longsimmeringspringFor April’s TBR Challenge read, I dove into one of my RWA book boxes in search of a contemporary, and came up with Elisabeth Barrett’s Long Simmering Spring. This novel is a 2013 Loveswept that simmered quite a while, but never did come to a boil. For the first time in a long while, I found myself with a DNF on my hands.

Haunted by memories from the war in Afghanistan, Cole Grayson is now home in Star Harbor. Star Harbor is a small New England town, so guess who’s the sheriff?  That’s right – Cole has his demons to wrestle but he’s been cleared for law enforcement duty. To be fair, Cole’s brothers also have books in this series and they can’t all be the sheriff, so if you read more by Barrett, you’ll get some non-sheriff, small town romance.

Once back in Star Harbor, Cole finds himself face to face with a memory from high school – Julie Kensington. Julie is now a doctor and she has returned home to run a small private practice clinic. Coming face to face with Cole once  more brings out all kinds of feelings in Julie that she just doesn’t want to deal with.

So of course, they fall in lust with one another. Of course they do. I have to admit that by the time I was only a few chapters into the book, the relationship between Cole and Julie was starting to feel very predictable and stale. I just couldn’t make myself be interested in the two of them getting together as they seemed to be the only ones noticing any chemistry between them.

Barrett does throw interesting details into this book. For instance, we get references to Julie’s economic realities that remind readers starting a family practice in a small town fresh out of residency isn’t exactly the fastest way to financial security. And mentions of Cole’s difficulties reintegrating into civilian society find their way into the book as well. However, I just couldn’t get into the story because the main characters felt terribly blah. So, after 125 pages or so, I threw in the towel. This book came out of my TBR pile, but it’s not going on the keeper shelf.

– Lynn Spencer

kiss for luckAs is obvious to anyone who reads my reviews regularly, I don’t read contemporaries very often and although  I didn’t completely wimp out on this one, I confess to taking a bit of a short cut.  In my defence, I did start a couple of other contemporaries, but didn’t make it past the first few chapters because they just didn’t grab me.  Or more likely, I wasn’t in the mood – I have to be in the right frame of mind to read a contemporary and for various reasons – not least of which was being unwell – I just wasn’t.

Rooting around through my Kindle revealed this, one of the novellas in Grace Burrowes’ Sweetest Kisses series set in the fictional Damson Valley in rural Maryland.  I’m a huge fan of her historicals, and had wondered how her very distinctive writing style would translate to contemporaries, and as this is a novella, I was able to zip through it quickly.

It’s a sweet story in which the two protagonists – a game designer and a lawyer-turned-investigator – meet when they become neighbours.  It’s quite a packed story and while to my historically attuned sensibilities, the relationship seems a bit rushed, it’s quite possible that in contemporary terms, that isn’t the case – I don’t read enough of them to be able to know what the norm is, to be honest.

What I can say is that many of Ms Burrowes’ trademarks are very much in evidence.  Unusual names (some of them recycled – Trenton, MacKenzie, Winters), the hero and heroine calling each other by last names and full names, bonding over lemonade and other foodstuffs, very well written familial and relationships and friendships and, best of all, the high degree of honesty and intimacy between the two protagonists.  The only problem with the latter is that I’d normally expect it to develop over a longer time; at their very first meeting, Sadie verbalises her assessment of Gideon as likeable, self-sufficient and observant, but unacquainted with the state of his own emotions.  It seems that one of Sadie’s ‘problems’ is her excessive bluntness, and we learn later that she’s the child of a pair of alcoholics which led her to more or less bringing up her younger sister.  But both these things –Sadie’s bluntness and Gideon’s emotional sterility are not really explored or followed up.

The author’s background as a family law practitioner is put to good use in the story, as Sadie and her sister Jay-Jay have moved to Damson Valley in order to get Jay-Jay and her young son away from her abusive ex.   When we learn Gideon is considering taking a case that would involve tracking down a child he’s being told has been deliberately kept from his father, it’s fairly obvious where the conflict in the story is going to come from, but seeing it all work out and watching Gideon interact with his friends, the Knightley brothers (who are the heroes of the three full-length novels in the series) was interesting enough to keep me reading.

I may go on to read one or more of the novels when I’m in the mood – the author’s writing style is very recognisable – again, I’m not sure how it works in the context of a contemporary, but it was one of the things I most enjoyed about the story.  Both Sadie and Gideon are decent people, although if I’m honest Gideon is probably too good to be true (which is a common trait in all her heroes!) and there are some really lovely, tender moments between them.

Ultimately, I was a little disappointed that the characterisation of the principals wasn’t deeper and the their issues weren’t more fully explored, as that is the sort of emotional depth I’ve come to expect from Ms Burrowes, but I suspect the lack was more due to the limitations imposed by the shorter format than anything else.  C+

– Caz Owens