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Sunday, June 3, 2012

REVIEW: Rainshadow Road (#2 Friday Harbor Series) by Lisa Kleypas

4-4.5 Stars

WARNING: "Thesis" ahead! LOL

‘“Do you think it will make good wine?”

“Probably not,” he said, and laughed.

“Then why have you gone to so much trouble?”

“Because you never know. The grapes might turn out to reveal some attributes of the wine that you never expected. Something that expresses this place more perfectly than anything you could have planned. You have to…”

As Sam paused, searching for the right phrase, Lucy said softly, “You have to take a leap of faith.”

Sam gave her an arrested glance. “Yes.”

Lucy understood all too well. There were times in life when you had to take a risk that might end in failure. Because otherwise you would be haunted by what you hadn’t done…the paths you hadn’t taken, the things you hadn’t experienced.’”

Leap of Faith…

Lisa Kleypas is one of my favourite Romance authors. Her writing is lyrical and full of detail and imagery. After writing Historical Romance novels for over 20 decades, she took a leap of faith when she wrote Sugar Daddy, her first contemporary novel.

Sugar Daddy wasn’t what I expected of Ms Kleypas and it didn’t completely work for me, as I felt that in her search for an authentic contemporary voice, she ended up sacrificing the romance for the story of a woman’s journey, and it became more Chick-Lit. That being said, there were some absolutely beautiful quotes in it and I loved the characters, and I appreciated it more on second read. Ms Kleypas then went on to write two books in the Travis series that I LOVE SO MUCH (Blue-Eyed Devil and Smooth Talking Stranger) and she became more comfortable in her contemporary voice. Through the Travis series, she gave me so many amazing quotes and she gave me Hardy Cates, and Jack and Gage Travis – such strong, sexy, unashamedly masculine characters… who are on my book boyfriend list! Booyah! ^_^

With the Friday Harbor contemporary series, Lisa Kleypas is taking another leap of faith - into Magical Realism. It is very different from the Travis series and is more along the flavour of Emily March's Eternity Springs series, though not exactly.

The introductory novella to this series, Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, left me feeling all warm and fuzzy and thinking of savouring homemade cookies as I enjoyed gazing at a rainbow over the Friday Harbor. It was a magical novella, even though there was no overt “magic” in it, but was sprinkled with the magic of Christmastime, imagination, hope and love, set against the backdrop of the beautiful and magical setting of the San Juan Islands, Washington.

Rainshadow Road…

In Rainshadow Road, the magical elements are more obvious. Lisa Kleypas sets the scene with these opening paragraphs:
“When Lucy Marinn was seven years old, three things happened: Her little sister Alice got sick, she was assigned her first science project, and she found out that magic existed. More specifically, that she had the power to create magic. And for the rest of her life, Lucy would be aware that the distance between ordinary and extraordinary was only a step, a breath, a heartbeat away.

But this was not the kind of knowledge that made one bold or daring. At least not in Lucy’s case. It made her cautious. Secretive. Because the revelation of magical ability, particularly one that you had no control over, meant you were different. And even a child of seven understood that you didn’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of the dividing line between different and normal. You wanted to belong. The problem was, no matter how well you kept your secret, the very fact of having one was enough to separate you from everyone else.”

The dysfunctional family…

Lucy’s sister’s illness set the Marinn family along a dysfunctional course with their parents letting Alice have whatever she wanted, while piling responsibility and expectations on Lucy, and leaving her feeling insecure regarding love.

While Alice was in hospital, Lucy was watched over by a neighbour, and admiring the neighbour’s glass ornament set Lucy along the path of deciding to be a glass-maker. There, began, her fascination with glass and discovering she had a magical gift of turning glass into something living, like fireflies or butterflies, when she was feeling strong emotions.

I think it’s great that Lisa Kleypas wants to push her boundaries, try new paths and expand herself as a writer. It’s an admirable trait. But has her leap of faith into Magical Realism succeeded? What did the magic add to the story?

The Magical Realism…

I pondered this book and ruminated on my review, for a while, as I had mixed feelings when I finished it, and ended up re-reading Rainshadow Road. Like Sugar Daddy, I’ve come to appreciate it more on second read, and after initially considering rating it 4-Stars, I’m thinking it's maybe more of a 4.5 Stars read, for me.
So what did the magical moments add to the story? This was a question I had in the fore of my thoughts as I re-read it. As a result, I began to notice that the moments when Lucy’s magic manifested itself was when she was feeling particularly strong emotions, and the thing that the glass would transform into were symbolic, and meant to help Lucy to see something see needed to in that moment. Like the fireflies that symbolised an unassuming insect becoming beautiful, light in the darkness, or the butterfly that symbolises change or a new phase. It gave Lucy a focus or insight in those moments, to channel her emotions into something transformative.

