Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-267288-9
Contemporary Romance, 2017
Despite what the title Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap may lead you to think, this one is far from being an erotic romance as one can get. It’s basically a reunion romance story, with Avalon Harwood and Maximilian “Mac” Coltrane having a thing in their teenage years before he became some hot road jock of a chick-magnet, some harsh words were exchanged, and she decided to just cut bait and head on out of town for something better. She was right – he missed her greatly in the years since, and he never know what he had lost until, well, he’d lost her.
That was then. As an adult, Avalon is a successful CEO of a mobile app publishing company, having had a runaway hit in what seems like… a college simulator app? I’m not really sure, and I don’t see the appeal of such an app unless I get to kill them off like I do with the toons on The Sims, but hey, that’s just me. She comes back to Hellcat Canyon to regain her balance after catching her boyfriend and business partner busily giving their intern a private orientation of the horizontal kind. When she realizes that Mac’s family home is up for auction, she just has to almost clear out her savings to buy it. That place has always fascinated her, as it resembles some Gothic fairytale castle, and of course, there are the memories of her and Mac.
Mac’s family has taken a bit of a blow in the coffers since they last met, as his father had a run-in with the law and, well, here he is, a groundsman of Avalon’s new property. Of course the attraction is still there, and what happens next is basically an idyllic story of these two trying to upstage one another in charming ways while various secondary characters show up to monkey around. And that’s it. This is all about humor, chemistry, and banter – like any story featuring two characters who don’t really have to worry about money will turn out to be.
In my reviews of the author’s previous contemporary romances, I noted that I found her usual poetic style a bit lacking when placed in a modern-day setting. Conversations rang false, sometimes stilted, and there was a melodramatic vibe that felt out of place in such a setting. Here. however, everything comes together beautifully. Even the cussing feels natural. And I have to hang it to the author: she is one of those very rare authors who can write about creepy, precious children and teenagers without making me want to go into kill everything mode. Here, the monsters are actually… adorable, oh my goodness. I feel so dirty, admitting that I laugh at how those creepy little girls just put the fear of god in poor Mac as they hound him all over the place.
Mac and Avalon can be quite immature here, but that’s immature in a good, entertaining way. It also helps that Avalon is adorable, sassy, and sometimes precious without being too annoying and – best of all – she is without much of those irritating, contrived neuroses and quirks that often bog down other heroines that want so badly to be quirky and sassy. No contrived weird hang-ups about sex and men here for Avalon. Despite her sitcom heroine personality, there is something real and relatable about her that I like much.
So, why isn’t this book a four-oogie read? You have no idea how much I’ve battled with myself about the final score. But in the end, I have to subtract one oogie for one thing that still befuddles me by the time I reach the last page: Mac. Oh, it’s not that he is a jerk or an ass, it’s just that he spends a lot of time building up a case about atonement and not wanting to be his father, but in the end, I realize that… well, let’s just that I end up feeling that Mac’s issues have been overblown into something far bigger and complicated than they actually are. Plus, making him having a source of money in the end despite acting all this while like he’s the most hard up bloke ever feels like a cop-out resolution.
Still, Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap is actually the first book that makes me look forward to the rest of Julie Anne Long’s dabbling in contemporary romance. Her usual whimsical way with emotions finally translate to this setting in near-perfect clarity, and the characters are adorable all around. Now give me a story that has a bit more kick to it, and we’d be golden.