Kelly Matlock is a talented sous chef at a popular five-star restaurant in San Francisco. She's hoping to move up in the ranks to become head chef at her own restaurant one day, but lately her job has become increasingly stressful. Add to that a confrontation with the wife of the restaurant owner, who thinks Kelly is having an affair with her husband, and it's a recipe for disaster. Granted Kelly does have feelings for the man, and he's told her that he plans to leave his wife, but never in her wildest dreams did she think it would come to this. Everything put together throws Kelly into a panic, causing her to faint in the restaurant kitchen. After a trip to the ER, she finds herself ready to make some serious changes in her life. Kelly is sure that the relaxing pace of a farm is exactly what she needs to get her head together and make a new plan for her future. After walking out on her job and packing up her apartment, she hits the road, heading for her sister's house in Virgin River. Unfortunately, Kelly has always been the level-headed one, while Jillian was the one who made decisions on a whim, so Kelly doesn't quite know how to break the news to her sister that she's done something out of character. Once in town, she stops in at Jack's bar for a fortifying drink, but when her new medications don't mix well with alcohol, she accidentally becomes drunk.
Widower Leif Holbrook is an Oscar-winning screenwriter who moved to Virgin River a few months earlier, looking for a slower pace of life and a fresh start for himself and his troubled teenage step-daughter, Courtney. When Kelly walks into the bar, Leif feels an instant attraction to her, and for the first time in the two years since his wife died, he thinks he might finally be able to move on with another woman. When the poor lady gets drunk, he decides to play the gentleman and see her home safely. He drops by the next day to see how she's doing, and can't seem to stop himself from coming back to see her over and over again. Soon things begin to heat up between them, and with Kelly settling into Jill's huge kitchen, cooking up a storm, it seems they may have a future together. Unfortunately, Courtney is less than thrilled that her step-dad is seeing another woman and tends to give Kelly the cold shoulder. Leif does the best he can to balance his time with both of his best girls, but stolen romantic moments while Courtney is in school just don't seem to be enough for Kelly. Will Leif ever be able to get Courtney to warm up to the woman he's fallen in love with, or will Kelly go back to the big city when her old boss offers her a tempting new job?
The more I read of Harvest Moon, the more I thought I'd finally found another Robyn Carr keeper. It admittedly wasn't perfect for me. There were a few parts that were slow and a few minor annoyances, but overall, I was enjoying it. I liked the characters and the situations were believable. There were a couple of romantic scenes that I felt were on par with some of the author's earlier books in the series, and which convinced me that Leif and Kelly were truly falling for one another. Leif's step-daughter, Courtney, was a troubled teen, but not a frustrating one, so I always understood where she was coming from. I kind of missed the core Virgin River townspeople not playing bigger roles, but it wasn't a deal-breaker for me. So what, you might ask, kept this book at four stars and prevented it from earning keeper status from me? It was the ending, and with that being the last thing a reader is left with, a weak ending is always sure to bring down the rating I give to any book. Was it an HEA? Yes, but the road the author took to get there seemed forced and contrived. It was like she was simply trying to throw in some last-minute conflict, but ultimately, it just didn't make any sense to me, which I'll get to in a moment.
Like so many of Robyn Carr's characters I've read this year from both her Virgin River and Thunder Point series, Kelly is yet another one who comes to the little town of Virgin River to escape the rat race of city life and do some soul-searching after a major life event, in this case a health scare. Kelly is an extremely talented sous chef, but after collapsing in the kitchen of the restaurant where she works, she knows she has to get away from her stressful job. Not to mention, she'd developed a deep friendship and romantic feelings for Luca, a fellow chef and owner of the restaurant, but a married man whose wife had just come to confront Kelly about their supposed "affair." Needless to say, Kelly is in a rather dazed and confused state when she arrives at her sister, Jillian's house in Virgin River. Being away from all the stress and near her only family works wonders for Kelly's psyche though, and soon she's cooking up a storm in Jilly's huge kitchen, working with fruits and vegetables her sister grows on her little farm. She also strikes up a romance with Leif, a man who recently moved to the area himself along with his teenage step-daughter, Courtney. Granted Courtney has been struggling ever since her mother's sudden death, and her grief was made all the more difficult by being shuttled back and forth between Leif and a biological father who is a terrible parent. Consequently, she's not too thrilled to have Lief developing a romance with Kelly, which makes her kind of cold and distant toward her dad's new girlfriend. For her part, Kelly wasn't sure she ever wanted kids and doesn't think she's very good with them either, but that doesn't, in my mind, absolve her from trying to at least be friends with her boyfriend's daughter, especially if she truly loves him and wants to make a life with him.
