Did you ever start book one of a series, or of a new to you author, and a few pages in, you’ve got to take a break and log in to your library and see how many of their other books you can put on hold? Yeah, so that was me, about fifteen pages into Hot In Hellcat Canyon, a contemporary romance, by Julie Anne Long. And it turns out, Ms. Long is not exactly a new to me author – Goodreads tells me I have, in fact, read one of her historicals (I Kissed an Earl), and that I immediately then added the rest of that series to my “want to read” shelf, but was, at the time, lacking a library card, and so the rest of the books have so-far gone unread.
I can assure you that this will be remedied right quick, now that I’ve got a library card again.
Because Hot in Hellcat Canyon was 99.9% my cup of tea. Grown ass hero & heroine who – shockingly rare in so many books – act like the actual adults they are at least 90% of the time. Relationships complicated by issues that actual humans encounter, even if not quite on the scale a Hollywood movie star (the hero, John Tennessee McCord) might. Women with complicated emotions and backstories that make them neither the victim or the angel of their own stories (our heroine, Britt Langley). Enough low-hanging sequel bait to make me wish my local library had a better Overdrive account. And nearly enough sarcasm and quick wit to please a dialogue loving reader like myself.
The book had a genuine, sweet sense of romanticisim that is too-often lacking from books in the romance genre – not the achingly, lovely-dovey overtly over sweetness, but those “Oh, that little moment where he appreciates her intelligence make my heart ache” and “I full-out smiled when she noticed a tiny thing that made a big difference to him in the long run” kind of scenes that make a book more perfect. And then there are women being friends in ways that also made me want to cry – not the forced & overly sweet ‘we always get along and like each other’ type of friends, but that real, true, ‘I can hate your guts right now, but still miss you and love you to pieces and also protect you when you’re not looking’ type of relationships that are definitely realistic to any of us who have sisters.
And, somewhere near the middle of the book, the whole thing was just about RUINED, because the two main characters started to have this conversation about life, and luck, and success and failure that is literally one of the most mature things I’ve ever read in a novel, and I immediately started freaking out, because it was so right, and true, and perfect, but it was also in the MIDDLE of the book, which meant, they were probably going to blow it all up somehow, and I almost had to stop reading right there, I was so upset at just the idea of them f-ing it up. They did. Of course. But they also fixed it. And I’m glad I saw it through, but it was a close call – there are very few authors I know/like well enough to trust that even if they’re going to blow it all up they’ll know how to put it back together in an acceptable (to me) manner – which is to say, that they blow it up without taking it too far, without saying or doing things you know no real life human would be able to forgive or get over, etc. I may not trust Long that way yet, but I’m definitely going to give her more chances to prove she can do it this well again.
The conversation in question was about how you put in all this hard work, and you follow the rules, or you’re a good person who tries hard, and eventually you have some successes in your life, and you think that they’re because of all that, because of all you are and all you’ve done. But then you fail, and it’s almost impossible to understand how that happens, because… you’re still the same person! You’re still good, or a hard worker, or kind to strangers and small animals, and somehow, your life has fallen apart anyways?? And that’s … not how it’s supposed to work?!? And how, eventually, you just realize, that … that’s just how life is. That it’s unfair, or unjust in some ways, and that it’s never going to balance out anyhow, and so you learn to be a good person ANYways. In spite of all that. Not because you have to, in order to get a certain result – because that’s never going to happen – but just because you want to be a good person – the kind who tries, who loves, who lives, who does whatever – that even though there’s no guarantee of good outcomes, that doesn’t stop good people from living good lives. Which reminded me of one of my favorite quotes of all time –
“Life is weird and annoying for geeks like me, because it doesn’t adhere to logic a lot of the time. It’s a wild Seussian machine. We put in Hard Work and Passion and Money and expect to get back Success, when we’re just as likely to get back Failure or Wild Monkeys or Surprise Baby. The hell of it is, we are told by the culture, our parents, ourselves, that Life is a logical machine. Now, sure, it’s really rare to put Nothing into the machine and get Success back from it, so it makes sense to load the machine with good stuff, but sometimes it’s just going to shoot out a giraffe at you.” Commander Logic, December 2011, How to Get Unstuck
– but also just really, really impressed me as far as the absolute maturity and humanity of this hero and this heroine. Which doesn’t mean they still don’t have super steamy sexy fun times, or that they aren’t complete assholes to each other every now and again, but doesn’t that just make my point even more?
I know a lot of people, myself included, read for escapism. To get away from the ordinary and everyday. But if the characters aren’t rooted there? In the muck and mire of what makes people people? Then I never manage to get far enough into the story to follow them anywhere at all.
I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy following Ms. Long’s characters for quite a while.