After I Dream

Before I Sleep

Caught

A Conard County Reckoning

Cowboy Comes Home

A Fateful Choice

Involuntary Daddy

Mistletoe Kisses

Nighthawk

Snow in September

When I Wake

As Sue Civil-Brown:

Catching Kelly

Chasing Rainbow

Letting Loose

Tempting Mr. Wright

 
A January Chill by Rachel Lee
(Mira, $5.99, PG) ISBN-1-55166-802-5
***
A January Chill is the second book in Rachel Leeís Whisper Creek series. If you enjoyed the first book in the series, Snow in September, then youíll surely enjoy the next installment. But if you had reservations about the first book, be forewarned that A January Chill follows a similar theme. These are dark stories, with the focus on the decisions, guilt and secrets that spring from a single event in the characterís lives.

An incident that occurred twelve years earlier is the genesis of A January Chill - the tragic death of a teenage girl.

Karen Matlock and Hardy Wingate were high school sweethearts, a fact that never ceased to irritate Karenís father. Witt Matlock felt Hardy was a bad influence on his daughter and did everything in his power to keep them apart. But one July evening Karen sneaks off with Hardy. A drunk driver hits their car and Karen is killed. Although Hardy was not responsible for the accident, Witt blamed him for his daughterís death and the passing of twelve years has not lessened the hatred Witt holds for Hardy.

Joni Matlock was Karenís younger cousin, but their relationship was more like that of sisters. Karen lost her mom and Joni her dad, so the surviving parents came together as one family to support the girls.

After Karenís death, Joni tried, unsuccessfully, to fill Karenís space in Wittís life. Hannah, Joniís mom, has been in love with Witt for years, but he is too filled with grief to notice. And poor Hardy still feels tremendous guilt over Karenís death. He hasnít even dated since the accident. Although Karen was the one that died, it seems everyone involved has been dead emotionally since the accident.

When Witt wins the lottery and decides to use the funds to build a ski lodge, Joni decides this is the perfect opportunity to end the emotional stalemate. Hardy is a talented builder and Joni convinces him to bid on the project. When Witt discovers Joni is responsible for Hardyís bid, his furious reaction sets into motion a devastating series of events that threaten to destroy the Matlock family.

Joni turns to Hardy, but their relationship seems doomed from the start. There is no way she can have a life with Hardy without losing Witt, the man that has been like a father to Joni her entire life.

After reading and reviewing both books in the series, I liked A January Chill quite a bit more than its predecessor. The weak heroine in the previous book drove me to distraction, but thatís not the case here. Joni is a much stronger and more likable heroine.

Hardy is also a breath of fresh air from the steady diet of alpha heroes Iíve been reading lately. Subdued, troubled and confused seem to define him best. Yet, strong and sure in his support of Joni. He came across as a real person, not a superhero. A nice change of pace.

That said, I still have some reservations about this series. I snap up every romantic suspense by author Rachel Lee. But this series, with its emphasis squarely on the characterís emotions doesnít work as well. The self-involved characters and emotional hand-wringing left me unmoved. I donít know if the author plans any further books in the series, but I know Iíve read enough about the angst-filled town of Whisper Creek. I think Iíll just sit back and wait for Rachel Leeís next romantic suspense.

--Karen Lynch


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