Do you like action adventure romance? If so, you really should be reading Jill Sorenson if you aren’t already. She writes fantastic, hot action romance and does it very well. I loved Aftershock, and while Backwoods isn’t the best of her books, it’s still a cut above.
Though technically part of the series that started with Aftershock, this book can be read on its own. And what is Backwoods, exactly? Well, it’s pretty much a lovely romance that takes place on The Camping Trip From Hell. Abby Hammond is definitely not an intrepid outdoor explorer but she decides to tag along on a wilderness camping trip with her daughter Brooke because deep in her heart of hearts, she knows her ex-husband’s tendencies. And one of those tendencies is to be a total workaholic who cancels on events, leaving their daughter Brooke stranded.
Abby doesn’t want Brooke to be out in the wilderness all by herself, so she goes along. Predictably, the ex-husband cancels and Abby and Brooke find themselves on a camping trip with Brooke’s stepbrother Leo. Oh, and since the ex-husband and his new wife canceled, the stepbrother’s father Nathan is now coming along on the trip as well. This all sounds more confusing than it is; somehow Sorenson manages to make this tangle of people feel like they fit together on the trip.
There is action in this story, but the real star of the piece are the characters and their complicated relationships. In one corner, we have Abby, who loves her daughter, was wounded by her ex-husband’s unfaithfulness and who isn’t exactly looking to date again. In the other corner, we have Nathan Strom, a former baseball star now turned recovering alcoholic who wants to rebuild a relationship with his estranged son. Nathan’s not looking for a relationship either, but somehow being the two responsible adults on the outdoor adventure creates some very believable sparks between these two. There are hints of secondary romance between Brooke and Leo that are tantalizing as well. Oh, and then there are the creepy events that gradually start to intensify as the story moves along. The villains don’t make any big moves until well into the book, so I don’t want to throw out any spoilers, but let’s just say wild animals are not the most dangerous thing this camping party will encounter.
In many suspense thrillers, authors throw readers right into the middle of the action and we see characters forming a romance while they’re on the run, on the trail of a killer, or under similar rushed and very intense circumstances. Sorenson does something a little different here, and much of the time it works. First of all, she unwinds her story fairly slowly at first. The focus is very much on interpersonal relationships and letting readers get to know the main characters. The action does get fairly intense, but not until later in the book. Seeing events happening to people readers have already gotten to know somewhat gives the book a very different feel than one in which we’re getting to know people while they’re in the middle of everything. In addition, rather than ending the book immediately after the mystery is solved or the bad guys taken care of, Sorenson continues things out a bit further and lets readers into some of her characters’ cycle of processing events and coming to terms with them. So, on an emotional level, this book is in some ways more satisfying than your average thriller.
However, it doesn’t all work quite so smoothly. First of all, there are the dangerous scenarios themselves. While some of it seemed believable, there are also moments when some characters (especially Abby) get themselves into even greater danger by virtue of some pretty TSTL decisions. After all, going for help is way less exciting then trying solve a problem yourself, having it go awry and then getting everyone into even more danger.
While the author does do a good job of letting readers get to know her characters before the most intense scenes of the book, not all of the timing is spot-on. Some of the love scenes felt awkwardly placed in comparison to the other plot action happening around those points. And then there was the ending. As I mentioned above, I did appreciate getting to see the main characters sorting themselves out a bit after the danger had passed. However, the ending also felt a bit jumbled and abrupt for me.
Backwoods is a mixed bag, but there is definitely enough there to warrant recommendation. And since Jill Sorenson is starting to build up a nice backlist, I’d highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.