Thursday, 10 August 2017

#CBR9 Book 72: "True North" by Liora Blake

Page count: 288 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Kate Mosely is a widow living alone and rather lonely in the little town of Crowell, Montana. She more or less runs the local newspaper she inherited from her father (with help from his old business partner), but her small claim to fame is writing a novel that's become a bestseller, much thanks to her persistent and aggressive literary agent, Stephen. Now, hoping to create more buzz for the book, as well as spurring Kate into writing a second novel, he's booked her on several TV appearances in LA.

Kate is to appear first on a prestigious late night talk show, with tons of viewers, and later fly back to go on one of those mid-morning shows aimed mainly at women, where Kate's tragic widow persona should go over especially well with the audience. Kate is rather uncomfortable about leaving her safe haven, but does what she's told and flies to Los Angeles. Before her first appearance, she makes a new friend in Kellan, the utterly flamboyant and supremely confident stylist that Stephen has hired to help her get the exact right image for late night TV. Kellan is absolutely delighted to take Kate under his wing, and dresses her expertly, so all her nervousness disappears.

In the talk show green room, she encounters some rock star she thinks looks very familiar, and is briefly propositioned by one of his band mates before said guy is told to lay off. She asks the producer who the star is before going on stage, and is told by the baffled individual that she just spent time with Trax, one of the most famous musicians in the US at the moment. He plays a mix of rap, rock and punk (I imagined some kind of mix between Eminem and Henry Rollins) and has a decidedly bad boy image, as a former poor kid become super successful. Once Kate is actually on the show, she promotes her book as well she can, but it's only when Trax is being interviewed that things get interesting. Sparks of palpable mutual attraction clearly fly between the small town novelist and the big shot rock star, and both the talk show host and the audience are loving it.

Kate thinks little of it, until Trax, or Trevor Jenkins as he's really called, phones her up the next day, having had his publicity people get her phone number from her agent. He was clearly rather smitten with Kate, and invites her for a date. After a panicked call to Kellan, and a few hours of primping, Kate feels ready to go out with an international rock star, and discovers that he's a very different (and much more dangerously attractive to her) person when he's not being Trax. Clearly quite used to and very tired of women (and men) wanting to spend time with him, date him and use him for his fame and connections, Trevor seems delighted by how completely indifferent Kate is to his celebrity status. They share some rather steamy kisses, but Trevor is a gentleman and doesn't push his luck on the first date. While they had fun, Kate doesn't really believe it's going to go much further.

But to her surprise, Trevor keeps leaves her a voice mail message when she gets home to Montana, checking if she got home ok. He sends her texts, and gets rather annoyed when she doesn't respond to them at first. Kate is still rather taken aback that such a famous, handsome, very charming man seems infatuated with boring old her, but they start up some pretty heavy duty flirting long distance, either over the phone and by text. Kate hasn't really felt attracted to someone since her husband died and she can't imagine that someone as famous as Trevor/Trax feels more than a passing attraction to her. Hence she is rather shocked when he's quite insulted when she returns to LA for her morning talk show appearance without telling him she was going to be in town. He makes it very clear that to him she is not just some diversion to momentarily entertain him, but if she doesn't feel the same way, maybe they won't have a future after all.

As things get more serious, and Kate meets Trevor's family, not to mention he comes to Crowell and meets what's left of hers, there are absolutely complications to their romance. Some early communications misunderstandings and Kate's sustained disbelief that Trevor is actually completely smitten with her are fairly easily worked through. It gets worse when the tabloids start noticing their relationship, and start digging into Kate's tragic back story, twisting it into something ugly that will sell well. Can Trevor persuade Kate that she's not going to ruin his life and career and that he's in fact never going to be happy without her?

As is so often the case, I got this book in an e-book sale several years ago (it came highly recommended on at least one romance review site I follow - and now I see why), and then promptly forgot about it. Only when it fit into one of my countless reading challenges, What's in a Name, where I have to read a book with a title featuring a compass direction, did this book reappear on my radar. I've read my fair share of rock star romances, and usually, they fail to be all that memorable. Most of them are very forgettable. This book, though, sucked me in wholly. I stayed up until way later at night than was entirely advisable and as soon as I had the chance the next day, I finished it happily. Yup, one of those gems that you read in less than 24 hours, from an author I'd never heard of before.

Kate is a great heroine, and three years after her husband's death, she still does grieve deeply for him. To make matters worse, he died in a car accident in winter, while she was behind the wheel, so she tries very hard not to feel guilty, but it's very hard for her. Living in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, it's not exactly easy for her to meet anyone new, but she's still very surprised at the strength of the attraction she suddenly feels for Trevor/Trax when they meet on the talk show. She's also practical and pragmatic, not at all prone to flighty fantasies, and it takes her a long time to believe that his interest in her is genuine and that he wants something serious and long-term, even after such a short acquaintance. Her restraint and scepticism is one of the things that cause problems early on in their romance.

Trevor has clearly lived a hard life, and became famous while he was still fairly young. As young men are wont to do when they come into huge amounts of celebrity and money, he partied pretty seriously hard for a few years, and now has a reputation as one of the bad boys of the music scene. Both he and his family have known their fair share of difficulties and have had a lot of people try to use him or them, and exploit Trevor's fame. He asks Kate some fairly blunt questions on their first dates, and seems absolutely delighted when she can honestly answer all of them, and seems entirely indifferent to his fame. Frankly, the fact that he's so famous is what makes her doubt that he can really be attracted to a nobody like her, but having had easy access to everything he wanted for so long, has made him want things that are real instead. He no longer wants to live a crazy party lifestyle with casual hook-ups, groupies, drugs and alcohol. He wants to take care of his mother and sister, and his orphaned niece and while he doesn't intend to stop making music, he really doesn't want or need to live in the spotlight anymore.

It's always nice to read a romance where the hero is initially more smitten than the heroine, and almost has to persuade her to love him back. I think it makes for an interesting dynamic. The book was a very quick and entertaining read - it gets a bit frustrating in the second half, when Kate decides to go all self-sacrificing and martyr-like to give up her chance of happiness for the good of Trevor, but she eventually comes to her senses and gives pretty good grovel. There are two more books in the series, the next one featuring Trevor's sister and his bandmate Simon (the guy who cheerfully hit on Kate in the green room at the start of the book), who has clearly been head over heals for her for years. The final book is about Kate's sister, who's a pretty cool supporting character in this one, and now that I've discovered Liora Blake, I'm very interested in seeing if the rest of her books are as good as this one.

Judging a book by its cover: I think one of the reasons I was underestimating how enjoyable this book was going to be, was the cover. The headless bodies, with some shirtless dude making sure the man-titty is fully on display, while leaning on his guitar. The turned-away woman, with the baggy flannel shirt and cowboy boots, it all seemed a bit photo-shopped together and not very professional or inviting. As these books appear to be self-published, I maybe shouldn't have been so hard on the cover design.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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