Up to this point, I liked everything about Kelly, her extraordinary talent in the kitchen, her determination, her entrepreneurial and imaginative skills. She seemed like a very nice and admirable woman, but when it came to Courtney, I felt like Kelly wasn't really trying hard enough. One time, she kind of took Courtney under her wing and let her help with some baking, but other than that, she never really spent any time with the girl and had a rather low opinion of her. Kelly was frustrated that she and Leif essentially had to sneak around while Courtney was at school, but I never felt like she did anything to even attempt to build a relationship with the girl. She never offered to take her shopping, or to the movies, or paint each other's nails, or anything girlie, nor did she ever really talk with Courtney to find out what kinds of things she liked to try to find a way into the girl's heart. Then after months have passed by with no forward progress in getting Courtney to like her, Kelly suddenly, out of the blue, says she can't stand not spending more time with Leif. She's moving back to San Francisco but will come visit once or twice a month. This made zero sense to me. She's frustrated by not spending enough time together, so she wants to spend even less time together? Even when there were some small glimmers of hope with Courtney, she didn't try to build on them, and even after an emergency situation arises while Leif is out of town that brings Kelly and Courtney closer together, Kelly is still determined to leave. Again, huh? At this point, it seemed she was finally getting what she'd been hoping for, so her protests seemed weak and forced: Luca had already helped her find a position; she needed to feel needed. None of this rang true to me. Kelly had found a renewed sense of purpose in Virgin River, producing her great-grandma's recipes with ingredients that Jilly grew and had already gotten started on a great business idea, but she was willing to throw it all away on a whim? What happened to the supposedly level-headed girl? What about loving Leif and him needing her in his life? Her logic and reasoning didn't make any sense to me at all. All this ridiculous last-minute conflict arising made me lose respect for Kelly and also made me feel like she didn't truly love Leif or she'd have put more effort into drawing Courtney into a relationship with her. I just felt like she was largely ignoring the girl, then expecting a miracle to occur, and when it didn't, was running away.
Kelly may have frustrated me in the end, but I adored Leif. He's instantly smitten with Kelly the moment she walks into Jack's bar, so he gently but determinedly pursues her. It's been two years since his wife died, and although he admits he isn't quite over her yet, he's lonely. I do wish we'd seen a little more of this side of him and how his wife's death is still affecting him. I think it would have made his character a little fuller, but I could tell how lonely he was and how he craved an adult relationship. Leif's responsibility to Courtney has made it difficult for him to date, but in the past two years, he hasn't really even been attracted to anyone else until Kelly comes along. I loved his gentlemanly, chivalrous nature in taking Kelly to her sister's house when she accidentally got drunk at Jack's right after coming to town. I also loved how humble he is. Despite being a famous screenwriter who won an Oscar for his work, he's still just an ordinary guy who hasn't forgotten his simple farm-boy roots, and that's the kind of life he's trying to carve out for himself and Courtney. Leif was also an amazing guy to have made a parental commitment to a child who isn't biologically his, and more importantly, to fight for her happiness and well-being. It just goes to show that sometimes the family we choose is better and stronger than our family by blood.
Another thing that bothered me about Kelly is that she worried about always playing second-fiddle to Leif's daughter, but IMO nothing could have been further from the truth. Admittedly, they could usually only spend time together when Courtney was at school or her friend's house, but it never felt like Leif was putting Kelly last. If anything, he was trying really hard to balance his responsibilities and carve out plenty of time for her in spite of all the difficulties with Courtney. IMHO, the man was practically a saint.:-) The one thing that did give me pause about him though, was toward the end, when he all but gave Courtney the final say-so in whether he married Kelly or anyone for that matter. I thought that was taking it a bit too far. Granted trying to throw the three of them together when Courtney wasn't on the same page could have been disastrous and he was trying to be sensitive to her feelings, but giving a troubled teenager that much power over his love life was nearly as problematic. He also kind of watered down his feelings for Kelly when dealing with Courtney, perhaps in deference to her feelings about him remarrying, but I really thought he should have been more honest and forthright about his love for Kelly. If I'm being totally honest, other than insisting on a few family dinners, which kind of occurred in the background anyway, he also didn't do a great deal to bring the two most important women in his life together. But otherwise, Leif was a great guy who I really liked.
Outside of the three main characters there were a few sitings of characters from previous books. Of course, with Jillian being Kelly's sister, she and Colin (Wild Man Creek) factor pretty prominently. Leif convinces Courtney to take riding lessons, so Clay and Lilly (Promise Canyon) pop up a couple of times. Courtney also gets a new hair style from Annie ("Under the Christmas Tree" from That Holiday Feeling). With him being a prominent player in Hollywood, Leif knows Muriel St. James, which mean Walt isn't far behind. Jack and Preacher show up in a few scenes, but not as much as I would have liked. They and many of the townspeople from the earlier books seem to have faded into the background somewhat, so I do miss them a little.
Besides the weaknesses in character motivations and the rather contrived ending, there were a couple of other small things that bugged me. The first is that Robyn Carr has lately gotten into the bad habit of using the word 'etcetera' quite a bit and always in dialog. This is a very rare word for people to use when speaking to someone else (I don't believe I've ever heard anyone say it), but in the last few of the author's books I've read, she probably used it at least 6-8 times. I lost count because it was annoying me so much I had to try to ignore it. The other minor issue I had is a scene toward the beginning of the book in which Kelly's cell phone disappeared and she laments having to buy a new one. Then suddenly she's talking, texting, and emailing on it and hasn't even been to buy it yet. I'm not sure if this was an editing error where something was taken out, which messed up the continuity or what, but I reread it a couple of times to make sure I wasn't missing anything and was still confused by it. Otherwise, as I mentioned before, I really enjoyed Harvest Moon overall, right up until the end. If that had just been shored up better and Kelly's decision hadn't been so illogical, I most likely would have given it keeper status. But as is, it was still a pretty good read. Next up is Denny's book, Bring Me Home for Christmas. Since he barely factored into this story, I'm not sure what to expect, but hopefully, it will be equally as good if not better than the other Robyn Carr books I've read this year. I'm really eager to get another keeper out of her.
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