Sunday 24 June 2018

#CBR10 Book 49: "The First Time at Firelight Falls" by Julie Ann Long

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Ten years ago, Eden Harwood had a daughter, Annelise, and she has refused to tell anyone who the mystery dad is. Working as a florist, volunteering in the PTA, she's dedicated herself to being the only parent her daughter could need and giving her the best upbringing she possibly can, to the point where pretty much every moment of her existence is scheduled. She doesn't have time for anything except work and her daughter. Recently, though, Annelise has become more interested in the idea of a dads and what hers is like.

Gabe Caldera is used to the attention of the single women of Hellcat Canyon, but the only one he is interested in is Eden Harwood. She, on the other hand, barely seems to know he exists. Like Eden, most of Gabe's days are fully scheduled, with work, school board meetings, volunteering and soccer coaching, but he's determined to find time to woo Eden and after his time as a Navy SEAL, Gabe knows all about planning a successful campaign. He's well on his way to being successful when a certain someone from Eden's past comes to town and complicates things somewhat.

Everyone knows that in historical romances, the majority of characters are titled and the hero is more often than not a duke, or at least a viscount or an earl. In contemporary romances, there are a lot of billionaires, film or rock stars - but you can also just get fairly normal people doing everyday jobs in small towns. Like this book, which has a single mum heroine who runs a flower shop and the hero, who is the principal of her daughter's elementary school (although he's also an ex-Navy SEAL, because his super fit body has to be explained somehow). While reading romance to me is a lot about comfort (it always ends happily, even when it gets really angsty there for a while) and escapism, it can be nice to read to read something slightly more realistic, with characters who hold down regular jobs and are good at what they do for a living.

Both Gabe and Eden are hard working, very busy people, neither of whom are entirely sure that they even have time for dating. Eden's first priority is always her daughter Annelise, who she's trying to provide the best possible life for. For ten years, the girl has been happy with just one parent, but she can't help but notice all the other children who generally have two parents, and she's curious about both her own dad and about what dads do, in general.

Having never really taken any time for herself since she became a mum, Eden needs to come around to the idea of herself as a woman worthy of love and affection, not just a self sacrificing mother. One of the things she finds so attractive about Gabe is his reliability and competence, not just his fine physique. Their initial courtship involves purposefully interrupted conversations, ensuring that they both keep thinking of one another until the next time they run into each other.

I don't think it's a big spoiler to say that the complication that comes between Eden and Gabe is the sudden reappearance of Annelise's father. By the time his identity is revealed, I doubt many readers are all that surprised, there are some pretty heavy hints dropped earlier in the book. While there is some jealousy and male posturing, I liked that Eden made it extremely clear that what she had with Annelise's dad was a one time thing, and she has absolutely no further interest in him, romantically or sexually. Gabe and her baby daddy just take a bit longer to realise this.

This is the second contemporary romance this year where the hero is named Gabriel. I don't know if I just notice it more because that's the name I chose for my own little boy, but it creates a strange disconnect, that's for sure.

While it took Julie Anne Long a while to find her groove in contemporaries (the first few of her Hellcat Canyon books are not as good as her historical romances), the previous one in the series and this one had her trademark wit and while they may not have stood up to the best of the Pennyroyal Green books, they certainly entertained me and kept me wanting to read more. Annelise, Eden's daughter has something of the plot moppet about her, but never gets too annoyingly precocious either, and a single mother heroine is certainly better than some wholly inexperienced virgin. This book was a fun read, and Ms Long keeps introducing new characters that can support upcoming sequels with each new book.

Judging a book by its cover: I REALLY don't like people kissing on my romance covers. It's bad enough to have a couple of cover models who look nothing like my mental image of the characters (also the woman looks a LOT like Isla Fisher to me, but that could just be because the husband and I have been watching a lot of the later seasons of Arrested Development where she's one of the supporting cast), but having them in full-on PDA is not ok with me. Leave something to the imagination, please.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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