Friday, November 29, 2019

Review: Herons Landing

There are two types of contemporary romance readers: those who turn up their nose at category and novellas because they're "too short" and those who look at single titles and think, "Dear Lord, how much filler crap am I going to have to wade through to get to the good bits?"  If you've been following this blog for any length of time you'll know I'm definitely the latter.  And yet?  I still occasionally dip my toes into the single title contemporary pool looking for...I'm not sure exactly.  One that doesn't make me feel like I'm wading through filler, I guess?  Herons Landing by JoAnn Ross is the first book in her Honeymoon Harbor series that sort of read like it was probably spun off another series.  While there's plenty of "filler" in this story, I'm here to tell you that if you love world-building and you love small town contemporaries?  This one is very, very good.  Even a hater like me has to recognize.

Brianna Mannion is in the hospitality business, a concierge at a ritzy Las Vegas resort/casino. She's used to the comically bizarre,  but after a run-in with a guest she not-so-lovingly dubs "Dr. Dick," she quits her job and heads home to Honeymoon Harbor, a quaint small town in the Pacific Northwest.  "Dr. Dick" was the final straw and when she sees a grand Victorian home that she's been obsessed with her entire life, Herons Landing, up for sale?  She takes it as a sign.  She's going home to open her own bed & breakfast - and for that she needs a contractor to help her restore the old gal to her former glory.

The best contractor in town is Seth Harper, her former childhood crush.  Like, serious crush.  Brianna has been pining after this guy since she was in short pants.  But Seth only had eyes for her BFF, Zoe - who went to nursing school on the Army's dime and was killed in a hospital bombing in Afghanistan.  That was two years ago and Seth is still heavily grieving. His routine of getting through the days, weeks and months since Zoe's death is so consistent that the town residents can set their watches by what Seth is doing at that moment.  Seth is at Quinn Mannion's brewery picking up dinner, so it must be 6:00PM on a Tuesday.  He's still got Zoe's car in the garage.  This guy might as well have "no fly zone" stamped on his forehead.

Brianna was Zoe's BFF and Seth is still mourning - so they share in that grief.  But as they begin to work on Herons Landing they are reminded of how much they think alike, how much they have in common, and naturally what happens in romance novels starts happening between Seth and Zoe.

Look, I'm going to be brutally honest.  If you strip out all the small town "stuff" from this book the romance between Seth and Zoe is essentially category romance length.  Like, probably the length of a Harlequin Desire (around 200 pages).  It's kind of frustrating actually because while I do think the author does eventually get there with the ending, I wanted a lot more of Seth working through his grief to see Brianna standing on the other side.  In the end I have every confidence that Seth is ready to move on - that he'll always love Zoe - but Brianna is a new happiness, a promising future if only he can get past his survivor's guilt.  I just wanted more lead-up getting to that point.

Ah, but that small town "stuff."  I have a low tolerance for such shenanigans, often suffering from cutesy overload - but Ross's world-building is so, so good.  Her characters are interesting without being overly saccharine.  She teases that some characters have a "past" that could become fodder for later books.  Plus she includes some added drama with Seth's parents - whose marriage has hit the skids. It's really clever - showing another side to Seth's character through his parents' pasts.

It did feel overly long to me at times and I did feel the pacing (especially early going) took a while to get anywhere - but oh how it pays off in the end.  Because y'all know what happens right?  Seth is a jackass, Brianna gets her heart broken, and the emotional aftermath that plays out is gut-wrenching.  Like cold-hearted Wendy almost leaked out some tears while listening to the final chapters of the audiobook gut-wrenching.

So, yeah.  Look.  I'm probably never going to be a reader to fully embrace long-ass single title contemporaries and I've never completely gotten on board with the small town contemporary craze - but folks, if this is your jam?  This book is a good one.  And the set-up of the series is also very promising.  Even I'm invested, which is saying something.

Final Grade = B


Vassiliki said...

I am completely with you as I too can't stand wading through filler drivel. I am also not a fan of small town contemporaries/quaint English village romance, though I have a higher tolerance for them than the Australian equivalent of rural romance. Perhaps because I can have some cognitive dissonance as to the reality of life outside of cities and urban places. And you very nearly sold me on this one but I might have to pass as I can barely read a standard category without getting bored these days.

azteclady said...

I am basically not reading these days ::sobs:: but you have sold me to try this one when I start reading again (goes on the wish list though, since the TBR Cordillera already spans the globe)

Wendy said...

Vassiliki: I'm sitting here trying to think of a single title contemporary that I enjoyed that I didn't take my mental red pen to. Even the good ones I want to edit down to category length.

AL: For readers who LOVE these sorts of books, I'd tell them to drop their life and give this first one a whirl. For pessimists like you and me? LOL It has some of the same issues I tend to have with this sub genre as a whole, but there's enough high points and Ross is a pro. It didn't convert me but I plan on cherry-picking my way through the series to get to the books featuring the secondary characters I was most intrigued by.