Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-239761-4
Contemporary Romance, 2016
Hot in Hellcat Canyon is a contemporary romance. Understandable, as any author who spent the last 300 years writing nothing but romances set in the same setting in the 19th century would surely want a change of scenery. But, this is the first book in a series set in this place called Hellcat Canyon, so if we are still in that same place 300 years down the road, I think it is safe to say that maybe the universe has set a date for the apocalypse for a good reason.
This one is a romance between a TV star and a waitress in a small town. The waitress fled her past to find a quiet existence in this place, while the guy is looking for something that he cannot find in the vapid artifice of his life in LA. Well, stop me if you have read this before, because, why yes, you have read this before.
For a while, I harbored hopes that the author would switch things up. For one, John Tennessee McCord (“JT” to you and everyone else) is not a “superstar” like the synopsis on the back cover states – his last big role was a lead in a TV series that ended ten years ago. Since then, he is struggling to have a box office hit, and as the clock ticks, his marketability dwindles. Things are looking up, though, as he has finally snagged a lead role in a new TV series – one that could be his triumphant comeback. But first, he has to attend a wedding, and he makes a stop at Hellcat Canyon, only to meet the attractive, if somewhat reserved, waitress Britt Langley.
Britt, for a change, isn’t a single mom or someone fleeing an abusive psycho ex who would show up waving a gun at the penultimate moment of the story. And she is more than happy to have sex with a hot guy, especially when he is certain to leave town shortly after and she doesn’t have to see him again. But she still doesn’t recognize him, so it’s not like she is breaking every trope associated with a small town heroine who manages to get a star to put a ring on her finger.
Unfortunately, this story is slow. No, really, this one is so slow that I actually fell asleep at one point. I remember that clearly because I had this weird dream. Maybe because this story is as slow as a The Bachelor marathon after the villain has been booted, I dreamed of the current The Bachelorette villain, the gloriously, entertainingly insane Chad Johnson, dancing a stripper dance to the Talking Heads’s This Must Be the Place while wearing only a pair of speedo and twirling the dismembered head of the whiny, annoying Evan Bass in one hand. I woke up wondering whether I need medications – I blame everything on this book. As I resumed reading, I confess that I wished I could go back to sleep if only to see how that dream would end, and I am telling you this only because you don’t know my real name or where I live.
This book is slow because… I don’t know, maybe it’s because, early on, I am introduced to so many characters that I am half-tempted to take down notes just to keep track of them all. The author describes the scenery in so much detail, to the point that it seems to take a few chapters for a character to go from one place to the place next door. Even later, much of the story just goes on and on while I fight back a yawn now and then – I think it’s because the author is taking her time with a story that feels so much like every other small town girl snagging an LA boy story out there. The same insecurities, the same white-washed LA guy who seems to have no sins at all, and a happy ending that has me thinking that the whole thing would last only until the hero gets a starring role opposite Angelina Jolie in some movie down the road. I perk a little when the characters finally have sex, hoping that things will pick up after, but alas, the humping bodies are the only moments of activity here that do not drag – everything else insists on moving at a lethargic pace.
Even more disappointingly, the author resorts to the played out premise that LA is all vapid and shallow… and uses women that enjoy that kind of thing to exemplify this. Yes, the hero’s ex and some hussy that wants to have sex with him are portrayed as the embodiment of all that is wrong with fame. Sorry, ladies, in romance novels only men can do that “I have sex with many, many, many people that I have no intention of marrying” – like JT had done when he was more famous – without being labelled as a shallow skank. Look at Britt, she is so nice and virtuous, she considers tabloid articles “clickbait trash” and only seeks out gossip on JT because that’s the closest romance heroines can go to experiencing self-induced orgasms without once again labelled as a shallow skank. The fact that she’s putting out like those supposedly shallow skanks, with equal ease too, is somehow supposed to be different because… I don’t know, maybe because Britt is the romance heroine?
Just once, it would be nice to read about a heroine who knows her Hollywood gossips and views the artifice of fame as something to be amused or to get cynical over, rather than blaming beautiful famous actresses for everything wrong about LA while lusting after the hot leading men in that place. The whole thing just feels so… hypocritical at best and at worst, reading such stories always makes me feel like I’m supposed to this sexually frustrated housewife who just hates beautiful women for getting those hot guys that I desperately yearn for. And each time I feel this way, I think I lose a big chunk of my brain cells, and I really don’t want that to happen because I don’t want to get dementia later on.
Anyway, Hot in Hellcat Canyon is excruciatingly slow as well as being as trite and clichéd as can be in its core. The characters have their moments, but they are playing out a very familiar tale so I have a hard time caring for them. If reading this story feels any way hot, it’s because I forgot to switch on the air-conditioner earlier, and Chad Johnson does look very nice without his shirt on.