Desert Isle Keeper Review
Janice Kay Johnson
November 2007, Series Romance
Harl Superromance #1454, $5.50, 276 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373714548
Janice Kay Johnson is one of my few auto-buy category romance writers. Snowbound not only reinforces her status, it moves the book to the top of my list for the author.
The book begins with a vivid, terrifying drive through the Cascade Mountains. Fiona MacPherson, a teacher at a private high school in Portland, is the faculty advisor for a group of teens who compete at academic competitions. After a competition, she makes a bad decision; in an effort to get eight teens home before a major snowstorm, she drives a school van through a trecherous mountain pass. Just when it seems as if they may be in serious danger, the group comes upon Thunder Mountain Lodge and its proprietor, John Fallon.
John is an Iraqi War veteran. Badly injured both physically and mentally in the war, He couldn't face returning to his job as a robotics engineer, so, rather than under extensive counseling, he bought the inn. John likes the isolation and thinks the peace and wilderness will help him heal.
The first two-thirds of the book is a classic cabin romance. At first, John can't believe that Fiona could really be attracted to him, given his extensive facial scars and limp. However, trapped in the inn for several days, the two come to know and care for each other, with John also becoming grudgingly involved in the lives of the teens. Although he doesn't have the temperament expected of an inn's proprietor, he makes his guests feel comfortable. Their days begin with the smell of freshly baked bread and end with John's homemade cookies.
I enjoyed so many things about this book! The author paints a realistic picture of what John experienced in Iraq, as well as many vivid images of the ways he still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ms. Johnson also provides some great insights about teaching and Fiona's love of being a teacher. The characters' feelings are also vividly conveyed. I felt Fiona's panic as she drove her charges through the mountains, John's mix of anger, grief, and guilt, and even the embarrassment of one of Fiona's young charges at a point during the story.
I loved that the book doesn't end with Fiona and John planning to get married after their snowbound days, but instead focuses in the final third on the couple dealing with both a long-distance relationship and John's lingering problems. Most importantly, I appreciated that both John and Fiona realize that the course ahead won't be easy. John will have setbacks. Nevertheless, I believe in their HEA.
When done well, a series romance can be a wonderful thing. In my mind, this book fits perfectly the definition of a buried treasure. I've heard no buzz about it. Sneaking in as it did at the end of 2007, it probably won't be mentioned in any "best of 2007" polls or lists, which is a shame. This book was, for me, a wonderful read.
-- LinnieGayl Kimmel
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