When life throws her one setback too many, midwife and young widow Tess Hartsong takes off for Runaway Mountain. In this small town high in the Tennessee mountains, surrounded by nature, she hopes to outrun her heartbreak and find the solace she needs to heal.
But instead of peace and quiet, she encounters an enigmatic artist with a craving for solitude, a fairy-tale sprite with too many secrets, a helpless infant, a passel of curious teens, and a town suspicious of outsiders, especially one as headstrong as Tess. Just as headstrong, is Ian North, a difficult, gifted man with a tortured soul—a man who makes Tess question everything.
In running away to this new life, Tess wonders— Has she lost herself . . . or has she found her future?
Kristen: So, Dabney. There is A LOT to talk about in this book – ideas about motherhood, small town relationships, grief, trauma, insiders/outsiders… where do you want to start?
Dabney: This book is nuts but not necessarily in a bad way. Or is it just me?
Kristen: I’m not sure I’d say “bad way”, but I didn’t love it. It felt like a fifteen pound story in a five pound bag. There was just so much and a lot of it didn’t resonate with me at all, which is why I’m glad to be talking to you about it since we have different life experiences when it comes to motherhood. I, for example, am not one, and so a lot of Tess’ motivations felt foreign to me.
Dabney: The motherhood thing was interesting and, oddly, parts of it made me very uncomfortable. But let’s start with Tess. She’s an interesting woman but I would not want to be her friend. You?
Kristen: I was legitimately afraid of her a few times! She’s intense, that’s for sure, and I don’t think she’d like me very much. She was clearly a product of a lot of trauma (her husband’s death, another tragedy early in the story) and that colors how she interacts with herself and others, but it didn’t make for a character I was eager to spend more time with. I wasn’t quite sure was Ms. Phillips was trying to do with the talk about her body – I never got a real grip on what Tess actually looked like. I’ve never lived in a town as small as Runaway Mountain (which is a very on-the-nose-name here), but we certainly don’t usually see the cruelty of small towns in romance like this. What did you think about her interactions with the town?
Dabney: Well, all those mean people weren’t really, ultimately, mean. You just had to get to know them. It certainly is a town where not a single person didn’t seem exceedingly unique–everyone was a CHARACTER.
Kristen: Huh. I didn’t see it that way. I saw some of their ‘character’ as being cruel to be cruel, but I can see how that’s not necessarily true.
Dabney: And, here’s my real problem with this book: I didn’t like hardly ANYONE in it. Not Tess, not Ian, not Bianca, not Tess’s wacky coworkers, no one. Except Wren. Wren I liked because, well, babies.
Kristen: Oh, I kinda liked the babysitter. But beyond that? With you. Plus, I have no idea why Ian and Tess got together in the end.
Dabney: I didn’t understand them at all. I guess Ian is the hottest older guy since Idris Elba so maybe that’s why Tess fell so hard for him. But he was so often an ass and did not appear to understand the concept of compromise. And as for why Ian fell for Tess, I thought at first it was because she was so competent. But then she became so cranky that I didn’t get her appeal. And, unlike so many of SEP’s lovers, they had very little chemistry.
Kristen: I usually *fly* through SEP books, but this was a slog for me because of the lack of chemistry. What also didn’t help is that – as I mentioned before – there were a lot of stories and none of them felt settled. We dealt with purity culture and parent’s fears about teenage sex, we dealt with abusive spouses, we dealt with trauma, we dealt with adoption, and on and on. I needed one to make full sense and, to me, none of them did. I really – and this saddens me – cannot recommend this book.
Dabney: I too found this book sloooooow going. And I’ve loved so many of her books. Ultimately, I couldn’t quite understand this book–the love story is between two people who don’t really fit and the reclamation of the small town was just sort of dull.
However, the real thing that bothered me was the story of Wren.
Kristen: Oh, can you tell me why? Because I really hated the bit with the grandparents – it made Wren feel like a plot device instead of a person to me – is that what you mean?
Dabney: I think the whole Wren plot is a bit ethically iffy. Without giving away any spoilers–Tess’s sense of ownership over Wren made me very uncomfortable. Like so uncomfortable that I wondered if SEP had talked to a lawyer before writing the book.
Kristen: You know, I wondered the same. I also wondered what research went into post-traumatic stress reactions to both primary secondary trauma… just a lot of questions that weren’t answered in the text.
So, Dabney, what do you say? We advise our readers to give this one a pass?
Dabney: Well, if you love SEP, you should read this book. It has much of her skill set–humor, interesting characters, and a bone-deep depth that isn’t always found in contemporary romance. But if you don’t love her, I don’t think this book is going to wow you.
What grade would you give it?
Kristen: For me, this is a C-. I was bored and befuddled for most of it, but there were some moments of levity that bumped it up from a D for me. You?
Dabney: I liked it more than that. It’s true I kept shaking my head as I read but I find her writing to be heads and shoulders above that of so many other romance writers. I’m going with a B-.
Well, readers. Our reviewers’ mileage varied with this one. We’re anxious to hear from you – what did you think?
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
Visit our Amazon Storefront
Recent Comments …
I liked this book more than I thought that I would. I do love regency romance, however it is too…
I’ll pass on this one. I love a slow burn. The slower, the better lol.
The last one I read that I thought was really exceptional was We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian.…
Solomon’s Crown by Natasha Siegel. It is a retelling of the relationship between King Richard, while still Duke of Aquitaine)…
My favorite this year has been The Midnight News by Jo Baker. Fantastic look at the war years in London.
Killers of the Flower Moon is an amazing, albeit tragic, story. The writing is wonderful, and it’s such an important…