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REVIEW: Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas

REVIEW: Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas

Dear Ms. Kleypas:

It’s no secret that I am a fan of your writing so perhaps its impractical for the Dear Author readership that I am the one writing this review but when I received the ARC, I admit to hoarding it. Sorry other DA reviewers, but the good news is that I am willing to let it out of my hands as my ebook copy is preordered and will be downloading sometime tonight.

Rainshadow Road	Lisa KleypasRainshadow Road is written in the same spirit of a Sarah Addison Allen book, a contemporary world with a touch of mysticism or what some term magical realism. The mysticism aspect of the story was the weakest part. Why magic in a mundane world?  Is it that true love can only be obtained through magical intervention?  Or is it meant to highlight the beauty of love, that there is something magical in the concept. Or was it just something to test writerly boundaries? I’m not sure if the message of “Rainshadow Road” is that every gifted artist has magic or whether every person has a gift of magic.  The inclusion of magical realism is also soft. The story would have remained the same if you removed the mysticism. The characterizations, the plot, the conflict all exist without those elements. The good thing is if readers don’t like the magical realism element, it doesn’t interfere a great deal and will be only a minor irritant.

Lucy Marinn is a gifted stained glass artist who is reeling from her fiancé running off with her sister, Alice. When Alice was five she contracted meningitis and after Alice’s recovery, the family response was to coddle her well into adulthood. Alice grew up taking what she wanted and she wanted Lucy’s fiancé. The truth is that Alice has always wanted things that Lucy enjoyed and Lucy’s fiancé is just the last in a long line of things Lucy has had sacrificed on the Altar of Pleasing Alice. Kevin, the weak willed fiancé carries out the role of infidelitous bastard almost cartoonishly by telling Lucy that not only is he going to “take a break” and that he’s fallen in love with her sister and that he’s been sleeping her sister, but “But the thing is, Luce…Alice’s going to be moving in pretty soon. So you’ll need to find a place.” (Pg. 21)

Kevin, however, is the only character drawn with this heavy hand. Even Alice is more nuanced and her parents give her some tough love. The majority of the story centers around Lucy and the owner of a vineyard on False Bay at the end of Rainshadow Road. Sam Nolan is a good time guy. He treats women with respect and enjoys their company, but he doesn’t do relationships. The two meet on the shoreline of False Bay and Lucy runs away from Sam, thinking that she’s a single woman alone and he is a big strapping man. There is nothing to fear from Sam Nolan except for a broken heart. When Sam invites her out after some banter, Lucy turns him down.

The guy who just broke up with me…he was exactly like you, in the beginning. Charming, and nice. They’re all like you in the beginning. But I always end up like this. And I can’t do it anymore.

(Pg. 32) I particularly liked this line because it explains why she ended up with #RatBastard and how #RatBastard probably seduced the willing Alice. #RatBastards hurt people because they are so charming. If they weren’t charming no one would give them a chance to be a #RatBastard. I digress.

Lucy and Sam are forced together for two reasons. First, #RatBastard approaches Sam, an old classmate, to take Lucy out on a date because Alice and Lucy’s parents are being difficult about #RatBastard and Alice’s marriage. (I should probably give Alice a nickname so we’ll call her #NarcissisticBitch which is actually a term used by Sam in describing Alice at one point). #RatBastard had done Sam a real favor when Sam had been starting out in the winery business.  Sam is  pretty appalled by #RatBastard’s request but feels compelled to go through with one date.

Sam stared at his disbelief. “So you want me to track down your bitter, man-hating ex-girlfriend, and talk her into going out with me?”

(Pg. 109) When #RatBastard texts him a picture, it is accompanied by a boast that #RatBastard has the “younger and hotter” sister. “As if to reassure himself that he, Kevin, had still gotten the best of the bargain.” (Pg. 111) Sam does not hide this from Lucy (thank god) which leads to an exchange which exemplifies the gentle humor and good dialogue:

“Apparently Kevin and Alice think the solution is to set you up with someone. They want some guy to romance you until you’re so full of endorphins, you won’t have a problem with them getting married anymore.”

“And you’re supposed to be that guy?” she asked incredulously. “Mr. Endorphins?”

“Speaking.”

(Pg. 119) Second, Lucy gets injured and is unable to care for herself. Alone on the island, knowing only Sam (albeit briefly) she finds herself hauled off to the vineyard at Rainshadow Road. This leads to an incredible hot shower scene full of sexual tension that is unconsummated showing how the build up to the act can be as powerful (maybe even more so) than the culmination.

Lucy and Sam’s emotional conflict stems primarily from Lucy’s belief she is bad at relationships and isn’t ready to get burned so soon after the last disastrous breakup with #RatBastard and Sam’s belief he is a bad bet. He’s only seen the bad side of loving as Lucy points out. Sam’s entire experience with other people works best, in his opinion, at the most shallow level. He’s not capable of anything else or so he believes. But Sam’s entire life is changing with renewed relationships with his estranged brothers, caring for his deceased sister’s young daughter, and his deepening friendship and attraction to Lucy. At the end of the story there is no doubt that Lucy and Sam belong together and the way in which their love evolved and cemented into one beautiful image leaves the reader feeling confident this is a secure happy ever after. This is not a cheap book. It’s a trade paperback which likely means the digital price for the book will be $9.99. But it’s a book with passages I’ll want to revisit and for that reason it was worth the buy price for me. B

Best regards

Jane

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REVIEW: Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis

REVIEW: Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis

Dear Ms. Shalvis:

When I first started the Lucky Harbor series, I wasn’t sure I would like it. I have a visceral aversion to books with cute titles set in cutely named small towns, with covers colored in pastels and adorned with cute dogs or food. But my strong appreciation for your Sierra Nevada-set series pushed me past my initial resistance, and once I started the trilogy of Phoebe Traeger’s estranged daughters, I was just a little bit hooked. There is a basic affability to your books I cannot precisely articulate, and it often sweeps me along past issues I see more clearly in retrospect. Head Over Heels, the third book in the series, is probably my favorite, affably flawed as it is.

