Wednesday, April 16, 2014

TBR Review: A Light at Winter's End (Cedar Springs #3) by Julia London

In 2010 I enjoyed reading One Season of Sunshine (Cedar Springs #2) by Julia London, so when the last book of the trilogy, A Light at Winter's End released in 2011, I purchased it right away. Unfortunately as you can see, it has been sitting in my TBR for a long time. I thought this would be a perfect choice for April's TBR Challenge read since the theme happens to be contemporary romance.
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A Light at Winter's End is not what I would consider a pure contemporary romance, but a combination of contemporary romance and women's fiction. It is my opinion that London maintains a good balance between the romance and fiction throughout this novel.

Two years after Wyatt Clark (Summer of Two Wishes, Book #1) lost his wife Macy to first husband Finn, he's back at Cedar Springs, Texas, but he is not the same man. Wyatt has basically become a hermit whose days consist of working his ranch, living in an unkept house, and keeping company with his dog. The only ray of sunshine in Wyatt's life is his baby girl Gracie whom he sees on weekends as arranged with ex-wife Macy, now pregnant with Finn's child. So Wyatt is no longer a refined land developer, but a rough cowboy numb to the world around him, still traumatized by Macy's choice. A clueless Macy who "just wants to be his friend." (By the way, this woman got on my nerves, kind or not she needed to back off!) That slowly changes after Holly Fisher and her nine month old nephew Mason move to the old Fisher family homestead that borders Wyatt's ranch. So that's how it all begins for Wyatt, who starts by giving Holly tips on how to care for Mason and quickly becomes aware of her beauty and sparkling personality. He begins to thaw out after a scorching kiss takes them both by surprise during a play date with the babies.

But this story is written from three different perspectives: Wyatt's, Holly's, and her sister Hannah's. There's a reason for that. Holly's story really begins along with Hannah's and later becomes tangled with Wyatt's. As in One Season of Sunshine, Julia London really focuses on how family dysfunction and the resulting heavy baggage affects all kind of relationships (including romantic ones), and fills this novel with some seriously flawed characters.

Peggy Fisher dies after a long struggle with cancer and leaves the Fisher homestead to Holly in her Will. Holly's sister Hannah resents this turn of events, particularly since she took care of Peggy throughout the long-term illness while Holly, a struggling country music songwriter, worked in Austin and from her point of view didn't help often enough. But the resentments, distance and hostility between the sisters really began long ago. All of it fed and encouraged by their mother who early on placed unattainable high expectations on "smart, perfect" Hannah, and expected nothing from "lazy," Holly -- demeaning them both and simultaneously building bitter resentment all around.

"Smart, perfect" Hannah's life is not so perfect. An alcoholic addicted to prescription pills, she dumps her baby son Mason on Holly after hitting bottom and making the decision to go to rehab. But, she takes off without explaining to Holly where she's going or why. Holly is livid! The baby's father doesn't want to take responsibility either. So after losing her day job, Holly and Mason end up at the old Fisher homestead where she can write her songs and take care of the baby. Holly meets Wyatt and the two slowly begin to build a relationship that includes the babies, Mason & Gracie.

"Lazy" Holly has been going from job to job and man to man for most of her adult life. She's irresponsible and a perennial procrastinator with a list of personal insecurities a mile long. But the one thing she takes seriously in her life is her music. Forced to take care of Mason, and with Wyatt's help, Holly finds that she is capable of more than she thought, and not only falls in love with gorgeous Wyatt, but with baby Mason and the idea of a family that will include them all. When Hannah returns from rehab, Holly refuses to give the baby to Hannah -- the addict who abandoned her son. Wyatt in the meantime gets caught in the middle, and being loving, understanding and supportive of Holly doesn't seem to be enough for her.

And here is where the different perspectives come in handy, because we get all sides of this not-so-pretty story. For Wyatt, it's a matter of "here we go, my heart is going to be ripped out again," but he never stops being a fantastic character. Holly and Hannah, on the other hand, take turns being sympathetic and hateful characters -- neither is wholly likable in this novel. Neither seems to be capable of understanding or wanting to understand the other. I questioned more than once whether these sisters ever really cared for each other at all -- they were both that self-involved and unforgiving. In this instance, London's characterization is excellent. These are three-dimensional characters, no question about it. I'm just not sure readers will be able to connect with them without taking sides.

Wyatt and Holly's romance is sweet and you can tell that he falls in love with her, and she with him. But, and this is a big but, the reasoning behind their final conflict felt thin. It felt as if it was placed there just so that Hannah could make her big move, and the happy ending for Wyatt and Holly, although truly sweet and romantic, was rushed and the weakest part of this novel. I like Julia London's books, I do. She keeps me engaged and brings excellent issues to the table that she fully develops, -- in this case addiction, family dysfunction, and second chance at love -- her romances tend to stay on the realistic side of the scale, and her characters are not black and white. London doesn't tie up her endings in a pretty bow either, unfortunately in this case things were rushed to do so, and that didn't quite work for me.

Category: Contemporary Romance
Series: Cedar Springs
Publisher/Release Date: Pocket Books/February 2011
Grade: B-

Visit Julia London here.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very good story. It shows how people who seem to be functioning just fine can be terribly dysfunctional and need real help. A most definite book to read. I am enjoying all of Julia's Contemporary stories.

    Kevin Elwood

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