Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nothing Typical about A Hometown Boy


Two months ago, our country endured a horrifying tragedy. The unthinkable occurred. A troubled human being aimed a high-powered weapon at innocent children (and adults), killing them in cold blood, then turned a gun on himself. Two realities became instantly clear. Life is random, and the human brain is capable of unspeakable deeds.

Why am I bringing up Sandy Hook today? Because I could not review of A Hometown Boy and not bring it up. Janice Kay Johnson wrote a powerful, painful story about a very similar situation, only I imagine when she created the fictitious events that open her book, she never imagined the real life events yet to come.

The small town of Tucannon, Washington seems like a nice place to live. Everyone knows everyone else. People take care of each other. But that all changes the day a mentally ill member of the community snaps and turns a loaded weapon on the town and eventually on himself.

The horrible event brings two people back to town. The killer’s brother, David Owen, and a victim’s daughter, Acadia Henderson. Both grew up in the town and were friends and neighbors once up on a time. As a young girl, Acadia loved David, and in his own way, David cared for Acadia. The attraction rekindles when they meet again, but the circumstances—David’s brother having killed Acadia’s father—make any kind of relationship between them difficult.

The first thing I want to point out is that there is nothing political about this book. No judgments are made nor sides taken by the author. This is not a manifesto or even a cautionary tale. It’s a love story that just happens to start with a horrifying tragedy. An honest and interesting look is taken at the debilitating disease that plagued the killer for most of his life. Characters are forced to examine their own actions and beliefs, and recognize their own failings and lack of understanding.

But the focus is squarely on the love story, which is a lovely reunion story revealing a second chance is always possible, and compassion may be the greatest trait we have. There is nothing black and white about this story, and there are slow spots here and there, but I have to applaud Ms. Johnson for crafting a difficult story with a deft hand and balanced touch.

The characters are real. They hurt, they struggle, and they love. You feel for them and with them and some parts of this book are tough. Ms. Johnson did not shy away from the realities of the situation. Tucannon will never be the same and likely neither will the rest of us after Sandy Hook. But there is healing, hope, compassion, and love. It’s all around us and in us, if we’re willing to embrace it. Acadia makes that choice, and gains her happily ever after in the process.

Admittedly, if you’re looking for a light read, this is not it. But it’s not all doom and gloom either. It’s uplifting in many places, with a very positive ending, not just for Acadia and David, but for the rest of the town as well. I highly recommend you give this one a try. 

What do you think of romances that offer something unusual like this? Have you read any out-of-the-ordinary romances lately? Do you like when a book doesn’t fit the mold or prefer the tried and true?

PS: I bought this book on my Kindle thanks to Janga’s recommendation. I was not given this book for the purpose of doing a review.

24 comments:

quantum said...

My TBR is loaded up already so will have to start a new TBI (to be investigated) list.

I have read this author’s ‘Snow Bound’ which I quite enjoyed but didn’t rate it with Nora or Kleypas or Putney or Miller or Anderson or Blake or Lowell or other of my favourite authors with books still on the TBR.

With this sort of pressure on my reading time I think I will pass on this one for now.

Splendid review though Terri. I reckon you could sell fridges to Eskimos if you really wanted to. *smile*

Marnee Bailey said...

This sounds both heartbreaking and uplifting. That's a pretty fine line to walk.

I haven't read a Superromance in a couple years but I've been debating giving them a try again. Harlequins are so tightly written and straightforward. I like that.

I think I'll give this one a chance. Maybe I'll keep it on my kindle though, until I'm a little further from Sandy Hook.

Terri Osburn said...

Q & Marn - Fair enough on both counts. There are just too many books out there, Q. I have paperbacks that have been languishing for years and now there are 3 dozen more on the Kindle. I need more hours in the day.

Very fine line, Marn. But well done. I don't seek out the Harlequin lines, but when I've picked up the ones in recent years that Janga has recommended, the results have been stellar.

MsHellion said...

I keep hearing you and Janga talk about this book. I need to look it up! :) Every once in a while, a story like that appeals to me--I don't have to laugh the whole time (even if I prefer laughter.) :)

Terri Osburn said...

Click on the title up there and you'll go right to the Harlequin page. I've made it easy!

irisheyes said...

I have this on my TBR pile, too, Ter. It's weird really - I've read so many historicals with war, torture, rape & pillaging, disfigurement and God knows what else included in the story line, but I haven't been able to pick this one up yet. Come to think of it, I've read Contemporaries with a whole lot of nasty stuff in it too. I think it's like Hellie said, every once in a while I don't mind a story like this but that time hasn't hit yet.

As for the Harlequin line, I've kind of steered clear too. I guess when I would look on the shelves and see a lot of books that all looked the same except with different titles (very out there titles, at that), I didn't feel confident I'd pick a winner. If a certain author is getting a lot of rave reviews, though, I like to try her out (library or 99 cent e-book). That's pretty much how I find all of my authors these days, no matter what line or genre they work in.

I do have to say that Sarah Mayberry has been a real hit out of the ballpark in the Harlequin line. I have really enjoyed every single book of hers that I've read. (I have to put a caveat in here that I did read 1 of the Blaze books she wrote and wasn't as thrilled. But I think that had more to do with the Blaze line than SM. The story was still solid and enjoyable it was just way too populated with all the mental lusting that I'm just done with and sex scenes that went on 10 pages longer than necessary. LOL) She has a way with characterization that I just love, though. You're right, Marn, they are tightly written and straight forward. You should give her a try.

