Showing posts with label Julia London. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Julia London. Show all posts

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.
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.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: One Season of Sunshine by Julia London

Adopted as an infant, Jane Aaron longs to know the identity of her birth mother and why she gave her up. Her only clue is the name of the small Texas town where she was born, so she’s come to Cedar Springs for answers.

Handsome ad executive Asher Price lost his wife, the beautiful, mysterious Susanna, in a terrible car crash eighteen months ago. When he hires Jane as the nanny for his two children, sparks fly. Jane finds herself falling in love with both Asher and his children, but begins to suspect that Susanna was not the perfect mother and wife the family portrays her to have been.

As Jane gets closer and closer to finding out the truth about both her own and Susanna’s past, devastating secrets begin to emerge that may be more than anyone can bear. Will the truth bring Jane and Asher closer together or tear them apart forever?
One Season of Sunshine by Julia London is supposed to be a contemporary romance, and in many ways it is, but there's more to it. I would say this book is a combination women's fiction/contemporary romance.

Jane is a 30-year-old woman who was adopted at birth and is driven to find her birth mother. She has a great life -- a wonderful, loving family, a great career as a teacher, and a loving boyfriend in Jeremy. Yet she leaves it all behind and moves to Cedar Springs, the small town where she was born, to find out who she really is. Jane can't seem to move on with her life until she uncovers that piece of her that seems to be missing. After her move to Cedar Springs, Jane lands a temporary job working for Asher Price as a live-in nanny to his two children, Riley a 12-year-old girl and Adam a 5-year-old boy. The children lost their mother Susanna in a terrifying car accident and Asher owns a business that demands much of his time. He leads a life full of guilt and loneliness. Things progress from there.

This is an all around difficult story with likable and not-so-likable characters. London is actually quite ambitious in her exploration of serious subjects in this book: adoption, death of a spouse, bipolar disorder, guilt-ridden father, traumatized children, dysfunctional families and a romance to tie it all up. First we have Jane, whose sole purpose seems to be "finding herself" no matter the cost. She is portrayed as a woman who at times seems lost, ambivalent and often self-centered while on her quest. Throughout her journey Jane knowingly hurts the people who love her, and while her needs are understandable, her actions are often questionable.

We then have Asher, his traumatized children and his marriage to Susanna. All three are key to this story as are the characters. Asher is portrayed as a man who adores his children but who is pulled in all different directions due to his business commitments. He carries more baggage than an Airline on an overbooked flight. Asher feels guilt because he can't be there with his children who are obviously traumatized by their mother's death and his continued absence, he is lonely and depressed after a horrible and unsatisfactory marriage, and he's surrounded by self-centered people who are detrimental to his children's welfare. There are a lot of toxic people surrounding this family.

Susanna, although dead, is definitely a big part of this story. Through her character, London explores the long-term effects that bipolar disorder has on the family. The children, especially Riley whose character is well defined in this book, are featured prominently and their problems are well integrated both with the overall story and the romance.

Frankly I didn't know how Jane and Asher were going to work things out until the end. The romance between them took a while to get going, although the attraction was there from the beginning. The romance itself worked for me on some levels because London didn't give these flawed characters an easy romance or an easily obtained happily ever after.

One Season of Sunshine turned out to be one of those books full of flawed characters, questionable actions and complex subjects, yet I read it in one sitting and became invested in both the story and the characters. I wanted to know what happened to them all and once I finished the book they stayed with me for a while -- that was unexpected. Definitely an interesting read.

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: None
Released: June 29, 2010
Grade: B

Visit Julia London here.