Happy Birthday, Janga! Wishing you sunshine, smiles, and happily ever afters today and always.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Review - - Hot in Hellcat Canyon

Hot in Hellcat Canyon
By Julie Anne Long
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: May 31, 2016
 





Unroll the banners, strike up the band, and profligately fling confetti. Julie Anne Long’s debut as a contemporary romance author is reason enough for romance readers to celebrate. Hot in Hellcat Canyon is funny, sexy, smart, and heart-melting. I added it to my best of 2016 list the minute I completed my first reading.

After her life in Southern California disintegrated, Britt Langley retreated to Hellcat Canyon, a quirky small town in historic Gold Rush country. She works as a waitress at the Misty Cat Saloon and as manager for Gold Nugget Property Management. She enjoys the individuals that make up the Hellcat community while preserving a distance that protects her privacy and her heart.  Her past is past chronologically, but its effects are still very much with Britt. Just the name of her former husband is enough to paralyze her with fear.

John Tennessee McCord, known as J. T., is a forty-year-old actor best known for Blood Brothers, a popular television series in which J. T. played a cop, and as half of a super couple that ruled as media darlings for five years (in the tradition of Bennifer and Brangelina). But Blood Brothers is seen only in reruns nearly a decade after its final episode, the super couple is history, and J. T.’s recent films, although they have won him critical acclaim, have not been commercial successes. He is hopeful that The Rush, the new TV series set in the California Gold Rush in which he is set to star, will be received more warmly. On his way to a friend’s wedding, he decides to check out the site where The Rush will be filmed. His truck breaks down in Hellcat Canyon, and what was meant to be a brief stay becomes an extended one.

Britt and J.T. meet when he stops at the Misty Cat. The scene that introduces J. T. is just one example of the brilliance of Long’s word craft in this book as she evokes the hero of an old-time Western, has Britt draw the comparison, and ends with a simple statement that awards J. T. that heroic stature. The attraction between Britt and J. T. is immediate, but it involves more than physical appeal. They appreciate one another’s intelligence and ready wit from the first, and as they get to know one another better, the attraction encompasses all the dimensions of the persons they are. J. T.’s celebrity world intrudes on their idyll, bringing complications in the guise of a long-time frenemy and J. T.’s glamorous and scheming ex, but it is Britt’s fears that are the biggest obstacle to their HEA.

When Julie Anne Long announced that her next book after the long-awaited Legend of Lyon Redmond would be a contemporary romance, I went into mourning. Her historical romances have been a highlight of my reading year for more than a decade, and while I did not doubt that her contemporary romance would be written with her usual skill and grace, I did question if it could possibly compare to the Pennyroyal Green books. My worries were wasted. Hot in Hellcat Canyon showcases this author’s deft characterization, attention-grabbing plots, and wondrous prose—all the qualities that made me love her historicals.

Words are inadequate to express my delight in watching Britt and J. T. fall in love. First, there is the fact that these are characters who have lived. Their years have developed their characters, and neither is defined by one bad love affair. Even more rewarding is the fact that they are fully dimensional characters, and the progress of their relationship involves all these dimensions. I loved that J. T. is initially intrigued by Britt’s use of “enigmatic” in conversation. The sexual tension is high and the love scenes sizzle, but there is a refreshing absence of the insta-lust that too often prevails in current contemporary romance. When Britt thinks about her first encounter with J. T., her thoughts are anything but generic sexual longing. They are specific to Britt and J. T., and for readers, they touch what Faulkner called the “resonant strings of remembering.”

Because from the moment he’d walked in, it was as if someone had dialed the universe up a notch: all the colors were just a little brighter and everything seemed more distinct and more beautiful, and her very blood seemed to buzz.

And oh, that first kiss. I do love an author who understands how important that scene is. Long had already won a place on my best-first-kiss scenes ever with What I Did for a Duke (2011), but I think this one is even better. To give you just a brief sample . . .

And then her eyes closed, and magically, as if they both knew this was the next step in the dance, they were leaning into each other, and his lips leisurely, softly brushed across hers. It was the kind of caress, he knew from experience, that let all of your other nerve endings know that mind-blowing pleasure was on its way. 

