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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

ARC Review: Starr Tree Farm by Ellen Parker

With STARR TREE FARM, debut author Ellen Parker delivers a well-written, heartwarming story that combines elements of cozy mysteries and more traditional romantic suspense. The small-town Wisconsin community is well crafted, the hero is a swoon-worthy sweetheart, and the heroine has a believable combination of vulnerability and strength… but it’s all just so darn sweet! I love suspense, I love small-town romances, and I went to school in the Midwest: I should have mad love for this story (and Ms. Parker definitely has talent), but I just prefer more heat in my romance.

I really enjoyed the setting of this story (winter in a Christmas tree farm in rural Wisconsin? I’m sold-- as long as I don’t have to actually live there) and thought that Ms. Parker did a great job making the fictional town of Crystal Springs come alive and showcasing the nature of small-town life. I liked the characters. Heroine Laura is relocating from the big city to Crystal Springs, where she spent her summers with family as a child, after her husband’s seemingly senseless murder to try to move forward with her life. She’s torn between grief, a desire for justice for her husband, loyalty to his memory, and attraction to childhood friend Brad. Though her reluctance to allow herself to become romantically involved with Brad until her husband’s killer was apprehended sometimes made me want to slap her upside the head, I found her to be a well-developed, realistic character with the right combination of vulnerability and fortitude to be relatable rather than weak. Brad is the ultimate boy-next-door you want to take home to meet your parents: a former soldier who bears the physical and emotional scars of a warzone explosion, a civilian jack of all trades, a natural-born protector (without being overbearing)—and in love with Laura since his teens and determined to make the most of this second chance. The two of them make a really adorable couple that will have you rooting for their HEA, tame as it is.

The weakest part of the story for me—an avid reader of dark romantic suspense—was the suspense. Brad and Laura work together to solve the mystery of her husband’s death and get her the closure she needs to move on, and bad things happen to generate a sense of danger, but it felt mostly like a somewhat generic backdrop for the developing romance. I guessed the villain from the beginning and felt like the doppelganger angle was never really explained, but the suspense/mystery plot does add an additional dimension to the story.

STARR TREE FARM is an enjoyable, quick read for anyone who likes his or her romances sweet (without being saccharine) and with a dash of mystery. It is well written and well paced, and Ellen Parker is clearly a talent to watch in this subgenre… but I need more steam and sexytimes!

**ARC provided by Publisher**

Purchase: | Amazon | Barnes & Noble |


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