Friday, February 25, 2011

Five Umbrella Friday: RiverTime by Rae Renzi

I'm so happy with today's Five Umbrella Friday read--it's Debut Author Rae Renzi (thank you Netgalley for the discovery!), and not only is she a fabulous new find for me, she's also a brain researcher when she's not penning fiction. I can't wait to see her work more science into future books--I love, love, love that heroine had a PhD in this one.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are fan of "desert isle" books and movies--think Castaway, Swiss Family Robinson, Survivor--you absolutely won't want to miss this. I love a good stranded story, and this is one of the best I have read. Debut Author Renzi takes a giant risk with RiverTime as she could have ended the story around the 110 page mark and had an excellent novella of Casey and Jack stranded together, quick conflict back in the real world, happy epilogue, but instead she crafts a story of enormous complexity that will have fans of Susan Wiggs, Patrica Rice, Susan Kay Law's contemporaries, and Catherine Anderson cheering this welcome addition to the contemporary women's fiction genre.

Make no mistake, this is absolutely a romance, but it is also really about Casey's journey--she's newly graduated with a PhD and is unsure about her career decisions and whether to marry her long-time boyfriend. She takes a river rafting trip to get some perspective, but ends up stranded with the mysterious Jack following a flash flood. I loved that Renzi chose to have them stranded a good long time and that she showed the passage of time and the gradual warming up to each other--I don't like it when characters go from "wow, I'm really unhappy to be stranded with YOU" to "wow, I really want to do you" to HEA in the space of a few hours or a day or two trapped together. No, instead, Casey and Jack have to figure out how to survive long-term together, and this leads to deep, undeniable bond.

Renzi captures the grand canyon imagery really nicely, and you get a sense of them being alone in this vast cavern together, contrasted with the urban, hectic lives hey lead when they are finally rescued. And once they are rescued, they have to spend the rest of the book figuring out how to mesh what happened with their "real" lives, and it's messy and fraught with false steps and wrong choices and complicated no-win scenarios. Casey makes a number of choices that I wouldn't, but it felt believable to her. Immediately upon return, she makes one decision that really impacts the rest of the book, and Renzi doesn't give her an easy way out.

We don't spend nearly as much time in Jack's head, so while I did want to shake some sense into him at points, it was really Casey's story to tell. In fact, one of my only quibbles is that I really enjoyed the characterization of Jack, and I would have liked to have spent more time in his head. I think Renzi limited our time with him to maintain his aura of mystery, but his few POV scenes had tremendous emotional impact. I also would have liked a bit more time with the secondary characters--Casey's best friend seemed to come out of nowhere 3/4 of the book. However, she was nice comic relief and I enjoyed her and Jack's friends as well.

The ending is just as complex as these characters, but all the sweeter for it with a very nice twist. If you like your romance heavy on the fairytale, this book may not be for you, but if you enjoy stories that really capture the complexity of modern love, then you will not want to miss this book. This book should have broad appeal--it's a fast read, and the few love scenes are more sweet than graphic and the complicated emotional plot should appeal to readers who don't like formula romance.

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