Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 978-1-61923-018-7
Contemporary Romance, 2015
Would you believe that I have never read a long work by Crystal Jordan until now? She’s been writing for ages, but so far our encounters had been in the form of short stories. She has a pretty good track record with me, and Rockies Retreat is keeping to that trend.
Despite the fact that this one is part of an ongoing series, it can stand alone quite well. I mean, I have not read any of the previous stories, and I can understand this one just fine, so I think it’s a pretty good point for people new to the series to jump right in. A reason for its newbie-friendly status is because the main characters are isolated from sequel baits and other secondary characters for a big part of the story.
Laurel Patton is a painter – the artist kind, not the home renovation type – is making a name for herself, and she’s happy. Okay, the bulk of her family not taking her career seriously can be a downer, but she can live with this. When the story opens, she’s off to join The Creative Enclave, a creative people event that sees artists, writers, and the like coming together to mentor one another while living in a commune with no Internet and no cell phone line. The whole thing sounds like hell on earth to me, but hey, that’s why you don’t see me making oil paintings of koala pee-pees or anything of that sort.
Her neighbor is the hot horror author Neil Graves and his daughter. Neil is a widower with commitment issues, because oh, his heart had been stomped on and beaten over even before the wife died, so oh, who would be the one to mend his heart and get him to put a ring on her finger?
Rockies Retreat has some pretty heavy emotional baggage, mostly due to the hero carrying a whole sack of issues with him. But there is a nice degree of lighthearted moments and saucy flirtation to balance the more downbeat moments. Both characters come off as refreshingly sane and normal despite their admittedly familiar issues, and I like that the author manages to make the hero all blue and wounded without being too much of a pity party. I also like that Neil manages to realize that he cannot walk away from Laurel like he initially planned, instead of doing the whole tedious “I must leave and walk away… only to make up with the heroine when we happen to bump again within the last two pages” thing that has been played out by now.
That teenage brat is pretty tolerable too. I have an epiphany while reading this story: authors who want secondary characters to say creepy-cute things about life and such should make those characters teenagers instead of preteen kids. Preteen kids that babble such things never fail to come off as creepy, just one incantation away from being possessed by the devil. On the other hand, teenagers tend to be pretentious and emo more often than not, so when they talk like walking memes, one can argue that every teen talks like that – it’s a Tumblr thing. The worst they can be is annoying, rather than “Call the exorcist and ask him to bring extra-large stakes!” kind of terrifying. See? Crystal Jordan is on the right track when it comes to teens versus creepy kids.
Anyway, Rockies Retreat is a solid read all around. I can’t say that it breaks new grounds in any way, as much of it is familiar territory to folks who read contemporary romances. The author’s treatment of these familiar themes and elements, however, feels fresh and interesting. As a result, she can deliver a few hard punches to the gut with this one.