Carolina Rose is an impressive debut for author Tracy Sumner. The hero and heroine were believable and likable, and the circumstances which brought them together worked well for me. There were some problems with the technical aspects of the story, however, that detracted somewhat from my overall enjoyment.
Adam Chase has come to the small town of Edgemont, hired by the new owner of the local paper to be its editor. Along with an antiquated press, he’s also inherited the paper’s only reporter, Charlie Whitney. Only, Charlie turns out to be Charlotte, the former owner’s daughter, a young woman determined to make it in a man’s profession. Adam quickly recognizes her writing skills and keeps her on at the paper, in spite of what she does to his equilibrium, and the amused, cynical distance he’s cultivated so carefully.
For her part, Charlie admits to herself that she finds Adam attractive – she just doesn’t like him very much. Every time they’re in each other’s company they end up fighting. Besides, she’s too busy fending off the advances of the very proper banker who’s been courting her since they were children. Adam, meanwhile, finds himself claimed by Lila, Charlie’s cousin and nemesis.
Charlie had a warm, loving family; Adam’s past is marred by the tragic deaths of his mother, his brother Eaton, and his father, a cold, domineering man who belittled everything Adam believed in. Charlie is very direct in asking for what she wants, once she realizes what it is, while Adam is much more reserved and hampered by notions of propriety; so much so that, when Charlie comes to stay at his house in Richmond, he hires a woman to act as her companion. How in the world can these two find happiness with each other?
I found myself liking this book in spite of the ways it irritated me. It’s left to the reader to figure out that Edgemont is in South Carolina. Then you’re not sure if it’s before or after the Civil War; I had to wait to find a passing reference to President Fillmore to get a ballpark idea of the era. A transparent subplot – about the new owner of the paper hiring goons to attack Adam after Charlie runs an unauthorized editorial taking a stand in opposition to the owner’s interests – threw me off. Some of the references to the politics of the day are too obscure for the average reader. And there is an overabundance of clunky similes (too many “likes” for my liking). Some of the dialogue sounds stilted: it’s as if the author couldn’t make up her mind to write dialect or not, so half the time the characters talk in dialect, and the other half they don’t.
But the virtues of Carolina Rose outweigh its shortcomings. Adam is beautifully drawn and easily accessible to the reader; Charlie is feisty but never grating, and the reader can understand both her motivations and emotions. The internal monologues of these two are marvelous. The cast of supporting characters is a rich and believable one – something tells me there’s a wonderful prequel here, for Kath and Miles, Charlie’s best friends. And the atmosphere of a small town, where everybody knows your business and you know theirs, comes vividly to life.
This is a first novel from Tracy Sumner; if she’ll only take a bit more care in establishing time and place at the beginning of her story, and decide on “to dialect, or not to dialect,” I’ll look forward to her next effort.