Falling in Love
by Pauline Trent
(Zebra, $3.99, PG)  ISBN 978-0-8217-8141-8
***
Debut author Pauline Trent offers readers a sweet and simple story that lives up to its title.  Falling in Love features a charming, war-weary hero looking for a place to call home and the small-town girl he falls for.  The heroine, however, is a mixed bag, and readers may find her to be somewhat exasperating.

Chris Montgomery has come back to Lambert Falls, North Carolina to renovate the old plantation home left to him by his grandfather.  Chris was recently wounded in battle and wants nothing more than to find a quiet place to relax.  He is welcomed back to town by the sheriff, Bobby, a widower who has raised his two nieces.  Bobby invites Chris to dinner on his first evening back.  When Chris arrives, he’s surprised to find that one of Bobby’s nieces is Angie Kane, a pretty waitress he met earlier that day at the local diner.

Angie is a giant bag of insecurity.  Her younger sister, Carter Anne, is the “pretty” one, and initially Angie denies any interest in Chris.  Chris has plenty of interest in Angie, but she won’t respond to his overtures, sure that if she falls for him, he’ll just leave.  And Angie has no intention of ever leaving her hometown.  When Carter Anne maneuvers Chris into taking her out, Angie admits she’s attracted to him, and Carter Anne clears a path, even giving Chris advice on how to win Angie over.

Chris takes it slow, offering Angie a part-time job cleaning the mansion and sorting his grandfather’s possessions.  Angie falls in love with the old house, imagining how it would look brought back to its former glory.  As Chris and Angie spend time together, he is able to slowly woo her and make her see how desirable she is in his eyes.

Then Chris is called to help with a military training mission in Colorado, and in the eight weeks he’s away, he gives Angie free rein to redecorate the house.  When he returns, he throws an open house for the community and Angie’s innate talents as a decorator become known, leading to a budding career for her.  But then Chris is called away again, and this time he might want Angie to go with him.  What’s a hometown girl to do?

The romance between Chris and Angie is low-key and rather leisurely, as fits the persona the author lays out for Angie.  Chris is a delectable hero, and his determined pursuit of the lovely lady he fell for in one day is charming.  It’s nice to see a hero have to work for it. Angie’s defenses crumble slowly, but it feels natural.

Unfortunately, Angie as a character makes little growth in the story, and that’s a definite drawback.  The conflict is based around her unwillingness to leave town except for a week at the shore in the summer.  Angie is sure that no place is as nice as Lambert Falls, because this is home, and the people in other places aren’t nearly as nice, she just knows it, and she never wants to leave, nevernevernever.  At the end of the book, she’s still singing the same song.  It’s fine for a heroine to decide that there’s no place like home, but it only works if she actually leaves in the first place.  Since Angie has had no experience whatsoever outside of Lambert Falls, I couldn’t buy her convictions. I felt like I was reading about a teenager who was too scared to leave home and wanted to hide in the basement, and the resolution smacked more of emotional blackmail than the result of any adult decision on Angie’s part. 

Falling in Love has a lot going for it in the romance department.  The hero is a gem, the small-town setting holds a lot of appeal, and the slow pace suits the characters.  The author’s style is heavy on head-hopping and utilizes a short, choppy sentence structure; smoothing this out would make the story flow better. And the expression “hand to God” is used to death - surely the characters could spout at least one other oath from time to time?  But for a first novel, it shows a lot of promise.  Readers looking for a gentler romance might find this to be to their liking.  It will be interesting to see what Pauline Trent has in store for her next book, as there’s definitely a niche for this type of story. 

--Cathy Sova


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