Review: The Devil in the Deep South by Amy Craig (2022)

Heat Factor: It gets pretty steamy, but it’s later in the book and it’s not heavy.

Character Chemistry: One of those hate then love ‘em type books

Plot: Christopher is a billionaire and grandson of a state senator/presidential hopeful from Georgia who took over his brother’s business and is looking for a new place to build a state-of-the-art factory. Taylor is a small-town, southern, bookseller who is the glue of her community. Then Christopher can’t stay away, and Taylor and Christopher both end up having to re-examine the lives they think they wanted.

Overall: One of the more accurate depictions of a small town I’ve seen—slow, but with good character development.

I feel like most “small-town” romances veer right into caricature territory, and I never really realized it until I read this book. Which, I realized, is kind of a double-edged sword…because small towns are notorious for being gossip mills, but they’re also jam-packed with dark and uncomfortable secrets. Generational poor choices. Simmering resentments. As the saying goes in Minnesota, “they’ll give you the shirt off their backs if you’re in need, but you’ll never get an invite into their living room”. 

In this book we have two larger-than-life people who are both clearly not fulfilled and capable of more, but they just seem stuck. Christopher is living his brother’s dream, but he doesn’t seem to know what his own dreams are. Taylor is running a community cornerstone, her bookstore, but she’s wasting her talents with small local events and clubs. Christopher and Taylor start exchanging barbs on social media after Christopher tours her store after a site visit for his potential future factory location, and despite their differences (he’s a bit of a smug, philosophical know-it-all, and her social media success is built on gifs of baby animals and bible verses, so it’s like, pretty polar opposite) they can’t seem to stop talking to each other. When a tornado strikes the town of Ronan, Christopher brings his company’s resources to help rebuild the town while Taylor tries her best to rebuff his kindness (and advances).

The overall pace of the story is pretty slow. It takes a long time (well after 50% of the book) to really identify the conflicts–which, at first, is just that Christopher and Taylor seem like they don’t have a thing in common. But then it becomes clear that actually the thing they have in common is that they are both seeking a more active meaning in their lives, and they’re both drawn to service. Now. I saw a lot of reviewers saying that this should be flagged as a religious romance and I can’t disagree more. Religious romance is when a plot isn’t just based around the development of a relationship, it’s when the relationship itself is built around religious principles. Taylor is religious. Christopher is not. Their relationship works because for Taylor, her desire to go into politics is based on her need to serve her community and that comes from her faith. Christopher’s desire to go into politics and have a more integrity-based company stems from his own values, but those values aren’t necessarily religious in nature. I think it’s important to be able to separate a character’s beliefs from the intention of the book–and this book isn’t “preachy” or religious at all. 

I struggled with some unresolved plot lines here–for starters, there’s “another woman” competing for Christopher’s attention and she just kind of…disappears. She’s a huge part of how they get together and is there up until they start to develop feelings for each other and then she’s just gone. It felt unfinished. Then, we find out that Taylor was engaged previously and abused physically, and the abuse felt downplayed. Her parents apparently not only KNEW about the abuse, but because they’re very Christian, they felt that it was okay for a husband to “discipline” his wife. So they didn’t help Taylor at all. Taylor’s parents are painted as being very good people and they’re a huge part of Taylor’s life. They’re a huge part of why she wants to stay in Ronan. And I felt like that incredible betrayal was downplayed to a degree that was unsettling. I’m sorry, but going to your parents for help when you’re that vulnerable and when your physical well-being is at risk and having them not only turn you away, but also dismiss the situation as being acceptable? I can’t imagine anyone forgiving that, and I certainly can’t imagine forgiving it and then having Sunday dinners together after that. I get that it happens? But her staying felt like she was being complicit in her own mistreatment. And I didn’t like that.

Ultimately I felt like the characters surprised me with how much they blossomed and how much inner development occurred slowly and over time. It was very much shown over time, to a degree that was surprising and satisfying. Ronan had a ton of character, and it felt realistic. I enjoyed the rich complexities of the setting and characters, even if I feel like the plot was a bit sluggish at the outset and I struggled with those few loose ends. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

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