Well, here it is, 9:52 a.m., and I haven’t done a bit of work on the trilogy I’m STILL working on or anything else. Why? Because I couldn’t put down Julie Anne Long’s novel, First Time at Firelight Falls. It is the latest book in her Hellcat Canyon series. It’s also the latest romance I’ve read that has a great plot. (If you haven’t read my earlier posts, I have vowed to review romances I find with stellar plotlines).
I ended up loving this novel, despite it’s rather slow beginning. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate slow-burn romances, but the witty banner between the hero and heroine with nothing else really happening except a glimpse at how busy their schedules were got a bit old after a while. At 40% of the book, I was wishing for something more to happen. When it did, though, it was well worth the wait. I couldn’t put the last half of the book down.
My criticism above notwithstanding, let me just say that Julie Anne Long is a master at characterization. Her intelligent, humorous descriptions of emotions and body language were delightful. Her books are worth reading just for her prose alone, and it’s one of the things that has kept me coming back to her books again and again.
I know it’s an overused cliche, but her characters really do leap off the page. Gabe and Eden were so real that, after first finishing the book, I had that weird, rare, disorienting feeling that their world was the real one and mine the fiction. And Gabe was the PERFECT romance hero: sexy yet intelligent and sensitive without coming across as too girlie. In fact, there wasn’t a girlie bone in his body. He was all man with a capital M.
Ms. Long also has an innate coolness that I envy. She clearly was a rock star in another life. She has a keen knowledge of music and writes about it in a way that’s not cheesy or annoying. This is hard to do, and most writers can’t pull it off.
When she mentioned a song in the book, even if it wasn’t one I particularly cared for, I never had the urge to roll my eyes, not even once. I think that’s because she used the songs in a way that actually furthered the story and added insight into the characters instead of just trying to convey how deep and artsy she is. (And she is deep and artsy, and have I mentioned cool?) She also came up with some original lyrics of her own (sung through her characters) that were pretty great.
Long’s portrayal of the heroine’s daughter, Annelise, was well done, too. Annelise was a realistic ten-year-old, both mischievous and charming without being a caricature of a child. Both the hero’s and heroine’s interactions with Annelise spoke volumes about who they were and made them more lovable. Annelise’s presence in the story served a purpose and wasn’t just there for the cuteness factor.
I don’t want to give too much away about the ending, but suffice it to say, it hit all the marks with me. Rarely do I read books where I am so completely satisfied. Just brilliant plotting and execution.
I love the Hellcat Canyon series, and I hope another one is in the works. I have a hunch there will be. There are just too many rich characters in these books who still need their stories told. I look forward to how Ms. Long will tell them.
Until then, try some of her other books. You won’t be disappointed. She’s even written some historicals that are some of my favorites!