This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Published by Berkley
Released on December 31, 2018
An orphaned cub, a second chance for two people in their winter years, camp pranks, and a spanking new romance in a small Oregon mountain town had me settling in for a comfy read.
Strawberry Hill is book five in the Mystic Creek series, but it will work fine standalone or out of order since it introduces a new situation and mostly new players.
The story opens with a prologue about Slade Wilder finding a dead black bear buried under a recent rock slide and then shortly after coming across an orphaned baby blonde black bear cub. He knows the right thing is to leave it in the wild to fend for itself and tries, but then the little one follows him and him home to the ranch. It reminds him of the spirited young girl who would have adopted that cub and championed it in a heartbeat. She had his heart and they were getting married until she believed a lie and left his life forever. He remained alone after that and now looks at the years remaining of his life with no close family and no one to leave his beloved ranch.
Erin, Slade’s niece figured out she wasn’t cut out to be a big city cop in Seattle or the big city like her svelte stuffy mother and took a job as a county sheriff’s deputy near her Uncle Slade’s ranch. She wants to spend time with him and get to know him better. Only trouble is, she’s the low person at the office and keeps getting called in off duty and handed assignments she has no idea what she’s doing. She tries to bluff her way through an encounter with a man who turns out to be her uncle’s foreman, Wyatt, and alienates him before sticking her boot firmly in her mouth striving to be the tough cop and the son her absent dad never had. It’s only in the middle of another crisis she has no clue what to do that she realizes that her trying to prove herself all these years is a empty use of her life. Another encounter with Wyatt sets her feet firmly on the right path for the first time.
After 42 years, Vickie Brown is about to encounter the man who broke her heart when she accepts a job to be the camp cook for his Wilderness Adventures business. He swore he never cheated on her and now, face to face, he swore he never got her letters. But, Slade Wilder is a liar, right?
So, this book. I enjoyed parts of it, but other parts frustrated me or needed more development. The pace was good and the descriptions of world and characters was well-drawn. I love the world of the stories. The variety of personalities and situations are always welcome. The opening when Slade and his ranch are introduced with that rascally bear cub and the ranch hands all trying to help was fabulous. The opening scene where Erin really messes up with Wyatt in one big misunderstanding was a hoot. What a meet-cute! I found the dramatic first scene with Vickie compelling, too. I was very curious about what really happened between her and Slade since they both felt the other wronged them.
And, then I hit a snag when the truth came out.
Let me get into what stuck in my craw about this one.
For once, its not because of the baby the dad never knew about because Vickie wrote Slade four letters. She was destitute and far from home at the time. She’s in the clear on that one.
But, here’s the thing, she’s out there pregnant and destitute because she believed the word of a conniving girl who Vicky knew wanted Slade rather than trusting him. He’s never given her reason not to trust him and they have known each other all their lives, but inexplicably, she can’t trust him nor did she try to see if others would back up his story. She just ran and stayed gone. And, hid her son Brody’s paternity from Brody for over forty years because- and here we get into one of the things that drives me nuts about secret baby tropes- she made the decision that Slade shouldn’t get the chance to meet Brody in case he rejected him to his face. At least it wasn’t for a selfish reason, but still, she gave her son zero chances to know his dad.
Now, here they are again and Slade is still telling her over forty years later that he never cheated and he never got the letters. She’s already established that he’s an upstanding man and well respected and he’s even shared his loneliness for family and wished he’d had a son. But no… she’s still convinced he’s a liar.
And, then when she starts pulling pranks at the campsite all with things that are aimed at Slade because she knows his fears and what will make him uncomfortable and annoy him as ‘payback for rejecting Brody all those years ago’, I just shook my head and shouted at my Kindle, “How old are you? Five?”
The final scene when she learns the truth from someone other than Slade, because yeah, can’t trust him right? Again, I was asking myself how old was she because that scene degenerated into farce and never really cleared the air. Call me bloodthirsty, but I really wanted a big apology from her about calling him a liar, but especially after all the pranking and stubbornness.
Whew, sorry, had to purge that. I do know people act irrationally particularly if their heart and emotions are on the line and there is a point where they acknowledge that mistakes were made. I thought she had a tough row to hoe after she ran off and felt bad for all that happened, but I couldn’t shut off that other side of my brain that felt that huge conflict didn’t work based on their history and personalities.
Now, it was more than my frustration with Vickie. I did enjoy Erin and Wyatt’s introduction and early days of their romance, but would rather their page time to have been devoted to a better detailed denouement for Slade and Vickie. So much was left glossed over or waved away with a few sentences in an epilogue. I really needed more after Vickie finally accepted the truth. She gets the truth, gets angry at the right person finally, and then it shifted to the epilogue in a blink. Things were brought up that I felt were never addressed and were either glossed over or left hanging.
Mini spoilers here,
I would rather have seen an actual scene of Vickie telling her son the truth and Slade getting to meet his son for the first time. And, after Erin and Wyatt got so much page time, their story just petered out and went into a holding pattern in the background so what was the point?
So, bet you think I hated this one. I didn’t. Actually, I liked it and was glad to have read it in spite of stuff I had issue with. I really hope she completes Wyatt and Erin’s story now. The series is one I mostly enjoy and can recommend it to contemporary romance fans who enjoy small town settings and gently paced romance.
My thanks to Penguin Random House for providing this book to be read in exchange for an honest review.
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