Contemporary romance can be difficult to get right. It’s so dependent on the strength of the characters to drive the plot, that if you don’t win your readers over early on, the desire to turn the pages wanes.
Jana Richards grabs the reader straight away with her cast of characters. Bridget has just returned to her hometown of Paradise in North Dakota. Out of options and out of money, she’s forced to work in her mother’s cafe to make ends meet after her successful catering business in San Francisco folded and not long after that, her marriage.
Her teenage daughter Rebecca is along for the journey and she’s less than impressed about leaving her private school in the city and living in small town USA. I immediately liked the way Bridget was portrayed–tough but more than a little grumpy about the way her life has turned out. We quickly learn she too isn’t happy to be returning to her hometown after twenty years away, when she’d spent her teenage years longing to escape.
We watch as she’s forced to revisit rocky relationships with her mother and sister, Celia, and it’s far from smooth. Bridget is prickly and lashing out at those around her, so it’s very interesting to see her family both embrace and humble her. And then there’s Jack Davison, Bridget’s first love. He’s settled just outside of town and runs a horse ranch for tourists, where he lives alone with his Down Syndrome daughter, Leslie.
At first, neither is particularly keen to remember the past. Both are still hurt that their relationship never worked out, and in their way, both blame the other. Jack blames Bridget for her desire to move to the city and Bridget blames Jack for his abrupt first marriage not long after she moved to San Francisco.
Then Jack needs a favour catering for a big tourist group which could mean big business for the ranch and Bridget finds herself offering to help.
She has to overcome the demons of her past she still carries with her over the failure of her business. Not to mention the feelings reigniting with Jack, which is not helped by the fact that her troubled daughter has taken a liking to him and Leslie. Before too long, Bridget finds herself involved in his life. Rebecca is taking horse riding lessons with Jack at the ranch and he’s a better father figure to her daughter than her miserable ex-husband ever was. Then Bridget finds herself bravely championing for more freedom for Leslie–the daughter Jack loves fiercely but has been too scared to let grow up or teach independence because of her disability.
First and Again is an engaging read, filled with rich and interesting characters. They were believable and readable because of their flaws, and the challenges each of them faced. The reader easily becomes absorbed as the characters travel a journey that leads them closer to each other, and I loved the underlying message of family and the importance of relying on others to succeed.
The aspect that really set this book apart for me, was that each and every character in this novel was rich and you found yourself forming a relationship with all of them, not just the lead characters. The romance between Bridget and Jack was well-balanced and an enjoyable read. It was human and believable, but still had a decent heat factor to make it entertaining for the reader. Jana Richards weaves a story that is heart-felt and it offers a depth many authors fail to achieve. She also infuses friendship and light-hearted humour, which leaves you with the feeling that you genuinely know and will miss the characters once you put the book down.
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Carina Press
Date of Publication: October 7, 2013
Word Count: 87,000 words
Bridget Grant is back in Paradise. Paradise, North Dakota, that is.
She’s swallowed her pride and moved back to her hometown with her daughter after her divorce and the loss of her catering company. Now she’s trying to navigate the strained relationships she’d left behind—including her first love, Jack Davison.
Jack never forgot Bridget, or the day she left town—and him. When Bridget caters a lunch at Jack’s tourist ranch, old flames reignite. They have more in common than ever—Jack’s also a single parent. Though they both try to keep things casual, Bridget, Jack and their girls are starting to look a lot like a family.
But Bridget’s only planning to stay in Paradise until she’s saved enough to relaunch her business. Jack’s invested too much in his ranch to leave. And with their daughters involved, both have a lot more at stake than heartbreak. How can they risk falling in love?
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The sound of an approaching vehicle made her cringe. The driver would likely stop and ask what had happened and whether she was all right. The thought of having to explain her actions made her feel slightly queasy. She prayed for the person to keep on going, to ignore the woman in a pink apron walking alone down a gravel road.
No such luck.
She heard the vehicle slow to a crawl as it pulled next to her. Righteous anger bubbled in her chest when she glanced over and saw Jack Davison roll down his window.
“Going for a walk?” he asked.
“Something like that.”
“Need a ride back to the motel?”
“No thanks. I don’t accept rides from people who laugh at me.”
