Morgan & Whitney Dish: Return To The Black Hills By Debra Salonen

This week, Whitney and I Dish about Debra Salonen's series romance Return to the Black Hills.

Morgan: I picked this week’s Dish book because the heroine is a Parkour expert. Ever since I watched the chase scene in Casino Royale with Daniel Craig, I have loved this sport.

Whitney: It’s pretty amazing and has definitely gained popularity in the past few years.

Morgan: For those unfamiliar, Parkour is all about moving through an urban space as fast as you can, but instead of going around obstacles, you use them to go faster. So you wouldn’t go around a fence, you would climb to the top and do a flip to the other side.

Whitney: If you YouTube “Parkour advertisement” you can see some really cool stunts! (But YouTubers be warned, that’s hours of good reading time that might slip down the drain.)

Morgan: I think Jessie’s Parkour really added a great physical aspect to the story. Debra Salonen could have just made her an adrenaline junkie, but by adding Jessie’s training to the mix, we see her as an athlete.

Whitney: And Salonen absolutely brought Jessie’s commitment to Parkour to life. From the first scenes where Jessie is up on the tower right through to her self-recriminations and frustration about the stunt competition that she recently lost in Japan, Jessie pushes herself to be the best, and never settles for anything less. That’s definitely a quality that I respect in a heroine!

Morgan: And considering her intensity about her work, it's totally understandable that she’s upset that someone is sabotaging her stunts. The fear factor element was so high at some points that I was a bit surprised this fell under the SuperRomance imprint at Harlequin. It almost read like an Intrigue.

Whitney: But it is full of some really sweet and tender moments. Ones that aren’t just between Jessie and the hero Cade but also between their family members. There’s the bond that forms between Cade’s daughter, Shiloh, and Remy, Jessie’s twin sister; and there’s the touching scenes with Cade’s estranged father. Moments like this provide an emphasis on family and emotional growth that you certainly wouldn’t find in an Intrigue.

Morgan: The secondary characters do tug at the heartstrings. My favorite was Shiloh, the rebellious 12-year-old. You tell her something is dangerous and she’ll want to do it. Cade doesn’t know how to handle the preteen, but Jessie is not afraid of treating her tough — she doesn’t let Shiloh get away with anything.

Whitney: Agreed, Shiloh is a daredevil of a character — much more so than Jessie. My heart definitely goes out to her dad who is doing his best to keep Shiloh reined in. Although I have to say, I wish that there had been a few more scenes between Jessie, Shiloh and Cade.

Morgan: The author did this on purpose. Throughout the whole book, Jessie can’t work hard enough to convince Cade that she is not suitable for giving advice to his kid.

“Don’t try to read anything too hearth and homey into it, okay. I’m only here for the summer...I’m doing Shiloh a favor by not pretending to be the motherly type.”

A little harsh yes, but no one can say that Jessie isn’t honest.

Whitney: Yeah but it’s scared honesty, this is a challenge that Jessie’s afraid to take on. And although I understand her reasons, I don’t like them.

Morgan: Does Jessie’s reluctance to become part of Shiloh’s life ever get resolved? She kind of goes from not wanting to be a mother to not being able to wait to become a family.

Whitney: I actually thought that Salonen handled Jessie’s fears about motherhood pretty realistically. I mean Jessie has had a slew of bad role models but, she also had success with the charity that she worked with, Girlz on Fire, that taught Parkour to girls at risk. So she had some experience and the support of those around her. But one of the things that I liked best about Return to the Black Hills is that Shiloh has Remy in the picture, so that Jessie wasn’t ever forced into the artificial mom role of babysitting Shiloh. Instead their relationship could simply develop naturally.

Morgan: I thought that having Jessie’s twin sister stay at Cade’s ranch was more than a little awkward. Remy just shows up and invites herself in. Rude!

Whitney: But they are twins. They shared a womb! What’s sharing a house after all of that? I think that being twins gives Jessie and Remy the right to a fair amount of together-ness.

Morgan: Jessie makes it pretty clear that she is not excited to have Remy staying. And who can blame her? Compared to her daredevil sister, Remy is downright boring.

Whitney: I call foul, it’s hard to compete with a sister like Jessie. And they can’t both be risk-taking stuntwomen, or who would have been able to care for their mother when she was sick?

Morgan: What about the three other sisters — the ones they call “the Bullies”?

