Following on from the first review of the year in January – Darkness Concealed by D. Emery Bunn – with my next choice I’m going from Fantasy to Romance with From Here to Nashville by Julie Stock. I’ve been following Julie’s progress since we ‘met’ during NaNoWriMo 2013 and we’ve often supported one another during the struggles of revisions. So I’m delighted that Julie’s debut novel is now available for pre-orders and will be live from Monday 16th February 2015. So, what did I think of her debut offering?
From Here to Nashville
Two worlds, 4,000 miles apart. Can music unite them?
Rachel Hardy dreams of being a successful country music singer in Nashville’s Music City, four thousand miles away from her lonely life in Dorset.
When Jackson Phillips, an independent record label owner, encourages her band to audition for a nationwide ‘Open Mic’ competition, she decides they have nothing to lose.
But when she starts to fall in love with Jackson, the stakes suddenly get higher and she finds herself with a great big dilemma on her hands. Should she abandon her dream and take the easy way out or should she leave the life she has always known behind and take a gamble on a man who has personal demons of his own?
Follow Rachel and Jackson as they learn to trust in love again and to see whether music really can bring them together.
How was the story?
I really enjoyed the story of Rachel and Jackson. I typically don’t read romance novels because the ending is usually so predictable and I feel I’m reading to the inevitable; but somehow this novel made me care about how the two main characters got there. There’s plenty of conflict hinted at during the first third of the book and explored throughout the remainder, and not all of it expected either. I really cheered on the characters in their journey and even though I suspected it would eventually all work out okay, there was a couple of instances where I wondered if one of them would get in their own way.
One of the unique aspects of Julie’s novel is the way the story is presented; and this is again perhaps why it stands out for me as a romance novel. The first section is told through Rachel’s point of view, set in the UK. Then, when the action turns to Nashville, the point of view shifts to Jackson. I really liked this technique as it gave me an insight into how both characters were thinking and the struggles they both had to go through to be happy. It was lovely to see Rachel through Jackson’s eyes, making their relationship seem real rather than convenient. Finally, the last section switches between them which ups the pace and lets us, as readers, understand just how much the characters develop throughout the novel.
The story itself doesn’t sit in isolation as I believe that the setting contributes a huge part to making the narrative seem real. The author manages to create some beautiful scenery for love to bloom and I fell in love with the imagery she presented not just of Dorset but also of Nashville, where I’ve never been. I could really imagine these places thanks to the gentle details carefully inserted by Julie to make these places seem concrete. This really helped set the story and provides a wonderful backdrop to the entire novel.
Were the characters fleshed out and believable?
As mentioned briefly above, I really liked both main characters and the unique offering of the split point of view made this novel work for me. Rachel, vulnerable at first, is able to develop her independence and by the end I could understand how strong she had become and how important it was for her to fulfil her dream. Jackson, by contrast, seemed a little too perfect to begin with – as is any guy in romance (another reason I tend not to read) – but the change to his viewpoint emphasises his own weaknesses and makes him much more human, which in turn makes him more believable.
By the end of the novel I felt that Rachel and Jackson were like old friends, such is the bond that Julie is able to create between character and reader through her writing. The writing rings true; in that I could relate to the feelings that Rachel experienced and often agreed with her way of thinking. Sometimes romance novels can have you screaming ‘What are you doing?‘ or ‘No you can’t do that‘ in response to some inane action on the part of the character; not so in From Here to Nashville. That doesn’t mean it’s all plain sailing for Rachel and Jackson- simply that the characters act realistically and when crisis happens, this means the reader can rely on the characters making real decisions – whether they be the right ones or not. As a result, this romance novels has a strong storyline AND believable characters, which makes it much better than the previous ones I’ve read (Disclaimer: I know, I haven’t read romance for some time, precisely because it’s so easy to stumble across bad ones instead of good ones – thank god Julie’s written a good one!).
What I enjoyed most.
I think, out of everything, the one thing that I loved was being able to see things from the point of view of the male protagonist; Jackson. Not only this, but the way it was done I felt it was believable and not overly romanticised or ‘fluffy’. Jackson was a man – not a boy or a character trying to be someone else. He was genuine and I liked that because these men do exist, yet are so rarely represented in fiction alongside their less admirable qualities. As hinted at, Jackson has his own inner turmoil to deal with and this makes him interesting. It also provides a great piece of conflict because he is that genuine guy and yet he’s still human, he still struggles with some things and he isn’t perfect. I don’t like my leading man to be the ultimate hero – I like him to be the best guy he can be, and I think with Jackson, Julie has created this balance beautifully.
What would I have liked to read more about?
Personally, I would have liked to see the tension a bit more in some of the scenes with more minor characters. There was a lot to be explored between Jackson and Rachel and the support cast for the novel was well choreographed but this limited some of the juicier angles that could have been developed. The characters that potentially posed risks to their relationship – I won’t spoil things and say how or why – were cleverly done but lacking in the big action scenes I would have expected from this genre. With one of these, it was as if Rachel was just that bit too polite to say what she really meant. Having said that though this was part of her development and by the end she has no problem expressing her feelings – which was a relief. However, it would be easy to take these scenes and simply go over the top with melodrama, so I think Julie has done well to restrain herself by keeping the storyline, and the characters’ reaction to this, tempered and realistic.
What can I learn from this author?
In a word: SETTING. As I stated earlier, the novel has some great description woven into it about the places mentioned and this is an area I know I struggle with as an author. The author grounds her characters in these settings and I never found myself skipping over them – like I do in other novels – partly because they were so well integrated in the text and also because she kept them short and to the point, with details dropped here and there like pennies. I can only aspire to be this good at crafting the physical world of my scenes in future.
Would I recommend it?
Definitely. It might be shelved under romance but this novel isn’t just about love blooming, it’s also about the risks involved in following your dreams, being honest with yourself and daring to go where that dream might take you. I finished reading it with a great big sigh – not just because the final paragraph made me happy but also because it was the end. I hope that Rachel and Jackson might feature in Julie’s future work somewhere, as it would be lovely to revisit them sometime.
About the author
Julie Stock is an author of contemporary romance novels and short stories. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme and an Associate Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors.
When she is not writing, she works part-time as a teacher. She is married with two teenage daughters and lives with her family in Bedfordshire in the UK.