The humor is another delight, and it ranges from subtle wit to physical comedy. I particularly loved J. T.’s reaction to the girly bread-and-breakfast and Britt and friend as inebriated artists. Although Long keeps the focus on the romance, she also shows the reader Hellcat Canyon as a physical place and as a community. It is as if the reader is watching as a gifted painter creates a landscape or a brilliant cinematographer captures the features and the faces. Only the medium this artist uses is words. From the pets to the jerks to the town eccentrics, the secondary and tertiary characters are individuals who have their own stories. With enthusiasm and eagerness, I await whichever of those Hellcat Canyon stories Long chooses to tell in coming months and years. 

I give Hot in Hellcat Canyon my highest recommendation. I’ve read it twice, and writing this review has left me hungry to read it again. If you love contemporary romance, be sure this one is on your TBR list. I have the feeling that it will be showing up on many lists at year’s end.

~Janga



15 comments:

  1. Oh my! So excited this has glowing review. I have been looking forward to Julie's new one for months but biting my nails at the same time. Will she bring that amazing writing to a contemporary? Will get characters draw me in? Needless to say, it's pre ordered!

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    1. Hope, I shared your concerns but no more. I've read an advanced copy and it's flawless. Everything I loved about Long's writing in historical romance is still there in this contemporary. It's one of my best books of 2016. Like Janga, I've already read it multiple times and fall more in love with these characters and their story with each reading.

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  2. Wow, Janga, great review! I just went and pre-ordered it. I am so in the mood for a good contemporary. I also just finished SEP's WHAT I DID FOR LOVE and am kind of in the mood to read about actors/celebrities again. So, this is perfect. I really like that he's 40 and a little older than our average hero. I'm realizing that the older, wiser, "knows what's important in life" hero is turning into my catnip. Thanks for the rec!

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    1. I'm glad to see more authors bringing us the "seasoned" heroes. I adored Britt and J.T. As sad as I was by the news that JAL was moving from historical to contemporary, I'm now over-the-moon in love with her contemporary voice. Excellence is excellence, no matter where or when your story takes place. Since you like older heroes, you might be interested in the new Roxanne St. Claire contemporary romance I finished last night. It's the first in her new Barefoot Bay Timeless trilogy that focuses on heroes and heroines in their 30's and 40's. In this first book, the hero is a sexy widower in his late 40's and the heroine is a jilted first-time bride in her late 30's. I loved it! The book, Barefoot at Sunset is schedule to be released in June.

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    2. Sounds perfect PJ! For some reason I'm really liking the older man/younger woman (over 25) set-up. I love when he thinks he's too old for love and she is surprised to find a guy who is mature and has his head on straight. Maybe it's a twist on the alpha male I love so much - honest, in control, in charge, grown-up but secure enough to be kind and sweet.

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  3. I really like her historicals, so I hope I like the contemporaries. Judith McNaught and Lisa Kleypas are two authors that write strongly in both genres. Other authors struggle to adapt to a new genre.

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  4. Wow, I am really excited to read this book!

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  5. Great review! I'm so one-clicking this. Now.

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  6. I got a review in one of the blogs I get and am looking forward to getting this one. thanks for the great review!!

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  7. Well, you sold me. Great review. This is actually how I find new authors. You can tell when someone really loves a book. This book is the first on my to buy list.

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  8. I just finished reading it tonight--and the black moments were SO BLACK and the groveling was so ROMANTIC and that speech he gave. *swoon* I cannot wait for further books in this series and am STOKED that the next book will have the sheriff and the girl at open mike night. But I want books for Casey and Kayla and even Franco--I really want one for Franco. *LOL* I even want a book for Truck. This is going to be as brilliant a series as the Pennyroyal Green series. I want to read it again; I want to highlight my favorite passages; I want to write odes to Julie Anne Long.

    I hope everyone reads this book.

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  9. I have pre-ordered this book. I can't think of a book that has been given such a wonderful review that everyone can't seem to just read it once.

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  10. You are adorable!! I'm so THRILLED you felt that way about HOT IN HELLCAT CANYON! Thank you so much for reading it. I can't wait for you to read WILD AT WHISKEY CREEK, too! ;) Franco has a role in that book, too. Hee! I'm going to share your comment on Facebook.

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  11. I got it tonight from the store hope to start it soon.

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