Head Over Heels by Jill ShalvisChloe Traeger has always been the wild child of the sisters, more like her mother in her unwillingness to settle in one place and follow what she perceives to be society’s conventions regarding marriage and family.  She was working with her two sisters, Maddie and Tara, to restore and run the B&B their mother had left them, but only as long as she could light out periodically on her own. These days, she was traveling to demonstrate and distribute her own line of natural spa products, which was already a small nod to stability, but the travel still nourished Chloe’s somewhat restless soul, especially when the alternative was getting into trouble with local law enforcement for helping her friend Lance “rescue” some abused dogs.

Of course, local law enforcement represented more than legal trouble for Chloe; if she let him, Sawyer Thompson could put her into far more danger than Lance’s latest scheme — danger to her body, mind, and heart. Reformed bad boy turned sheriff, Sawyer has watched his two best friends, Jax and Ford, fall under the spell of Chloe’s sisters, and he knows he is a very short step away from the same fate with Chloe. The hell she could raise around town with Lance was nothing compared to the havoc she wreaked with his internal sense of order and control, and the worst thing was that Sawyer couldn’t make himself stay away from her:

 

[Chloe] wore a soft, black hoodie sweater that clung to her breasts and dark, hip-hugging jeans tucked into high-heeled boots that gave off a don’t-fuck-with-me air but made him ache to do just that.  There was a wildness to her tonight, hell every night, and an inner darkness that he was drawn to in spite of himself.

It called to his true inner nature, the matching wildness and darkness within him, which he’d tried to bury a long time ago.

As reluctant as Sawyer is to revisit that darkness, Chloe has an even more basic concern about getting involved with Sawyer. She has acute asthma, which makes all types of physical exertion, especially the good kind (and would there be any other kind with a guy like Sawyer?), uncomfortable at best and life-imperiling at worst. So powerful as their attraction and friction-producing flirting is, it’s not until Sawyer’s undercover work for the DEA brings him into conflict with one of the town’s real bad boys – who happens to have a growing interest in Chloe – that things really heat up between them.

Anyone who has read the first two books in this series has seen the smart-aleck flirtation between Chloe and Sawyer intensify over the year or so those books cover, and one of the things I appreciated about Head Over Heels was the way it continued to build on that dynamic rather than radically alter it for dramatic effect. And Chloe’s asthma is a very interesting issue in the relationship, because it forces both Chloe and Sawyer past the somewhat clichéd internal obstacles they have to cope with, as well. Sawyer, for example, has unresolved issues with his father, a man who cannot seem to see Sawyer as anything but the troublemaking teen he used to be, and Chloe pushes him to that fine psychological line dividing past from present. And Chloe struggles with her need to feel unimpeded by a “traditional life”:

She understood that, from the outside looking in, it might seem like she had a secret death wish, but she didn’t.  It was just that when she was in the midst of an asthma attack, she often felt so close to death that she, well, dared it.  But she just wanted to run or dance or laugh hard, or have sex without needing an inhaler and possibly an ambulance.

Not exactly a common problem, but one that often left her straddling a fine line between socially acceptable behavior and the wild yearnings her mother had always encouraged.  Her sisters wanted her to stop pushing those boundaries and settle down a little.  And it was that which bothered Chloe more than anything.  The message was simple: if she wanted to be accepted, even loved, by those she’d come to care about, she’d need to change.  But dammit, she wanted to be accepted just as she was, imperfections and all.

Sawyer and Chloe’s mutual need for acceptance is somewhat standard Romance fare, but the addition of Chloe’s asthma creates an opportunity for more emotional intimacy between them. The asthma becomes a means through which Sawyer can show true care and concern for Chloe, and it allows Chloe to become vulnerable with Sawyer in ways she might not otherwise allow. The book does not treat the condition as a gimmick, nor does it become an all-consuming issue for the couple.

I’m sure there will be many, many readers who adore the way Shalvis resolves the conflicts between Sawyer and Chloe. I have a number of quibbles with the book (the “sayings” introducing every chapter seem gimmicky now, and the tendency to use humor to deflect seriousness can feel diminishing), but my most substantial issue is with the way Chloe’s struggle between settling down and setting out is resolved. Without giving away a spoiler, I will say that for me Chloe’s free spirited nature was somewhat betrayed by the resolution, and the reason this matters for me is that so much of the book – of the series, in fact – is constructed around the character of Chloe as a woman who truly enjoyed her freedom and was not just running from something. And while I could lay out the logic of the movements made in the book, I still find them a problematic compromise, and one that highlights the theme of “settling” the series repeats as a chorus.

Throughout the series there is an attempt to distinguish settling down under the right circumstances from just plain settling. One difficulty, of course, is that Romance tends to favor traditional or conventional endings, so an untraditional heroine is already at risk of being made somewhat traditional in the end. The Lucky Harbor series seems especially fond of wrapping things up rather neatly for its main characters, and in Chloe’s case I think the neat wrap-up sells Chloe (and Sawyer) a bit short. And while not a deal breaker for me, it was a disappointment, despite my overall enjoyment of the book and the series. B-

~ Janet

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