Beneath Southern Skies
by Terra Little, contemporary (2013)
Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-86303-7


You know how some people simply hate each other until they succumb to the lust between them, and then they are suddenly lovey-dovey to a nauseating level? Well, the couple in Beneath Southern Skies aren't too nauseating, but they walk a fine line between love and hate most of the time.

Tressie Valentine believes that she has left Georgia behind her. Under the pseudonym Vanessa Valentino, she writes a popular "tell it as it is" column for the New York Inquisitor, sparing no one as she tackles issues from fashion to corruption. While her column makes Vanessa Valentino a big hit among the readers, her inability to pick her battles wisely also costs her employer "hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, bribes, payoff and hush money" in the last five years. When the story opens, Tressie has dragged her employer into one too many lawsuits and she's fired. Just like that.

Running out of her money - Tressie isn't keen on saving money in the first place - she is also running out of options when her grandmother passes on and leaves Tressie the house. So she has to go back to the town of Mercy, but never mind, she'll take this opportunity to lay low while she plots her comeback. Waiting back in that place is Nathaniel Woodberry, who unfortunately is not the guy that got away. He detests her for writing unfavorably about someone close to him, and he's not keen to see her back in town. But the attraction is there, and all it takes is one moment of weakness to ignite the whole thing.

I have never read anything from this author before, since her older books were put out by small presses that I haven't even heard of until I checked out her backlist after having read this book, heh. Still, I think the author has gained an interested reader, although whether or not this is a good thing will depend on my reaction to her future books. What I like about this book is how easy the humor flows. "Sass" is an overused adjective when it comes to describing upbeat stories, but I feel that this story oozes sass - good sass - from every word, and I like it. Even when the main characters are snapping at each other like grumpy bulldogs, the story just crackles with sexual tension underneath all those amusing caustic retorts.

I adore the heroine, but I have to warn you guys: she's more of the quintessential chick-lit heroine than a romance heroine. The author allows Tressie to be self-absorbed, selfish, occasionally unkind, and immature. A typical romance heroine that behaves in this manner tend to end up being humiliated and humbled, often by the hero, but Tressie here keeps her career, man, and dignity by the last page. Imagine that. And I adore Tressie because she amuses me even when she's being a complete brat. I can't help it, she's so entertaining. Also, I like the fact that, underneath her air-headed and irresponsible ways, she can exhibit some brainpower and her take-no-prisoners attitude is charming. Tressie is going to be a polarizing heroine, but as far as I'm concerned, she's alright. I'd probably strangle her if I have to depend on her for something, but in this story, she's alright indeed.

Nate is as equally immature as Tressie at times, but like her, he has his good points to go along with the bad. He has commitment issues to the wazoo, but, just like it is with Tressie, he entertains me. He's mostly a standard romance hero - rich, hot, et cetera - but he has his moments in this story. Mind you, he can utterly hopeless and even clueless when it comes to women, but since he is entertaining even when he's being a silly dimwit, I'm okay with him.

The only issue I have with this story is how the whole relationship starts off on a really wrong foot. Nate is very vicious towards Tressie in the beginning, in his thoughts about her and his words to her, and I can't help feeling that he's a hypocrite because he judges Tressie for her lifestyle - a lifestyle that has much in common with his. Unless he's a small town guy for life - and he isn't - he doesn't have much leg to stand on when it comes to how Tressie made it big in the city. If he only judges her on her job, fine, but he judges her on everything, and that's not fine.

Still, he's mad at her, so I can't expect him to go about it in a rational manner. It's just that these negative feelings were never addressed adequately throughout the relationship. Am I supposed to believe that they magically disappear once Nate and Tressie get down to business? I can't help feeling that, if this couple experience a major argument some time after the honeymoon, things will really explode and the results won't be pretty.

Okay, so I may have some reservations about the longevity of this happy coupling, but as I've said, Beneath Southern Skies is very entertaining in every way that counts. And I'm easy like that - the author serves up a rollicking romantic comedy that tickles my fancy in so many ways, and I consider that money well spent.

Rating: 84


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