Country music tells stories from a real-world viewpoint where love and loss can go hand in hand. Being a fan of the genre, I hoped Rising Star would use its Music City setting to showcase a romance worthy of a Country ballad. Unfortunately the story is more like Pop music; enjoyable but with little heart behind the words.
In the south, Country radio is king and nowhere is that more apparent than in Nashville. Getting a mid-day DJ slot on the popular Eagle 101.5 is no small feat for small town girl Charlie Layton and she’s ready to show management that she’s the right fit for their station. Charlie loves her work and her co-workers; morning show host Ruby Barnett and the station’s bookkeeper Matty Jacobs have become her closest friends in town. Their plan to celebrate Charlie’s birthday mix a little business with pleasure as Ruby is scheduled to host an open mic night at the Wildhorse Saloon. From the safety of the bar, Charlie watches Ruby in action as she plays to the crowd and keeps them entertained before the live music starts. Being the center of attention has always made Charlie uncomfortable and live appearances like this are the only part of her job she dislikes. It’s a necessary evil, but one she’s happy to let Ruby handle whenever possible.
Charlie is also content to let Matty get most of the male attention. Blonde and petite, Matty is always the one receiving free drinks or invitations to go out on the dance floor. It’s no surprise then when the bartender walks up with a fresh drink for Matty, compliments of the man at the end of the bar. Charlie barely notices the guy but her eyes are drawn instantly to his companion. Tall, dark and wearing a black Stetson, he’s a picture perfect cowboy and the stuff of female fantasies. Not Charlie’s of course, since he’s probably on wingman duty and will only talk to her so his friend can introduce himself to Matty. As if prompted, the men walk over and Charlie finds herself paired off with Dylan Monroe as they watch his buddy crash and burn with Matty.
Country singer Dylan Monroe tried to warn his friend that the pretty blonde at the end of the bar was way out of his league but following him over was a good excuse to get a closer look at the stunning brunette with her. After only a few minutes in her company Dylan knows Charlie is perfect for him; she’s smart, a little sassy and loves music almost as much as he does. Dylan tries to impress Charlie by standing up to a creep at the bar who insults her, but she’s more upset by his posturing than his quick defense. Fortunately Dylan is given a second chance to protect Charlie after Ruby pulls her on stage to have the whole bar sing “Happy Birthday” to her. In the early stages of an anxiety attack, Charlie begs Dylan to take her somewhere quiet. Dylan knows the perfect place to escape and he moves her from the noise of Honky Tonk Row to the peace of Riverfront Park where Charlie can catch her breath.
Leaving the bar with a virtual stranger is unusual for Charlie but Dylan’s charm is too hard to resist. Enjoying their night walking in the park and sharing a meal at a twenty-four-hour diner, Charlie starts to think that their escape feels like a first date, which is definitely a no-no. Her focus has to be on her career, not starting a relationship. Still, Dylan really knows how to kiss and Charlie decides to treat herself to a birthday present by spending the night with the sexy cowboy. Walking away from his house the next morning without a good-bye is a little embarrassing for Charlie but she figures a man like Dylan is probably used to one-night stands. Her perceptions are proved wrong when she arrives at work to discover that her booked guest for the day is up-and-coming Country artist Dylan Monroe. Dylan’s anger at Charlie bailing on him only fires up her own temper when she realizes he never told her he was a singer. An awkward interview later and Charlie is ready to boot Dylan out of her studio forever; however Dylan isn’t ready to walk away from her. He turns on the southern charm one last time to ask for a real first date, one where he can show her he’s the type of man you keep around forever.
Rising Star has a lot of moving parts for what should be a simple story. Charlie and Dylan’s relationship is the center of it but in the background there are threads about the new record label launching Dylan’s album, a crooked agent trying to manipulate his client and several old relationships in need of mending. Even if the book is meant to launch several sequels there should have been a clear focus on Charlie and Dylan while developing them into fully formed individuals. Instead they are fairly basic characters and while many things happen to them, I couldn’t see either of them changing much from how they were originally introduced.
Charlie’s aspirations for radio stardom are a direct response to her mother’s choices in life. Growing up, Charlie felt that her mother had given up on her dreams to start a family and Charlie refuses to believe that a relationship can coexist with a career focus. When Dylan enters her life Charlie won’t entertain the thought that she could have both a career and a relationship so she keeps Dylan at arm’s length believing that she’s protecting her future. She is constantly making snap decisions that only impact her present while ignoring the possible consequences of her choices. She comes across as very selfish which I’m certain was not what the author intended. I never warmed to Charlie, even when her choices force her to reevaluate her vision of the future with or without Dylan.
Dylan is a sweetheart but isn’t much more than a good old boy hoping to launch a musical career while fighting the demons of a previous failure. His insecurities make him much more relatable than Charlie but they also go on for way too long into the story. Everyone around Dylan tells him he’s talented and his new label has enough faith in him to use him to launch their brand into the competitive world of Country music but Dylan never lets himself believe it all. He depends on the wrong people out of misguided loyalty and he allows those people to guide him into his own poor choices for the future.
Rising Star provides a wonderful glimpse into the Nashville music industry and fans of country music may enjoy it in spite of the lackluster romance. Other readers will not find a chart topping read in this story and would be better served giving it a pass.