by LuAnn McLane, contemporary (2006)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21892-2
Unless I'm greatly mistaken, Dark Roots And Cowboy Boots is LuAnn McLane's first full-length contemporary romance. All her previous works are erotic short stories published as a collection under her name or in anthologies with other authors. I personally don't care too much for her erotic short stories. Dark Roots And Cowboy Boots however is a departure for Ms McLane - sure, this story has love scenes, but it's a small town romance rather than an erotic romance. I find Ms McLane more in her element in this particular story - it's a far more enjoyable read than anything she has put out prior to this.
A big reason for this is the heroine, Jamie Lee Carter, being a very sane and likable character despite being from a smalltown. Not that I am making fun of people from a smalltown, let me make this clear, it's just that many heroines in such romances turn out to be nutty headcases especially when it comes to playtime with the opposite sex. Jamie Lee, thank heavens, comes off like a normal person. She doesn't sleep around but she doesn't act like she will die if she likes a hot guy. Her attitude about men, life, and sex are refreshingly normal.
This story is told in first person, or as some romance readers would say, "written in chick-lit style". Therefore it helps that Jamie Lee is a likable and pretty smart heroine without going overboard on the sass. She is, on the outside, a smalltown cliché: she runs a beauty salon Cut & Curl in a town called Hootertown. Yes, she's aware of all the jokes about the name of the town. The people of Hootertown are also recognizable clichés from the dotty bossy matchmaking sorts to the gruff cute guy whom the heroine has a crush on - the Luke to her Lorelai, if you watch The Gilmore Girls. Then into town one day comes Parker Carrington, a very handsome movie producer from Hollywood, who decides that Hootertown is the best location for his upcoming B-grade horror flick. He also has his eyes on Jamie Lee and it's a two-way attraction. Alas, this also means that Griff Sheldon, the best friend of Jamie Lee's brother, gets pretty jealous over Parker's attention on Jamie Lee. Could it be that the man Jamie Lee carries a torch for actually likes her back just as much? Is it too late for Griff to make his move?
If you are not fond of love triangles, don't worry, Jamie Lee decides that she knows which man is right for her at about midway of the story and there are no hard feelings between her and the man whose affections she has turned down. I shouldn't say here who she feels is the right man for her, but I'm sure you know your smalltown romance clichés so you can probably guess who this man is. Are you surprised if I say Jamie Lee settles for Griff? Have you read any smalltown romance story lately where the heroine voluntarily chooses a guy from the big city over a homegrown boy, no matter how unpleasant this homeboy is?
Still, I like how Parker and Jamie Lee in this story behave quite very rationally and sane. In fact, I feel that they are right for each other, although I can also see why Jamie Lee will disagree. Differences in lifestyles are not something love and romance can easily sweep aside to make way for the happily-ever-after. However, I am less enamored of Griff who is not just boring in his surly Luke Danes manner, he is Luke Danes, right down to how he often treats Jamie Lee in a deplorable manner because you know, he's a man and he's hurting inside, woo-woo and all. In fact, come to think of it, his reasons for not pursuing Jamie Lee all these years when she's an adult brand him a freaking moron.
Perhaps I am biased against Griff because I am always a Christopher Gilmore gal at heart no matter how badly they assassinate his character on TV to make way for the inevitable Jackass and Motormouth pairing of Luke and Lorelai. Griff is Luke while Parker's mannerisms makes him the Christopher equivalent. Give me anytime a charming guy with a sense of humor to a surly guy who leaps to bizarrely wrong conclusions and treats the woman badly as a result.
Dark Roots And Cowboy Boots is a very readable story, although you may want to take note that the author has a tendency to have other characters mention the heroine's name Jamie Lee repeatedly during a single conversation. The constant popping up of "Jamie Lee" during a conversation can get distracting, to say the least. I'd say Ms McLane is probably in her element in this kind of stories because her writing her lacks a trying-too-hard feel compared to her more erotic romance stories. The dialogs, while still stilted at times, flow more naturally in a more realistic manner, the heroine behaves like a sensible adult instead of a frigid weirdo, and the end result is a story more enjoyable than anything the author has put out in the past. However, this story is also crammed with so many "small town" and "big city people" clichés that the story becomes very predictable as result. Therefore, Dark Roots And Cowboy Boots is a very readable but also very generic smalltown contemporary romance. Were the heroine any less well-written, this story would be completely forgettable.
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