She kept on walking, her head high. To her dismay Jack continued to follow her slowly with his truck.
“When did I laugh at you? I’ve only seen you once since you got here.”
“Once was enough.”
“You mean the night Tina gave you a hard time?”
Bridget didn’t answer. Perhaps it seemed petty to others, but Tina and Celia had humiliated her, and Jack had laughed at her. She wasn’t likely to get over it quickly.
“I wasn’t laughing at you. I enjoyed seeing Tina get taken down a peg. It doesn’t happen often, and frankly, I was impressed.” He paused a moment. “Are you sure you don’t want a ride?”
She glanced toward Jack and he grinned back, all innocence and boyish charm. Despite herself, she returned his smile. He was a hard man to stay angry with, and she really didn’t want to walk back to the motel and risk having other people pass her on the road.
“Fine. I’ll ride with you.”
He stopped the truck and gestured toward the passenger door of his half-ton. “Hop in.”
She climbed into the cab, slammed the door shut, then buckled her seat belt. She smoothed the apron over her lap, suddenly feeling stupid and regretting her decision to accept the ride. Jack probably thought she was crazy, or at best, unbalanced. There was no way she could explain the fear that had controlled her life the last two years.
“I have a punching bag,” he said, his eyes on the road ahead.
“Excuse me?” she said, confused. Had she missed part of this conversation?
“When I can’t get things or people to do what I want them to do, or when I’m just plain pissed off, I go down into my basement and beat the hell out of Bozo the Clown.”
She stared at his profile. “Bozo the Clown?”
“I have an old Bozo punching bag, you know, one of those toys that’s weighted on the bottom so it keeps popping back up. Bozo takes a licking and keeps coming back for more.”
“Oh, I see,” she said cautiously.
He turned and flashed a dazzling smile. “No, I’m not crazy. At least no crazier than you. Everybody needs some way of getting out their frustrations or they’ll eat you alive. Mine happens to be beating the crap out of Bozo, and I suspect that yours is walking briskly down country roads.”
She relaxed against the seat. “Maybe.”
“Next time lose the apron. You can’t pretend you’re a serious jogger if you’re wearing a frilly pink apron.”
“No, I suppose not.” She grinned, the weight of embarrassment lifting from her shoulders. Jack’s quirky sense of humor had always intrigued and delighted her. “Next time I feel the urge to take a hike I’ll throw on some jogging pants and tell everyone I’m training for a marathon. That ought to stop the gossiping.”
“Sorry to disillusion you, but nothing’s likely to do that. Gossip and Paradise go together like peanut butter and jam. Most of the time it’s harmless, but if you’re smart you’ll try not to draw too much attention to yourself.”
“Trust me, that’s the last thing I want to do.” She untied the apron and pulled it over her head. “Doesn’t it ever get to you? The life in the fishbowl? Are you and your wife happy living in Paradise?”
He glanced at her, and she saw a momentary look of surprise in his expression before he turned his attention back to his driving.
“I’m happy enough. The fishbowl thing doesn’t bother me.”
“But if you’re going to live in a small town, you’d better get up to date on your gossip. I’ve been single the last ten years.”
The news took her by surprise. Was he single because of divorce or because his wife had died? “Oh, I’m sorry. Celia didn’t tell me.” She wondered why her sister hadn’t filled her in after all this time.
Jack shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.”
He offered no further information and she decided not to ask any more questions. After all, she barely knew him anymore.
About the Author:
When Jana Richards read her first romance novel, she immediately knew two things: she had to commit the stories running through her head to paper, and they had to end with a happily ever after. She also knew she’d found what she was meant to do. Since then she’s never met a romance genre she didn’t like. She writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and historical romance set in World War Two, in lengths ranging from short story to full length novel. Just for fun, she throws in generous helpings of humor, and the occasional dash of the paranormal. Her paranormal romantic suspense “Seeing Things” was a 2008 EPPIE finalist.
In her life away from writing, Jana is an accountant/admin assistant, a mother to two grown daughters, and a wife to her husband Warren. She enjoys golf, yoga, movies, concerts, travel and reading, not necessarily in that order. She and her husband live in Winnipeg with their Pug/Terrier cross Lou and several unnamed goldfish. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.janarichards.com
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/author/janarichards
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