We can add Jackie Ashenden to the queendom of the small-town contemporary romance duo of Maisey Yates and Caitlin Crews/Megan Crane to make a triumvirate. Which means you get more of the same if you’re a fan of Yates, or Crews-Crane. I’m not a fan anymore. I’m tired of the formula: former military heroes are now suspect, small-towns are scary “off the grid” loony-territory, and tough-talking heroines hiding lonely vulnerabilities aren’t quite believable when “they doth protest too much”. If these characters turn your crank, then you’re the reader for Ashenden’s first “Deep River, Alaska” romance, Home to Deep River.
Ashenden establishes her series setting with a romance that sees hero Silas Quinn return home when his best friend, RIP Caleb West, the town owner, bequeaths him, well, the town. It’s been thirteen years of bad memories of Deep River, except for Silas’s love for Hope Dawson:
Deep River, Alaska, boasts a fiercely independent though small population. The people who live here love it, and they don’t much care what anyone else thinks. Until the day Silas Quinn comes back and tells them an oil reserve has been found below the town and now it’s neighbor vs. neighbor. Some want to take the money and run, while others want to tell the oil company to put its rigs where the sun don’t shine.
Hope Dawson never expected to leave Deep River. Her mom needs her. Her grandfather died and left her the local hangout to run. Her dreams of college and adventure died long ago. Until Silas comes back to town, holding the key to set her free. But freedom means she loses him again, and he’s the one she’s really always wanted.
As a matter of fact, no oil company shows up, there’s no neighbour vs. neighbour and the oil reserve is a minor plot point in this day and age of climate change and alternative energy to bring Silas and Hope together. Does it matter? Not really. Because the town shenanigans and oil reserves and what the town will decide are the background to Ashenden’s purpose: her protagonists waffling on about their tormented feelings while having a lot of sex, lotso’ sex and lotso’ internal distress and denial.
I didn’t much care for Hope, or Silas and that made it hard to warm up to the novel. The town’s being beset by oil companies took only the form of mysterious phone calls offering to buy residents out. But the mountains’ mystery and majesty are such no one can resist, or give, or sell them away. Silas and Hope seemingly join forces to help Deep River navigate this new-found reality, but the narrative succumbs to Silas and Hope’s “sekret” torches for each other. They sleep together; then, they avoid each other; then, they get back together. They seem to do much “burning” for each other and indeed, there’s quite a bit of flame and fire imagery, especially when describing Hope’s eyes. Silas’s eyes are equally peculiarly incendiary: they’re green, they’re gold; they smoulder and flash. They have their own narrative to tell. They’re more interesting than Silas, or Hope.
Ashenden’s Silas and Hope are prone to if not saucy, then tortured doubts and fears. Silas is leaving; their affair is just a “get it out of our system”. Hope is staying; their affair is a temporary slaking of what has been a years-long attraction. Their conflict is strictly internal: Hope wants as much of Silas as she can get; Silas is the same. Then, they both realize, separately and internally, they’re in love with the other. They sleep together again; avoid each other. Silas resolves to leave; then, suddenly, it’s Hope leaving Deep River. Frankly, I didn’t know whether they, or I, were coming or going. It was tedious because they belong together, are so obviously in love, and so obviously want to people Deep River with flashy-eyed babies that their love confessions, when they arrived, elicited only an eye-roll and muttered, “about time”. Despite an excess of combustible eyes, Ashenden sure can write melodrama that I suspect her foray into small-town romance never got the message about putting the sweet in small. With Miss Austen, we found Ashenden’s Home to Deep River “had a high claim to forbearance,” Emma.
Jackie Ashenden’s Home to Deep River is published by Sourcebooks Casablanca. It was released in July 2020 and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from Sourcebooks Casablanca, via Netgalley.