by Rochelle Alers, contemporary (2012)
Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-0138-0
Angels Landing returns to Cavanaugh Island, this time around the story taking place in the patch of land that shares the same name as the title of this book. Just like the first book in the series, Sanctuary Cove, this one is more about small town living and romance with minimal suspense elements.
This time around, we have Kara Newell, a social worker who is reaching a breaking point where her job is concerned. With all the stress building up and threatening to drive her crazy, she gets a chance to take a break when she is summoned to the estate of the late Taylor Patton in Angels Landing for the reading of the deceased's will. Kara has never heard of that man until now, but yikes, it turns out that she is his biological daughter. When she shows up at that place, she learns that the man has left her almost all of his entire fortune. Needless to say, Taylor's relatives are not amused.
Just like in too many romance novels that features a will as a plot device, Kara's fortune comes with a catch: she has to stay there for five years and, this is the big one, she has to rebuild the estate into what it was before Taylor's late wife let the place fall into disrepair. She is more than happy to explore the possibility of settling down in that place, however, because Kara has always felt lonely and she'd like to have a big family. Never mind that the other Patton folks would happily show her their collective middle fingers, she's all about the love and what not.
Oh, and then there's Jeffrey Hamilton, an ex-Marine who has come home to become the sheriff. He and Kara soon realize that they are attracted to each other. She's not sure about hooking up with a guy from Cavanaugh Island, however, since she's not sure whether she'd be staying there long, while he's drifted through life without forming strong attachments to other women in his life. Both do not expect anything to happen between them, but life can be full of surprises.
The good thing about this story is that there is a sweet slow-burning romance between two likable characters. Their respective baggage isn't too deep or heavy, just enough to prolong the story without the whole thing come off as forced or fake. The characters are in many ways stereotypes. Kara has very few friends that aren't sequel bait material, she doesn't have much of a social or love life, and she is all about the usual happy claptrap about family. But still, her character development does not hinge on the hero loving her, so that's something worth appreciating. Jeffrey, meanwhile, is pretty much a standard romance hero with nothing much to distinguish him from his kind, although he's a nice guy without any pretensions or issues. He has commitment issues, yes, but he's not emo about them.
Just take note that there is an element of "the woman always shoulder the blame or has to do all the compromising" finger-pointing here. For example, a secondary character is dumped by his girlfriend when he finally decides to propose to her after five years of refusing to give her a commitment. This woman understandably has found another man to give her what she needs, and the conclusion as presented by Jeffrey to Kara, to which Kara seems to agree with (at least, she doesn't protest), is that the woman is at fault because she had been sending "mixed signals" to that man in the last five years. Jeffrey gives Kara the surly face for not wanting to give everything up to be with him, and the author has set things up so that Kara will happily drop everything in her life for him in order for the happily ever after to take place. I can overlook such sentiments once or twice, but it's pretty obvious in this story how women are depicted as good people for making their men happy or villains for doing otherwise.
Kara's feelings about her new family are also on the befuddling side. She doesn't even know about the Patton clan until a week before the will was read, but all of a sudden, she is blaming her mother for not telling her about her father. It's not like she doesn't know the history, so I'm surprised that she actually expects her mother to say to her, "Hey, Kara! Did you know that you were born as a result of a painful love affair that didn't go anywhere, and the man you thought to be your friend is that stupid, er, gentlemanly nice guy that married me because he loves me, even after I cheated on him and ended up pregnant with another man's son!" Kara is too quick to blame her mother when it takes two to conceive Kara and break off the affair, and for what? Most of her new family don't like her. Her mother and the man she married gave her a good life, so why is Kara talking about feeling lonely and in search of a family? Much about Kara's motivation with regards to her inheritance doesn't make sense to me.
One one hand, Angels Landing really comes alive in this story. The history is fascinating, especially when it comes to the lurid soap opera that is the Patton family history. It also helps that Ms Alers has cut down significantly on the tedious history textbook-style information dumping present in the previous book. There is still plenty of information dumping here, but it's integrated more smoothly into the narrative.
On the other hand, information dumping is still information dumping, and as a result, much of this story comprises scenes after scenes of our heroine meeting and getting a lecture from various secondary characters here. It seems after a while that everyone in this place can't wait to share their life story and family history at the drop of a hat. Why can't the author incorporate all this information dumping into the story via other means, for example, having Kara playing a more active role in discovering the details by maybe checking the local library or investigating the origins of some old diary? Anything, I'm sure, has to be more interesting than Kara going from one place to another to be lectured by various people.
The suspense, by the way, is horrible - pure filler at its most obvious. All of a sudden late in the story, dangerous things happen to the heroine, and the villain is unmasked in the very scene that he shows up in for the first time, and the resolution is pretty much brought upon by chance. This deflating anticlimax is introduced into the story as an extension of Ms Alers's scree from the previous book - land developers are nasty people who just want to build golf courses and shopping malls for rich people. Oh, and banks should burn for not being more understanding when people can't pay up, because it is more important that people get to keep their family homes.
I can relate to some of these things - I'm never fond of the way banks work myself - but I also wonder why it is so important to cling to a white elephant when your family desperately need money to keep going. It's not easy to sell the family home in such a circumstance, but life isn't fair, and sometimes we have to do what we have to do. Does that make the party that buys our family home evil? I don't think so. The blame is laid on the feet of developers for buying the land - nothing is said about those who sold the land. The poor land developers are clearly the "women" in this story - the convenient punching bag to pin blame on when things get rough. Ms Alers offers a very simplistic view of things from her soapbox, and this over-simplification actually makes it harder for me to have much sympathy for the supposed good guys in the story.
In conclusion, there is a sweet romance in Angels Landing. The author's reliance on her usual fondness for information dumping as a substitute for actual storytelling however ensures that there are many things about this story that are more average than good. Sweet, yes, but very average and, ultimately, forgettable.
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