Lately, I’ve been in a Carolina mood and picked up Carolina Breeze, a novel set in the fictional town of Bluebell surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Carolina Breeze is the second book of the author’s Bluebell Inn Romance trilogy and offers a gentle romance while following the love story first introduced in book one, Lake Season. I haven’t read that book and felt I was missing necessary background so I’d suggest reading it before reading this.
After a public breakup with her fiancé months earlier, the last thing Mia Emerson needs is the current tornado of rumors insisting that, during her latest movie shoot, she had an affair with another man – the film’s very married lead actor. The up-and-coming actress decides her best option is to escape the negative publicity in Bluebell, North Carolina, at the historic inn where her mother grew up, and that was once owned by Mia’s grandparents. Since her ex-fiancé never cancelled the honeymoon reservations, the stay will be free and will get her out of the public eye.
Levi Bennett, current owner and manager of the Bluebell Inn, is struggling to keep the place afloat while following his deceased father’s admonition to “take care of your sisters.” But doing that while ensuring the inn’s solvency is a tall order; expenses are overrunning the budget while Grace, a high school senior, is procrastinating on college applications, and Molly, the older sister, is anxiously awaiting a proposal from the guy of her dreams. The siblings expect a honeymoon couple who reserved the entire inn for a week and are surprised when Mia Emerson arrives alone. After spending time with Mia while acting as chauffeur, Levi can’t believe she is the conniving woman the media has described. Through an overheard phone call, the sisters learn the truth – the lead actor had flirted with Mia throughout the movie shoot and avoided any blame by deftly dropping it all on Mia, leaving her to ride out the media storm. Hidden in North Carolina, Mia’s best option is to stay the full week and wait for the furor to subside.
As the days slide by, Mia and Levi become friends, and Levi shares with Mia the journal her grandmother left at the inn, prompting Mia to learn the history of life at the Bluebell Inn. In the pages, she reads of a blue diamond necklace, her grandmother’s prized possession, now lost but worth enough money to put the inn on secure financial footing. While searching for the diamond in and around the inn, Mia discovers in Levi a man she can trust with her faults and fears, and Levi sees the real Mia, not the characters she has played on screen. Only time will tell if Mia’s career will survive under the barrage of bad press, if the lost diamond can be found in time to save the inn, and whether Mia’s relationship with Levi can grow into something permanent.
This novel is light on all levels. The action plot is focused on the day-to-day stresses of running a bed-and-breakfast and family dynamics, the search for the necklace, and the media attention threatening Mia’s career. Several obstacles keep the couple apart – distance, both physical and in social status – Mia’s fears of abandonment, and Levi’s controlling tendency to nudge events and people toward what he believes is best. God’s presence is also handled with a gentle touch, and both Levi and Mia turn to Him regularly for guidance in a traditional sense. To Levi, his belief that God has a plan amidst his responsibilities allows him to move forward. Although Mia has been spiritually distant for months, the time in Bluebell and with Levi allows her to reconnect to God and rely on Him for guidance.
Despite the author’s smooth narrative and dialogue, the story falls flat in places. The descriptions of the inn and its surroundings are beautifully written, but often the characters have no emotional reaction that would allow the reader to share more deeply in the scenery’s impact. For example, in Mia’s viewpoint, comparisons between Los Angeles and the Carolina mountains are few, so my own reaction to the scenery felt distant. Also, the romance gets a slow start. I knew from the beginning that Mia’s social media issues needed resolution, but the author uses nearly a third of the book to lay out the problem and extricate Mia. During that time, Mia is naturally too distracted for any serious relationship, and since Levi is a perfect gentleman and awed by Mia’s celebrity, the romance idles. After that, the growing love story continues without much tension, and there was never any doubt that Mia and Levi would get together. There is no spiritual conflict between them, and although Levi and Mia have personal journeys to complete, these add up to complications, not fatal blows to romance.
The book has the rhythm and charm of a Hallmark Channel movie, and indeed, some of Ms. Hunter’s work has been translated into television movies. If you’re in the mood to float along on a breezy summer romance with a light spiritual touch, then Carolina Breeze might be the book you’re looking for.