I'm not sure where you are geographically, but I'm in the northeastern U.S., and like much of the rest of the country, it's been cold and very snowy. Despite really warm temperatures the past 2 days, there is STILL melting snow on the ground. But even though a forecast calling for more snow is making its way across my news feeds, my weakness for romances in which the main characters get trapped in the snow remains unaffected. Characters being snowbound is SO my catnip, extra strength.
In my last column, I wrote about my reading slump, and how so few of the books I was picking up to read were grabbing my interest. As far as slumps go, this was pretty bad for me: It lasted nearly two weeks, and I picked up and put down at least 10 different romances. But lucky for me, actual snow and literary snow helped break my slump.
Before I left on vacation, author Sarina Bowen contacted me and offered her book, part of a four-book digital set, for vacation reading because the hero and heroine start the story trapped in their cars in a blizzard. HELLO MY CATNIP. Get into my car!
Coming In from the Cold was a perfect slump busting read, and good for vacation, too. It wasn't perfect—I had some problems with the hero—but the story held my attention emotionally and intellectually. I had all the requisite emo-tingles for the heroine and the hero, and yes, their being trapped in a car for hours was a perfect start.
Dane is a champion alpine skier, which means he goes from the top of a mountain down to the bottom as fast as possible, at speeds above 75mph at some points. The heroine, Willow, is stuck, going downhill slowly in a financial and personal sense. She followed her ex-boyfriend into buying a farm and living in a cold and rural area in Vermont, only to have him leave her for another woman, and a much better location in a tropical climate. She's struggling to pay her bills and to figure out what to do with her life now that she's stuck with a farmhouse she doesn't need and a mortgage she can't really pay all that easily.
I liked the heroine a lot. I could see how her caretaking nature put her in the position to be taken advantage of by her ex-boyfriend, because she's willing to do just about anything to make sure she meets her commitments. She works a bunch of different jobs to pay her bills, and she gets stuck in a blizzard when she heads out in terrible snowfall to get a 50lb bag of chicken feed for her flock of chickens. When her truck skids in front of Dane's car on the way home in the snow, she and Dane end up stuck on the road with rapidly intensifying snowfall blocking them in.
Dane has an attitude that his life isn't worth very much (and he has viable reasons to hold that position, though I can't get more specific or I'll spoil parts of the story), and he maintains a state of detachment from everyone around him. While Willow is stuck sliding downhill slowly, Dane travels in and out of people's lives quickly. He does not want commitments or connections, and sets up his life to avoid both. One-night stands are his specialty.
When he and Willow get stuck, he recognizes that she's not really a one-night stand kind of person, but their near-instant chemical attraction (more like chemical combustion—these two are into each other and it's terrific) lead them to a rather intense hookup that continues into the morning when the snow has stopped.
Their meet-cute was one of the best parts of the book for me, and the first few chapters had me at "blizzard," but the resolution wasn't ideal. I loved that the heroine owned her bad decisions and was trying to get out from under the debts she'd been left with, and I loved her determination. My problem was Dane. Once he realizes that he's got a multi-layered connection to her whether he likes it or not, he behaves so horribly. He's mean and callous to Willow, to his coach—who is the one person who seems to care about him regardless—and to anyone else who steps into his line of sight.
To resolve the story (and I realize I'm being too vague here but I don't want to spoil the plot), Dane has to undergo a complete personality turnaround, from complete tool to totally awesome, and I felt the change was too quick for me to believe it. Dane had already revealed that he could be manipulative and deceitful, so his reformation into being caring and not-a-complete-dickbag was suspicious for me, even though I wanted to believe in it, for the heroine's sake. And with that turnaround came the solution to all the other problems they were having, too. Dane owned his asshattery, but he also immersed himself in the Good Boyfriend routine so quickly, I wasn't entirely trusting of his reformation.
The beginning is fantastic: the storm, the minor accident, the suspense of them getting to know each other quietly and quickly in a car that's becoming covered with snow—oh, it was alllll good. And by the middle of the story, I had enough connection to both the hero and the heroine that I felt the enormity of their problems. However, the first half of the story is slow, deliberate, emotional and erotic, so the abrupt and enormous changes that come about by and for the ending were not as satisfying.
But as a slump-busting book, this was perfect. Plenty to engage my emotions and my imagination, and some snarls to wake up the critical thinking part of my brain so that while I rode my snowboard, I had a lot of story to think about, puzzle over and savor afterward. Even though I was frustrated by the end, Bowen writes great dialogue and wonderfully realistic characters, so I will look for more of her books in the future.
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She loves talking with romance readers, and hopes you'll share your new favorite romance reading recommendations. You can find her on Twitter @smartbitches, on Facebook, or on her couch, most likely with her eyeglasses turned toward a book.