Saturday, August 3, 2013

Saturday Review: Staying at Joe's

Staying at Joe’s
By Kathy Altman
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: August 6, 2013

Allison Kinkaid is in Castle Creek, Pennsylvania, only under duress, and she can’t wait to take care of business and get back to Virginia, where she belongs. Her boss in Tackett & Pike, the Washington, D. C. area PR firm where she works has charged her with convincing her former colleague and former lover Joe Gallahan to return to the company because a major client is refusing to sign unless Joe is given his account. Allison knows this may be the toughest pitch she’s ever made since she and Joe parted ways with each convinced the other was guilty of betrayal, but failure is not an option since Allison’s job and everything that depends on it are on the line.

Joe Gallahan has no regrets about leaving the D. C. firm where he garnered an impressive reputation and hefty salary but lost sight of the things that were most important. It may be too late to fulfill the dream he had shared with his brother, but Joe is renovating more than old buildings as he reclaims and restores an abandoned motel. Leaving wasn’t his choice, but going back is. Everything in him rejects Allie’s proposal that he return to his old life, but it’s not so easy to forget what the two of them were together. His motives for countering Allie’s offer of a $10,000 bonus for two months at T & P with his own proposal that she give him two weeks of hard labor on his motel restoration for his giving four weeks to the firm are mixed. He doesn’t think for a moment that city-girl Allie will last two weeks in Castle Creek, and he’s not willing to consider why he wants her there.

Allie rejects Joe’s proposal outright, but her boss refuses to let her rejection stand.  His instructions are for her to do whatever is necessary to bring Gallahan back to save a multimillion-dollar account or consider her own job terminated. A lot can happen in two weeks: lives can change, and hearts can break—or heal. Allie and Joe are about to discover what two weeks will mean to them.

 This book is connected to Altman’s debut novel, The Other Soldier. It shares not only a setting and some characters with the earlier book but also a rare combination of high-tension conflict and genuine humor rooted in situation and characters. Allie and Joe are both damaged people with real problems that are too serious to be resolved with an I-love-you and heated encounters in bed. The passion between the two has not been weakened by almost a year apart, but it soon becomes evident to the reader and eventually to these characters however hot the fire between them raged during their three months together, they never let down the barriers and allowed themselves to be known. Allie knows Joe has a problem with alcohol, but she knows nothing of the demons in his past nor of the guilt that torments him after the devastating loss of his brother. Joe knows Allie feels responsible for her gambling-addicted mother, but he has no idea of what drives her loyalty or the extremes forms that loyalty has taken.

Given the darkness and the demons, one would expect Staying at Joe’s to be an angsty, heart-twisting read, and there are certainly moments when that description fits. But this is also a book that features a quirky community with a delightful cast of characters ranging from a kid and a kitten to busy, bossy, big-hearted senior citizens. I loved seeing Allie and Joe reach their HEA, all the more because sometimes I wondered if they could. I was left with a satisfied sigh at the ending and a desire to return to Castle Creek to see Parker and Nat reunited with Reid and to see Marcus get his HEA.

I must add that as much as I liked the book, I was bothered by the simplistic equating of small town with healthy, wholesome values and supportive community and big city with materialism, greed, and dog-eat-dog mentality. I’d like to see characters decide they belong in a small town without writing off city life as the choice of the unredeemed. Still, this concern didn’t stop me from adding Castle Creek to my list of terrific small towns and Kathy Altman to my list of authors to keep an eye on for upcoming releases.

The popularity of small-town romances seems to have passed the trend stage and settled into an established sub-genre. Why do you think small-town settings are so appealing? Have you reached the point where you would like to see big-city settings get more attention?

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