

    Valued employees, the ones who know the biz, make a mass exodus, that’s what happens.  Aaaaaand the business dies.

    Add to the mix the fact that *she’s* not the partner in the business, *her father* is,  which means she has no real authority (and nor should she by the way you summarized the workplace dynamics) and you have the reason why she’s (in your estimation) accepting such poor treatment.

    In reality, she’s casting around for her place in the business, as she should be.

    I agree with you on the tuna thing, but I think you were primed to be pulled out of the story by your (wrongheaded, IMO) “Grrrl power!!!! I would never take anything like that!!1OMGeleventy!!!”

    Yes, you would, if you really understood the dynamics and knew you had to work with key players rather than kill the business.  And if you clearly don’t understand what it is you are reviewing, can I trust your reviews?

    Not to be overly snarky, but lately this site has turned into “Smart Hysterical Neurotic Easily Offended Martyrs, Trashy Books” instead of what it used to be—a site that lampooned the genre while loving it all the same.  Now you’re all “OMG, a journalist said knitting and quilting are mundane subjects!!!  Kill him!!!”  Well, speaking as a knitter and quilter, they *are* mundane subjects, and that article was pretty neutral.  I’m not doing the hair flip and flounce or anything here, just letting you know that the quality of this site is slipping.

  16. 16
    PG Forte says:

    Considering that Erik had just finished eating a plate of enchiladas at the time, I don’t think he was being in any way critical.  He just happens to be a very observant guy—a good trait for someone in his line of work, and one of the things I really like about him. Besides, he’s a big guy who’s been a little too busy for regular meals. So I think his thought process was probably more along the lines of, “Mmm. Tuna.”

    As for which other Konigsburg books to try, I’d suggest Wedding Bell Blues in which the brothers are still a good deal more wary of Erik than they are in Long Time Gone. Also there’s a fun Vegetarian BBQ scene—and (as far as I recall) no tuna to spoil things for the squeamish. ;)

  17. 17

    @SB Sarah   I agree Wedding Bell Blues is probably my favourite though I confess I have not yet read Long Time Gone. Venus in Blue Jeans is good, too. Meg has developed a wonderful setting for these books with a cast of quirky secondary characters.

  18. 18

    Okay, this review cracked me up! HULKSMASH childhood.  That is fantastic phrasery.  You win at the funny.

    But I think the tuna thing is kind of cute.

    I don’t want to read about a hero *going down* on a heroine and thinking about tuna, of course.  The myth that female sex parts smell bad is one of my biggest pet peeves and not something I wish to see perpetuated in romance novels.

  19. 19

    I’ve really enjoyed this series, and I’ll second those recommending Wedding Bell Blues and Venus in Blue Jeans the best of four. It’s very much a series, with events from the earlier books affecting the happenings in the later stories—including, as others have mentioned, a great deal of tension and resentment between Eric and his brothers.
    Every book had at least one character who needs to grow a backbone with regards to a parent/spouse/ex/fellow Koningsberger. It bugs the heck out of me. I recognize it’s a way of creating dramatic tension and trouble for the protagonist, but it’s not to my taste. Fortunately, the H/H interactions have plenty of spine (and bone) to compensate.

  20. 20
    SB Sarah says:

    Wow @MissFancy you have a lot of opinions about my reaction to the book. First, the heroine doesn’t whine to anyone out loud, just in her narration. Second, she doesn’t throw her weight around, but also doesn’t stand up for herself against relentless criticism. It’s a untenable position to be in, but she doesn’t handle it as you’ve outlined, but nor does she handle it with enough backbone in my opinion.

    As for the Morgan article, it was a far, far cry from neutral. It was a landslide of sexist dismissal.

    As for your comments that the quality of the site is slipping, thank you for saying so, bless your heart. It’s a good thing that there are many other romance-centered blogs online.

  21. 21
    SB Sarah says:

    OK, have downloaded Venus in Blue Jeans and am going to look for Wedding Bell Blues. Thanks for the recommendations!

