Kristin Hardy, "Vermont Valentine"

15 Jul

GENRE: Romance / Contemporary
PUBLISHED: Mills & Boon Special, 2008

WHY THIS NOVEL: I liked other novels by Kristin Hardy.

The back blurb:
” ‘In every generation lives one man born to be alone…’
And Jacob Trask was clearly his generation’s representative. Because while his brothers sought their livelihoods – and loves – elsewhere, he knew he had to stay where he belonged. Where he was needed. And where eligible women were as rare as an eighty-degree day in January…
And then came a possible danger to his beloved family farm. The bearer of bad news? A petite, gorgeous, non-stop talker named Celie Favreau. And though captivated by Jacob’s rugged good looks and piercing blue eyes, she had to stay on track. She’d come to warn of a threat to his trees. The threat to his heart was merely incidental…”

I read this novel back in May so I hope I get things right. Vermont Valentine is the third novel of the trilogy about the Trask brothers and it begins with a prologue that’s a bit huh? and not really connected to what follows. In the previous novels, Jacob was represented as silent, keeping to his own, and looking the part. He had a full grown beard and all in all probably looked like a wood gnome. So in the prologue, he gets a make-over for some charity thing and now he looks drop-dead gorgeous. Apart from explaining why Jacob is the new hottie in town, there’s no need for the prologue. That’s not really a big deal, but the why and the way of the transformation didn’t work for me. It struck me as weird.

Jacob likes the work on the family’s sugar maple farm, it’s what he does best and what best suits him. But in a small corner of his mind, he also resents that he was the one who had to stay, that his brothers had choices and he didn’t. Anyway, the maple farm is his livelihood, and if he feels overwhelmed by the burden of being alone with the responsibility for the farm after his father’s death, he also has a strong sense of obligation and an even stronger sense of belonging with the farm.

Enter Celie. Celie works for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and she is heading the scarlet-horned maple borer’s eradication program (I got a bit tired of reading the beetle’s* name so often). Of course, some of Jacob’s trees are infected by the beetle and Celie has to order a wide-ranged cut down of healthy trees around the infected ones, the standard procedure in such a case. The resulting loss of trees and therefore income is a big threat to Jacob’s livelihood, which very possibly will result in the loss of the farm. Jacob’s and Celie’s following behaviour is why I like reading Hardy’s stories: instead of getting all aggressive and “you bitch,” turning the story into constant fighting broken with some hot kissing scenes, Jacob and Celie remain civil in their dealings with each other. Hardy’s characters tend to suck it up and soldier on.

Celie and Jacob are a well-matched couple. He’s the silent one, while she can talk up a storm (and get him to talk some himself, of course). As Celie’s friend Marce says: “I do use semaphore with you when you get on a roll, but I’m sure there are times when you’re merely voluble rather than garrulous” (p.28). Jacob and Celie both struggle with their obligations towards their families. Jacob because of the resentment he feels towards his brothers; Celie because of feeling suffocated by her family and their business. She was the one who escaped as soon as she could and now leads a live totally opposite to what her childhood was like. Then she had to stay in one place because her parents owned a bookstore, now she moves from place to place every couple of months because that’s what her job requires of her. This also is the main conflict between Jacob and Celie. He went through a relationship where the woman didn’t want to stay with him on the farm; he couldn’t and still can’t, but he also didn’t and still doesn’t want to leave. And Celie’s job requires her to move around a lot.

The main problem I had with this story is related to Celie’s job. As I said, she needs to cut down a lot of trees to follow the standard procedure for infected trees. But there’s a way to treat the infected trees with an insecticide which means no need to cut down healthy trees. The thing is: it’s not allowed to be used in the U.S. Celie knows it’s under consideration for free usage (she thinks it’s just a matter of a few weeks, at the most) and goes ahead with it. She still cuts down trees on Jacob’s farm but less than she should following the official policy. Then infected trees are found at another farm. Celie doesn’t use the insecticide and cuts down trees according the official procedure.

What gets me: how could she jeopardize her job like that? She has a huge responsibility; she doesn’t act fast, there’s no way to stop the infection from spreading, threatening all trees, all farms, and all livelihoods. Did she really think it wouldn’t be noticed that there were a lot less trees cut on Jacob’s farm than laid down in the official procedures? Regardless of how much reasoning went on and that I understand the motivation behind it, I still thought it stupid and an easy and convenient way out of the main conflict in Jacob’s and Celie’s relationship: in the end, Celie loses her job.

This really got to me and marred an otherwise enjoyable and nice read with a strong theme of family and the way you deal with the sense of obligation you feel towards it.

* Or would it be bug?

Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? Maybe.

Grade: 4 – / 5


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