P. Kirby said...

Hmmm. I confess, I read the excerpt and it didn't pass the test. Sometimes, I like angst and misery, but I like it delivered in a more lyrical form, like Alice Hoffman, or Laini Taylor. And...while I have a high tolerance for gloom, doom, and violence, I find that I like it wrapped up in a more fantastical format. This feels too real, especially in like of Sandy Hook.

Painted Faces by L.H. Cosway, which I finished last week, was probably "out-of-the-ordinary" because the hero is a drag queen. Unfortunately, though it was very readable, I found the writing pedestrian and the treatment of gender, sexuality and body image issues sort of "meh." In short, I was of disappointed by the story. But it has a gagillion rave reviews, so it works for most people.

I'm so picky.

P. Kirby said...

"...in 'light' of Sandy Hook"

Ugh. You'd never know I was an editor once upon a time.

MsHellion said...

Pat, we're ALL picky. *LOL* That's what makes us readers. *LOL*

Terri Osburn said...

Irish - You'd definitely need to be in the mood, but that goes for any novel really. Sometimes I'm just not in the mood for an historical or something too light.

This one is real, Pat, but not so real that you're thinking, "Alright, let's move on now!" There's a nice balance, but like any book, it's not for everyone.

I'm getting pickier the older I get. The slightest thing bothers me. Ten years ago I'd never put down a book once I started it. These days, I might start 2 or 3 before I find one I'm willing to stick with.

Pirouette said...

I like Marnee's analysis that Harlequins are so tightly written and straightforward. It's true that it does me good to read a Superromance or something like that every so often! This sounds interesting and tearful ;)

Maureen said...

I applaud an author willing to go this route. I'm not sure I'd be up for reading it, but kudos to her for writing it.

I'm not a big fan of how publishers take advantage of RL incidents to bring in the bucks. But this one was obviously in the que before the tragedy.

I find there are more and more books on my Nook that I haven't finished...I don't toss them with deliberation. But if I start doing something else and I never get back to them? It's a sign...

Terri Osburn said...

I had to think about this, wondering if having the Kindle made it easier to put the books down. But that's not the case. I was putting print books down long before I bought the Kindle.

My problem is partly the time issue. I don't have a lot of time to read and as we all know there are so many books out there. If I'm going to give a book 15 mins or an hour, I have to really want to read that book.

Terri Osburn said...

Hey, Pirouette! Of all the Harlequin lines, Superromance is the one I'll seek out. They've expanded the word count and don't back away from these tougher subjects. And the quality of the writing I've seen has been really good.

In other shorter Harlequins I've read, there's a lot of info dumping at the front because they have only so many pages to tell the reader what she needs to know. Never get that in the Superromances.

Maureen said...

I sorta think the ereaders make it easier to dump books. There is no physican reminder sitting around, reminding you of the money you spent...

Terri Osburn said...

But I can put a book down and forget where I put it. I always know where the kindle is and when I turn it on, there's the book, right where I left off. So I really have to make a conscious effort to close that book and pick another one.

Maureen said...

Ah, and I put my Nook down and pick up a physical book. Or I buy another book and open it instead of going back to the one I 'was' reading.

Janga said...

This book really impressed me. It's not a topic I expected to see in a Harlequin Superromance. I read an ARC, and I'm pretty sure I read it before Sandy Hook. So neither the writing nor the release was an attempt to capitalize on the connection. The story just resonates with particular power in the aftermath. Johnson has written other books that tackle issues from a slightly different angle. She wrote a Harlequin Everlasting Love about a family falling apart after the death of a child that was one of the most wrenching stories I've ever read--and it was a Christmas story, no less.

I don't read a lot of category romance other than Superromances and Harlequin Historicals, and with both I buy mostly by author. I have a list of authors whose books I almost never miss--Janice Kay Johnson is one. Sarah Mayberry, Karina Bliss, Beth Andrews, Molly O'Keefe are others. Among historical writers, there's Carla Kelly first and then Louise Allen, Diane Gaston, and a few others. I've read a few Blazes, including Mayberry's, but I'm not part of that demographic. I like my stories with less sizzle and more context than they generally offer. I think category authors are pretty much like authors of any description: a few are extraordinarily good, a few are really terrible, and most fall somewhere between.

Maureen said...

Janga, I didn't mean to insinuate this book is taking advantage of the tragedy. Quite the contrary, it's interesting that this book was obviously done long before.

I do hope we aren't suddenly going to see a great big list of books dealing with mass shootings.

Terri Osburn said...

I highly doubt that'll be the case, Chance. At least not in romance. Don't know enough about other genres to even venture a guess.

Maureen said...

I know romance wanted a ton of 'marine' romances after Bin Laden...sorta drove me nuts.

Janga said...

I agree with Terri, Chance. I don't see many romance writers tackling the subject, and I doubt that there would be an audience if they did. I think the marines just added a level to the industry's love of military or former military heroes. They have been hugely popular for the past several years.

Terri Osburn said...

I'm with you on not being the demographic for Blaze, Janga. I've read a few, but not for a while. I'm finding if the description for the book uses the words "steamy" or "sensual" I skip to the next one.

I could be missing awesome books, and take nothing away from the authors. Just not my cup of tea these days.

Maureen said...

I'm not even sure what my cup of tea is these days...