    Looking online, my gosh, these books have some striking good covers.

  22. 22
    Ridley says:

    Wow. I can’t believe this was a DNF for you. It was my favorite of the four, hands down, and I’m usually a tough cookie with my books. Not only that, but I usually like the books you like. Weird.

    I remember the tuna line, but it didn’t, and still doesn’t trip anything up for me. I can see why it might, but /shrug.

    I also found the conflict at the winery quite natural. Having worked for a few small companies headed up by founders, I’ve seen that sort of behavior. When it’s your company that you started and you run, you can be a big diva about change, right or wrong. Towards the end she puts her foot down with them – either let me contribute meaningfully or I’m taking my skills elsewhere – so she wasn’t a doormat about it.

    Sorry you didn’t like it. Color me surprised though! The humor seemed up your alley.

  23. 23

    I like the Konigsberg series, but this book was my least favorite of the four. I felt stressed out reading it, and realized that both h/h had work-related stress—and it was stressing me out!

  24. 24
    vivian Arend says:

    No morning breath? What about coffee/ wine /chocolate?

    My only comment (other than I love Meg Benjamin’s books, and yes, Wedding Bell Blues is my fav) is that Romancelandia rules make me giggle.

    How about the heroes or heroines who never have to go to the bathroom? I love finding out the rules so I can break them. ;)  I’ve got a heroine who’s having an ultrasound, and let me tell you, the bathroom is figuring just as large in her thoughts as the images of her baby. If you’ve ever had the joyful experience of an ultrasound, you know what I’m talking about.

    word verification: eye55

    I will admit there are at least 55 ‘I’s’ in ‘iiiiiiiiick’ if the tuna scent is not on the breath.

  25. 25
    Kristina says:

    And if anyone is interested the first book of this series is free via Amazon Kindle today.  I went to look for it and realized I had downloaded it last night when I got the free notice form a FB friend.

  26. 26
    KinseyHolley says:

    I’m with Viv – I actually like it when the denizens of Romancelandia act like real, breathing, fleshly people. Now, I wouldn’t want to read about a hero as free with his farts as my dear Hub is, but – you know what I mean. A hint of tuna breath doesn’t ick me out NEARLY so much as two people kissing after one of them’s just barfed and the author hasn’t made it very explicitly clear that the barfer has already brushed her teeth.

    I just really like the way Meg writes.

  27. 27
    Maria says:

    What I love about this blog is that it’s a blog. So I not only get Sarah’s viewpoint and insights, but that of other writers and avid readers and wannabe writers like myself. Oh yeah, and tons of great choices for my TBR pile.

    Thanks for all of it (and the link, Kristina)!

  28. 28
    Miranda says:

    I would have stuck on the part where Morgan had to quit her job to manage a winery due to a broken leg. There are crutches, wheelchairs, and internet connections. If the father can’t trust the partner to deal with the winery for a space of time, then maybe he should re-think the partner. Exactly what would Pops have done without a daughter willing to toss aside everything?

    In this day and time and with this economy, the idea that anyone can toss aside her (or his) job at the behest of a non-critically-ill parent (or even a critically-ill parent because everyone still has to eat), isn’t terribly realistic.

  29. 29

    In the romance stories I write, the characters often do think about things like morning breath and showering after sex and all that real-life kind of stuff. Otherwise I might start remembering that they aren’t real people, and since they’re my only friends that would make me very sad…

    I have a thing against tuna fish in any context, though, so definitely agree with the ick factor in a kissing scene.

  30. 30
    beggar1015 says:

    This review had me laughing so hard it brought tears to my eyes. From the hint of tuna to the HULKSMASH. Like some others have mentioned, I’m also thrown off a bit when the hero and heroine kiss right after one of them has barfed. That’s my “Eww” moment.

    I also understand Sarah didn’t stop reading this book just because of the hint of tuna, but because it really wasn’t grabbing her. You can’t force yourself to like a book that others do. Believe me, I’ve tried.

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