Hot in Hellcat Canyon
I have been a Julie Anne Long fan since I read her first book, The Runaway Duke published in 2004. I have anticipated each and every novel in her eleven book series featuring the Redmonds and the Everseas of Pennyroyal Green, and I chose The Legend of Lyon Redmond as one of my top picks for 2015. Julie Anne Long’s books are generally auto-buys for me because she is just that good of a storyteller. One thing all of her previous books have in common is they are all historical romances. So Ms. Long is really stepping out of her comfort genre with this latest story.
Hot in Hellcat Canyon is a contemporary romance and just so happens to contain three of my least anticipated tropes: a famous hero/heroine, a victim of domestic violence, and a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Because of this, I almost passed the book by. I am glad I did not. There are a few minor problems with it, especially at the beginning, but once I settled into the story it was a pleasurable experience and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.
Britt Langley has a small cottage in Hellcat Canyon, California that she pays for by working two jobs with little room for future advancement; waiting tables at the Misty Cat restaurant and property management for a local businessman. Britt has lived in Hellcat Canyon for a few years, but she holds herself a little apart from the local residents of the small town. She has a past that has made her leery of getting involved with anyone romantically and she is very adept at politely holding off the local men. Then John Tennessee McCord walks into the Misty Cat, orders a Glennburger and Britt’s life changes forever. There is definitely a “lust at first sight” moment.
John Tennessee McCord is a famous actor who is still coasting on the fame he attained in a television series that has been in reruns for ten years. J.T. has had other acting parts, but nothing that approaches the quality of the sheriff he played on Blood Brothers. He is in Hellcat Canyon for some down time before starting a new series about the California gold rush that will be filming in the surrounding area. J.T. is also waiting for a phone call from his agent that will let him know whether or not he has been cast in a dramatic role he wants more than any role he has ever had and he is trying to talk himself out of being disappointed if he doesn’t make the cut. He is trying to live down some poor judgment behavior from his youth and a very public breakup with super actress Rebecca Corday (think Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt) the previous year. He is not really looking for a relationship when he walks into the Misty Cat, but his nerve endings sizzle when he meets Britt Langley.
Britt is recovering from a failed marriage that was abusive and her life is pretty much on cruise control with little thought to a future. She has been hibernating for several years and is just beginning to show the signs of coming alive when the story commences. Britt has no idea who J.T. McCord is when he orders a Glennburger on her recommendation, but she does know she is wildly attracted to him. Their conversation when first meeting is the equivalent of verbal foreplay; the physical attraction is there, but it is the mental attraction that seals the deal. J.T. leaves her a note on her bill and a large tip and thinks that is the end of it. Then his truck breaks down and he has to find a place to stay in Hellcat Canyon while it is repaired. This provides the impetus for a relationship to build between the hero and heroine.
The beginning of this relationship is where I had a few difficult moments with the story. Most of the banter between Britt and J.T. is very witty, but at times the humor seems almost forced in its delivery. There is just a little too much of it when less might be better and some of the “clever” vocabulary falls flat. When the banter is good, it is very good, but some of it when Britt and J.T. first meet is just…off. This made the book hard to get into at the start. I also had a little bit of a problem with Britt. Her earlier abusive marriage is referenced and is obviously the reason for her commitment issues, but I had a hard time buying into that aspect of this heroine. It just did not feel right for the character we encounter in the second half of the book. It seemed as though the author just wanted to get Britt’s background out of the way so she could get to the meat of the story. I guess I want a little more depth there or a little more corresponding behavior derived from her earlier abuse that feels more authentic and less contrived.
J.T. is better developed as a character than Britt and I really like him as a hero. Yes, he is a famous actor hooking up with an unknown woman (which almost always brings to my mind a play on the billionaire or sheik hero as an overused trope), but here it works. J.T. is a rags-to-riches story and it is the rags part of his backstory that is a barrier to love. He is a little more fleshed out and his background seems more genuine to this reader. I also really, really like that both the hero and heroine in this story are a bit older than the norm; J.T. is forty and Britt is in her thirties. While there is some action during the story, it is primarily a character driven novel and Ms. Long is very good at giving her characters life. After a somewhat bumpy beginning, the book begins to shine once Britt and J.T. commit to a short term relationship.
The secondary characters are, for the most part (the former girlfriend is a bit of a caricature as a mean girl) well placed by the author to come out of the wings and star in their own books later on down the line. The reader is given just enough information and character building to intrigue without taking away from the main couple or descending into stock characters based on stereotypes. I believe this must make the first story in a new series a very difficult one to write. The author has to set everything up for future books without sacrificing any of the story in the present book. Julie Anne Long has done a great job of laying the groundwork for her California contemporary series without taking anything away from the present book. The second novel, Wild at Whiskey Creek, is due for release in December and I look forward to reacquainting myself with the people of Hellcat Canyon. I also hope I come to love them every bit as much as I love all of the characters from Pennyroyal Green.