Whitney: I was so frustrated that she called her older sisters “the Bullies” but never really dug into that other than to say that they pretty much left their younger half sisters to fight their own battles. As a big sister myself, I had a really hard time with Jessie not actively wanting to improve that relationship.

Morgan: Well, as an older sister (and sometimes considered a bully myself) I am also unwilling to step aside when a sibling is in need, but neither of us went through Jessie’s childhood. She was hurt when she was younger and was left to pretty much get herself through rehabilitation. This naturally makes her independent, which hampers her ability to bond with others. But again, she is totally honest about it. She is so self-aware. She knows who she is and is not defined by her relationships with others.

Whitney: Yeah but that killed me about her. For all that Jessie is self-aware, she’s is so afraid of love. I mean, Jessie is more comfortable with the pet baby raccoon, Sugar, than she is with Cade sometimes. That’s a wild animal over a man who clearly cares for her.

Morgan: At times, I will agree that her emotional distance went beyond just self-preservation, but I thought this was a great foil to her physical daring. She’s super brave until it comes to her feelings.

“Physical challenges don’t scare me, but emotional quagmires I avoid like the plague.”

Whitney: I understand that she had baggage. I mean being a burn survivor, having a difficult relationship with her mother and not having a father figure in the picture — Jessie pretty much had the deck stacked against her. But I really respect her free spirited nature. I mean, the girl up and moved to L.A. and then winded up doing stunts. She does not travel the beaten path!

Morgan: She is one-of-a-kind. I love her absolute refusal to be even a little bit fashionable like you might expect from a woman her age. Where Remy is very well put together, Jessie is happy if her clothes don’t smell. At one point in the story she wears a bright orange tank top with a wrinkled green blouse she had worn the night before. It shows how little interest she has with everyday, mundane things. This woman is an athlete and everything she does is focused on her work.

Whitney: Except for that steamy scene when she and Cade are doing yoga!

Morgan: Cade does really push her off balance. And no wonder — he is everything she is looking for in a man. Literally. I loved the part of the story when Jessie finds the journal she kept as a teenager. She wrote the requirements for a soul mate which included:

He will be stronger than me.
He will be nice but not pansy-ass.
He will like me best.

Cade is all of this and more. He is just such a great guy. Genuine is the best word I have to describe Cade. He is a genuine person.

Whitney: Cade really did strike me as an excellent “Mr. Nice Guy” but not as someone who would settle for coming in last. And it’s clear that he does have an adventurous streak — falling for two women who like to live on the edge.

Morgan: It seemed unfair that he was mad at himself for being upset at Jessie’s dangerous career. Cade already lost one woman to an accident, no wonder he is scared that he will lose Jessie too. I mean, it is only about 10 minutes after he meets her that her stunt goes wrong and she is hanging upside down from a tower by only one ankle.

Whitney: So much of Cade’s trepidation is for his daughter. Not only that she would follow in her mother and Jessie’s footsteps but also that Shiloh would lose another person she cares about. Cade is willing to take risks with his own heart, but he’s so protective of Shiloh.

Morgan: I really liked Cade’s dad-ness. He’s a terrific father, but the author doesn’t make too big a deal out of it. This is just who he is.

Whitney: This was a really nice foil for all of the craziness that his dad, Buck, is going through at the spiritual retreat. Even though it was time that could have been spent on more scenes between Cade and Jessie, I thought that it brings a lot to Cade’s character that we see what went on during this childhood his father’s point of view. That, paired with Cade’s own memories of his relationship to his little sister, was just one more side to this great guy.

Morgan: I thought the secondary storyline surrounding Cade’s estranged father was a bit extreme. Buck goes from being an abusive alcoholic to going on spiritual retreats where he meditates? This is the fourth book we have read for the Dish and all of them have had parental figures that were either super weird and quirky or total screw-ups. Do normal parents exist in fiction nowadays? It's beginning to seem like authors are just adding in these characters for some quick "color" for their story.

Whitney: Well we’ll have to keep an eye on the parents in next week’s Dish, The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen, to see if your theory holds any weight!

Does this Dish leave you lusting for adventure (and a Mr. Nice Guy of your own)? You can check out all the action in Return to the Black Hills, which is on shelves now. And you can also take a look at the next book we’ll be Dishing about Sarah Addison Allen's The Peach Keeper!