These were my thoughts on second read, but this is what Lisa Kleypas had to say in an interview on this book, that I read, recently:
'For me, magical realism allows the heroine to have revelatory insight. It underscores emotions that are already present, and signals her transition to new directions.

To me, it's more that Lucy has repressed her negative emotions since childhood, because her parents constantly emphasized that it was wrong to feel resentful, jealous, or envious. She gives those feelings expression through art and through the magical quality of the art. We all know that being able to express deep emotion can literally save a person's life, and suppressing emotion can kill you both spiritually and physically. That's where the magic comes in: once expressed, Lucy's emotions becomes visible, a part of the material world.
Isn't that beautiful? It's unfortunate, though, that it wasn't so evident or meaningful to me, at first, and I think many readers have questioned what the magic added. There have been mixed reviews on this one.

But there is more to what the "magic" added...

Lucy and Sam…

When Lucy’s boyfriend, Kevin, dumps Lucy for her sister Alice, Lucy feels Alice has taken away something else from her and has finally crossed a line. This story explores Lucy’s reaction to this event, and it sets a change in motion to the Marinn family dynamics. But it is also this event that brings Lucy into Sam Nolan’s world.

Sam, who also came from a dysfunctional family, of two alcoholic parents, is a fascinating mix of rugged good looks, and hot geekiness. He has a penchant for funny geeky T-shirts which make for some entertainment.

Lucy’s magic, which made her feel set apart from others, was an aspect that connected her to the gorgeous Sam Nolan, a vineyard owner and winemaker with a special talent all his own. Sam was the first person Lucy ever shared her secret with, and vice versa. This shared belief in magic allowed Sam to finally believe in the magic of love.

Because of his family history, Sam doesn’t believe in love and long-term relationships, but he does believe in casual relationships prefaced by honesty to the woman that this is all he could offer. And this is all Lucy wants after what Kevin and Alice did to her. That is, until Lucy and Sam connect on so many more levels than either thought possible. They must both learn to take a leap of faith: Lucy, to trust someone to love her, and Sam, to trust himself enough to love someone.

The Romance…

Lucy and Sam’s banter was wonderful and the progression of their relationship from friends, to casual lovers, to more, was realistic. But I’m afraid to say that while I really enjoyed Rainshadow Road, I felt it somehow lacked a little bit in Lisa Kleypas' trademark romantic “magic”, for me, and hence, it was not quite a 5-Star read. I can’t definitively say what the missing ingredient was, just that I felt something was missing.

The Tension…
‘When the plastic was discarded, Sam paused at the sight of a bruise on the side of her knee. He traced the edge of the dark blotch, his touch so light it was nearly imperceptible. His head was bent, so Lucy couldn’t see his expression. But his hands went to the mattress on either side of her hips, his fingers digging into the bedclothes. A deep tremor went through him, desire splintering through restraint.

Lucy didn’t dare say a word. She stared fixedly at the top of his head, the span of his shoulders. Her ears were filled with the echoes of her heartbeat.

His head bent, the light sliding across the dark layers of his hair. The touch of his lips was soft and searing against the bruise, causing her to jerk in surprise. His mouth lingered, drifting to the inside of her thigh. His fingers tightened until he gripped the covers in handfuls.’

Oh, yeah, some great tension here! 

Secondary characters…I don’t want to talk about Alice, Kevin or Lucy’s parents except to say, “Grrrrrr!!!”

I really liked Justine and Zoe, Lucy’s good friends who own the Bed and Breakfast called Artist Point, and Duane and the Hog Heaven bikers. Sam’s bulldog, Renfield, was adorable! It was really great seeing Mark Nolan and Holly again but I felt that when Maggie was in a scene, she didn't feel really present, to me, which made me sad as I loved her with Mark and Holly in Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor so much. I was sad to see Alex’s decline


Final thoughts…

The Travis series is grittier and with sexy alpha heroes. The Friday Harbor series is more lyrical with a mixture of magic and realism, and more beta heroes. While I've enjoyed the first two stories in this new series, it hasn't reached the love I have for the Travis series.

That being said, I’m really looking forward to Dream Lake, because tortured Alex Nolan and the curvy and lovely Zoe, and the effects her amazing cooking has on him, has already piqued my interest in this one!

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