The first in Denise Hunter’s new Blue Ridge Romance series had me feeling a little off kilter as a reader. Somehow having what is usually a painful past that a character is looking to put behind them was more immediate than I’ve typically found in Christian fiction, resulting in a book that felt more like general women’s fiction with a few nods to faith thrown in.
While the portrayal and references to infidelity, pre-marital sex, pre-marital cohabitation were done in a way that is pretty respectful of the sensibilities of readers used to less edgy content in their fiction, and the physical and mental abuse suffered by the heroine was not shown in an excessively brutal way, I just couldn’t get comfortable with this story where faith seems more like passing thoughts.
This is a novel with a rather melancholy air, reminding me of slow moving movies with Southern settings, unsettling events and unsatisfying endings (but without the unsatisfying ending). The town of Copper Creek comes off as much more oppressive than it did in the related novel, Sweetbriar Cottage (review), even with the welcome cameos of the familiar couple from that story.
Copper Creek was nestled down in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains. Some might say the town was a throwback to simpler days, but for Zoe the memories of home were a conflicting cocktail of bliss and misery. Heavy on misery. (p.3)
Now, the leading couple had their share of issues and I excused quite a bit of their stupidity as “oh, they were so young,” but the story had me waffling back and forth between rolling my eyes and trying to root for them.
Zoe felt, more than saw, the entrance door swing open. Her heart gave a sturdy punch as Cruz crossed the threshold, scanning the crowd. He looked like every country girl’s dream in his plaid button-down and worn blue jeans. (p.28)
Zoe Collins is a young, single mother who sings back-up for her controlling boyfriend’s band. Returning home after her Aunt’s death to find that she has inherited a farm with a peach orchard, she finally breaks with him and slowly starts to rebuild an amicable relationship with her ex, Cruz Huntley, who manages the place. The best friend of her brother, Cruz was the Puerto Rican boy from the wrong side of the tracks that her father would never approve of. For five years she has kept the secret of his fatherhood from him, but he soon realizes that Gracie is his. What neither of them realize is how far Zoe’s boyfriend will go to get her back.
He’d fight her dragons, every last one of them, and she didn’t even have to ask. It had been true then, and it was true now. (p.45)
Despite some great lines and touches of humor, I struggled to enjoy what is really a nicely written book. The pacing was well done, the plotting was fine with a few scenes of danger, but it just left me cold. Of far more interest are the secondary characters of Brady Collins, coping with weekend fatherhood to an infant and having to deal with an unreliable ex-wife, and Zoe’s always supportive best friend Hope. I found myself wishing that we could veer away from Zoe and Cruz and focus on their best friends, who have also been friends for years. The possibility of a story between these two seemed potentially more interesting.
Contemporary fiction is not my favorite, and this may have something to do with my reaction. In a way, after reflecting a bit, this storyline hit me the same as a slightly similar book, Falling Like Snowflakes, from a previous trilogy by this author. It may be that it was those similarities that dampened my enjoyment. And hopefully, like that book, I will have a completely different reaction to the ones that follow. So, perhaps this is a novel that will appeal to those who enjoy a bittersweet contemporary romance with nominal Christianity.
Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter (A Blue Ridge Romance, #1) | Thomas Nelson, November 2017 | paperback, 336 pages
This review refers to a finished copy received for review from Thomas Nelson and Zondervan’s Fiction Guild. All opinions expressed are my own.
From the Publisher:
Former free spirit Zoe Collins swore she’d never again set foot in Copper Creek or speak to the man who broke her heart. But return she must when her beloved Granny dies, leaving the family legacy to Zoe—a peach orchard nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
When Zoe returns home with her daughter and boyfriend Kyle, she finds that she’s the only person in town who doesn’t expect her to give up the life she’s established far away from Copper Creek. Everyone believes she was born to run the orchard, but how can she make it her home after so many years?
Cruz Huntley never quite got over his first love, Zoe Collins, the little sister of his best friend Brady. Not when she cheated on him during their “break,” not when she took off to parts unknown with good-for-nothing Kyle Jenkins, and not even now—five years later.
As life-changing decisions and a history with Cruz hang over Zoe’s head, tensions rise between her and Kyle. Even as she comes to terms with the shifting relationships in her life, Zoe still isn’t sure if she can remain in Copper Creek with her new responsibilities . . . and her first love.