Love in Catalina Cove
Brenda Jackson opens a brand-new series set in Louisiana with Love in Catalina Cove.
Vashti Alcindor has escaped her three year old marriage to Scott Zimmons – a marriage that in Vashti’s opinion lasted two years too long, given Scott is a compulsive liar who’s been cheating on her for ages. After a no-contest divorce in which she receives a decent settlement, Vashti learns that someone wants to buy her aunt’s seaside bed and breakfast, Shelby by the Sea. They’ll give her ten million dollars for the property, if she’ll allow them to bulldoze it and build a tennis resort on the land, but she has only twenty days to decide if she’s willing to sell – assuming the town’s zoning board will let her. Vashti doesn’t relish the idea of the development, and it’s something that the local zoning board wants even less, but she has no plans to move away from New York, where she feels much more at home. Her real estate broker and best friend, Bryce, urges her to fly to town for the zoning board meeting, thinking her appearance there might sway votes in her favor.
Vashti has avoided going back to Catalina Cove for numerous reasons. Her pregnancy at sixteen and refusal to name the father brought the harsh judgment of the town down on her, and led to her parents sending her to a home for unwed mothers in Arkansas. Their unsympathetic reaction following her return after a miscarriage and the death of the beloved aunt who raised her has seen Vashti slowly become estranged from everyone she knew there except for Bryce. But when she’s pinkslipped from her job at a luxury hotel, she shrugs her shoulders and takes a flight to Louisiana, renting a cherry red convertible to take those last few miles.
Ex-marine and ex-FBI agent Sawyer Grisham, the sheriff of Catalina Cove, has spent the past four years trying to balance the needs of his somewhat spoiled teenage daughter, Jadelyn – Jade – with the needs of the town he serves. He knows that his inability to say no to Jade is a result of his trying to make up for the pain they both feel after the loss of his wife to cancer when she was barely thirty and Jade was only eight. Not wishing to experience that sort of traumatizing hurt again, he’s vowed never to become serious with a woman, and has a friends-with-benefits relationship with fellow marine Leesa to deal with his physical needs.
When Sawyer pulls over a speeding Vashti outside the city limits, they’re both surprised by the instant current of sexual attraction that runs between them. When Vashti’s buy-out proposal is rejected by the committee, she decides to see if she can take the rundown bed and breakfast and turn it back into a viable concern. As she settles in, she and Sawyer continue to spark, kiss and flirt, but Sawyer and Vashti are both reluctant to even come close to starting another relationship, no matter how hot their first kiss is, and thus settle into a tentative, rules-filled relationship once Leesha dumps Sawyer. Vashti is still planning to move once the B&B is back in shape and saleable, and Sawyer is just holding on until his daughter’s in college. Will Vashti stay and confront the old ghosts of her past? Will she and Sawyer find true love?
Love in Catalina Cove suffers from a lot of little flaws that detract from the story, but the biggest kicker is that the romance is pretty weak. Vashti and Sawyer suffer from a major case of insta-lust, and mostly get filled in by their friends as to who they are and what they mean to the town – a natural enough plot twist because people will gossip, but it really would have worked better if some of those things had been learned in one-on-one conversations between our hero and heroine. (I wouldn’t, for instance, want the intimate details of my child’s stillbirth to be delivered to my would-be-lover by a total stranger). I had trouble buying them as compatible people; they both love blueberry muffins, care about each other and they love sleeping together, but beyond that I didn’t understand how their lives fit together, where their deep common ground lay. Halfway into the book Sawyer complains to himself that he wants someone who is more open than Vashti and I nodded fervently; the hero shouldn’t feel that way about the heroine that far into the story! Also, Sawyer using Leesa, to work out his sudden pants feelings for Vashti is old-skool gross, even if he doesn’t sleep with her, even if Vashti calls him out on it. Dropping her for an attempted FWB relationship with Vashti is Not a Good Look.
I liked Vashti a lot – I could understand her flaws, her anger, her resentment and her simple joys. The plot does burden her with some ridiculous stuff, but she shines through; but Sawyer is… eh. A little bland. Honorable, horny, and rather less nice than the author thinks he is.
The supporting characters are fine, if too numerous. Jade is a perfect spoiled brat – which means she was incredibly annoying, very much a teenager, and occasionally pretty funny. Her attachment to her mother is not denigrated (even though the mother character eventually goes through an almost amazingly over the top post-mortem dragging) and still contributes to her behavior and life, which is important.
The novel also suffers from exposition problems, which are made worse by repetitive information that occasionally drops in new details. Throw in a sudden couple of third-act plot twists that don’t quite work – and in fact leave the reader shaking their head and groaning – and you have a narrative that’s messy overall.
Jackson easily captures the humid, lazy beauty of Louisiana and also the judgmental, claustrophobic, lockstep hellscape that ‘quaint’ small towns can provide. She has an excellent eye for detail, and her descriptive work is wonderful. You’ll learn some new things about the climate; I wouldn’t have guessed that blueberries are a big cash crop down south, but it seems there is indeed something of a renaissance for the fruit going on there.
The atmosphere and descriptive detail work in Love in Catalina Cove, but the romance doesn’t, which is why I can’t recommend it.