No one is happy about beauty queen Brooke Landgon’s return to Hope Canyon, Arkansas, least of all Brooke herself. Not her old friend Holly Christian, nor Holly’s friend Hunter Pierce, and definitely not Brooke’s first love Gatlin Moore. But after her marriage fails and her grandmother dies leaving Brooke her house, return she does. Brooke has a lot of fences to mend in Hope Canyon, but she would rather hole up at her grandmother’s house and ignore everyone. But that’s almost impossible in a town this small.
Holly is dealing with her own wish to hide after her fiance dies without telling anyone he had broken up with her. She just can’t tell the truth about the town’s golden boy without hurting everyone. So she strikes an odd bargain with her estranged childhood friend. She will give Brooke a place to stay and help Brooke while she fixes up her grandmother’s house if Brooke will act as a buffer for all the well-wishing citizens of Hope Canyon.
But these two ladies are as different as chalk and cheese. Not to mention, there are two men harboring some long-simmering feeling towards these two opposites. Hunter has always been in love with Holly, but was the third wheel in a lopsided friendship with Holly and her fiance Chad. While Gatlin is still boiling mad at Brooke’s abandonment of him years ago.
It’s amazing what the return of a prodigal can stir up in one small town. Change is on the horizon for four people who have forgotten how tight the past can tie people together.
One of the things I love best about these books is how well it captures small town life in the mid-South. Though I’m not from Arkansas but Texas, I’ve experienced this lifestyle which isn’t often featured in books. Driving dusty backroads, meeting up unintentionally at the local hangout, the slow drawl and easy manners as well as the speed at which news both bad and good gets around. These books certainly make all these experiences feel real without resorting to cliche.
I also appreciated how unpredictable the main characters were. Though each of them fit some of the stereotypes associated with them, still I never could quite guess what any of them might do or say. I love being surprised that way. Though this duology finishes with a happy ending, the journey getting there is always fresh and startling.
The first book (Written in the Stars) focuses more on the rebuilding of Brooke and Holly’s friendship. Never an odder pair will you meet. Sometimes I wondered if they even liked each other. But their bargain ensured that each supported the other whether they wanted to or not. Neither one was afraid to challenge the other. Nor did either one of them put on their best behavior for the other. Brooke and Holly are a good picture of iron sharpening iron. Sometimes the friction is hard and unpleasant, but the end result is both are better off. I enjoyed the addition of Brooke’s grandmother’s diary and how it inspired the girls to set off on a road trip to accomplish the same bucket list her grandmother did.
Hunter and Gatlin get more “face” time in book two (Written in the Dust). Both are the picture of southern gentleman, although Gatlin’s reactions to Brooke wouldn’t prove it. These are self-sacrificing men who don’t demand attention, but just do what needs to be done without being asked. Of the two, I was more curious about Gatlin. His anger sparked in every interaction with Brooke and I wanted to know why. In fact, it kind of made me mad at him until partway through book two, when their shared history is finally revealed. And then I was shocked at how quickly that anger turned to passion in his pursuit of Brooke.
I’ve heard about Christina Coryell’s books for years, but this is my first experience with them. However after reading Written in the Stars and Written in the Dust, it certainly won’t be my last.
Have you read any of Christina Coryell’s books? What other books would you recommend with mid-South settings?