Homespun, warm fluffiness is always a good option when January’s snows roll in. Catherine Anderson’s latest, Spring Forward, in the ongoing story about life and love in Mystic Creek proves a delicious option when all you want is a cup of hot tea and a big fluffy sweater with your romance. By the end of the novel, when some big plot twists hit and spike the book with brandy-sharp turns you’re ready for them.
Tanner Richards is an ex-stockbroker whose career came to a dramatic and financially unrewarding end, forcing him to start over again in Crystal Falls, Oregon as a UPS driver sharing his mother’s house with his two small children. Hanging out with his elderly ex-rancher neighbor Tuck Malloy, and Rip, Tuck’s rambunctious, alcoholic, ornery escape artist of a blue-heeler (Australian Cattle Dog) are the highlights of his rootless life. That is until Tuck falls off his porch and hurts himself, requiring his temporary removal to nearby Mystic Creek’s assisted living facility until he’s steady on his feet again. Tanner keeps sneaking contraband materials like beer and chaw in. which irks the staff, and results in an official complaint being filed against him. Which brings him into contact with Tuck’s granddaughter, Crystal.
Crystal has an extremely busy life and worrying about her granddad is just one of her problems. Between taking care of him and being Mystic Creek’s best beautician, she has absolutely no time left over for a social life. Her spunky, independent grandfather wants nothing to do with an old folk’s home, but until he regains his strength he can’t return to his own house, and so Crystal is stuck with Rip, who has a tendency to bite and disobey her, and a small wild kitten she finds near Tuck’s house. She has no experience of raising animals and even less in dodging the harridan running the home, but she’s willing to learn how to adjust.
Though Tanner and Crystal start off on the wrong foot, they have much in common – and are put in even closer contact when Crystal’s complaint results in Tanner being re-assigned to work in Crystal’s neighborhood. They both of them care desperately about Tucker and Tanner is the only one who has a magic touch with Rip; and she comes to rely on his expertise with the dog to guide her disciplinary measures. But when Rip runs away, Tanner gets the opportunity to return to a route in his own neighborhood and Tuck falls in love with a rich woman at the home, Crystal’s got even more on her plate than ever before. Can she overcome a major childhood trauma and allow herself to open up?
Spring Forward is one of those little surprises that pop up on one’s reading list and take you by surprise you with its enchanting plot. Miss Anderson’s historicals have been hit or miss for me since I was a romance-devouring teenager, and it’s refreshing to see her find her footing in contemporary romance.
Crystal is a difficult nut to crack; even though she’s extremely self-defeating and accusatory, she’s a good person at heart. She cares about her work as a beautician, and she cares about her family and fairness; her past scars are slowly reveled to the reader in a way that makes sense. But here’s a warning for dog lovers – she is rather nasty to Rip during the first portion of the book, he does bite her and there is use of a shock collar in training him, which causes her to threaten him multiple times with violence, but their evolving relationship helps make the novel entertaining.
Tanner is a good dad, ashamed of his past but utterly captivated by the notion of doing the right thing. Watching him grapple with his new position in life is fascinating. His moral core is the best part of him, and the part the book thoroughly explores to its benefit, but most of the plot meat regarding his career shift is dealt with early on.
The romance between Tanner and Crystal builds internally, with a lot of self-examination – but once it finally turns the corner and gets going, everything flows beautifully from that point. They’re cute together, and the way they reason and battle life’s curves as a unit is great.
The supporting characters are endearing. Tuck Malloy is our third PoV in the novel, and he’s the kind of guy who spends days looking for a friend’s lost pregnant blue heeler dog on the acres of land he’s been working, then takes gentle care to bring the dog back in time to give birth to her pups. Meeting him as a slightly cantankerous but gritty older gentleman, he’s fun to root for, and his secondary romance with the rich Essie is filled with personality. Tanner’s family, including his children, avoid the cloying traps of being too-cute moppets and have realistic problems and attitudes (Tori hating her curly hair and loving dogs, Michael being sullen and angry due to the upheaval in his life).
Anderson, as always, does a good job of portraying the sparse, sandblasted world of the open plains of the Northwest. She gets the people and attitudes of living in a tiny town just right. Even when the plot suffers from an unfortunate mid-book detour involving a lingerie-stealing bandit and indulges in a few predictable and melodramatic plot twists, it works well because the author has given us characters we can invest in.
Spring Forward is imperfect but generally comfortable – like your favorite chill-beating sweater it’s relaxing, but it’s just itchy enough to keep you thinking hours after you put it down.