Desert Isle Keeper
Dirty Dancing at Devil's Leap
Julie Anne Long knocks another homer out of the park with Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap, the third volume in her delightful series of Hellcat Canyon novels.
Ever since Avalon Harwood can remember, she’s had a crush on her childhood friend and confidant, Mac Coltrane. They more or less grew up together around his family home in Devil’s Leap, and Avalon’s best memories involve the small California town situated in Hellcat Canyon. But Mac broke her heart at seventeen, which was why she ran off to college in a big city – which in turn is why she’s blindly run home after catching her seemingly fabulous live-in boyfriend cheating on her. Impulsivity rules the day – with a successful mobile app under her belt (GradYouAte, which gives the busy student the full college experience while trying to keep up with their classes), Avalon has enough money in the bank to be the highest bidder when she stumbles on the Coltrane family home, now up for sale at a liquidation auction.
But she’s in for a surprise; the sale comes with Mac’s services as groundskeeper, and with the fact that half of the acreage belongs to him and the team of goats he’s herding. While they may have been the best of friends as children, there is no love lost between them now; she wants to renovate the property, turn it into a corporate retreat and sell it, while Mac just wants his home back and to maintain the land’s integrity. In the time since their parting Mac has grown into a new person; a little less cocky and a little less surefooted. Having left a stint in the coastguard behind him, he’s since been working hard to rebuild the Coltrane family reputation after his father’s conviction for fraud resulted in their billion dollar fortune being depleted and the whole family being shrouded in scandal.
Their battle of wills begins almost immediately, but Avalon gives as good as she gets and then some. She’s got no experience in house flipping and he’s got no future plans beyond getting back what was once his. Yet between loud Melissa Manchester serenades and tractor trailers filled with manure, both soon realize they have a lot of growing to do and a few comfort zones to step out of. It’s not long before Mac finds himself bonding with Avalon’s tiny new cat-dog and Avalon finds herself spending time with her niece’s adorably outrageous scouting troop. All the while her heart-palpitating crush on Mac still lingers, and as for Mac, he’s never been able to forget the pretty neighbor he had a crush on either. As they try to outmaneuver each other, the attraction between them becomes undeniable and Mac and Avalon have to choose between pride and their teenage dreams.
Nobody does funny like Julie Anne Long, and every little bit of Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap is utterly charming and laugh provoking when it’s not stubbornly tugging on your heartstrings.
The characters are lots of fun; Avalon is a wonderful heroine – relatable, sharp, filled with humor, but not too cutting to avoid being vulnerable. Her story arc isn’t all about Mac, and much of it is about what she really wants out of life; and Mac, too is forced to ask himself the same question. Mac is big-hearted, though reluctant about it and almost unaware of his capacity for affection; his lesson is about flexibility, about learning that the operatic emotions of his parent’s melodrama won’t echo in his own romance.
Their connection is teasing and warm, rich with accessible history but perfumed with new discoveries. This is a couple that bonds over small animals and good music, and their banter flows as freely as a bottle of good wine at a fine restaurant. They will remind you of someone you know, or someone you have loved.
The secondary characters are well-drawn and amusing as well; to the point where I actually felt sympathy for Cobin the ex-live in, who is pathetic enough to be an almost sympathetic character.
Long is at the top of her game, writing wise, throughout the novel. The easy, natural flow of her story is admirable, and time passes by very, very quickly when you open one of her books. She knows how to weave together a multi-book narrative effortlessly; when Avalon bangs into Eli Barlow (Hero of Wild at Whiskey Creek), it feels perfectly natural – this is how you do a connected series and do it right! Long also does an excellent job weaving contemporary music throughout her story; Mac’s hatred of the Melissa Manchester ballad Don’t Cry Out Loud provides a hilarious plot point.
Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap is a lovely, swoonworthy romance with a lot of personality. Julie Anne Long provides excellent, funny, breezy, heartwarming reads, and this one stands strong and tall among them.