Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

Whiskey Road
Karen Siplin

I started reading Whisky Road because it was the latest pick by my readalong buddies Chachic and Holly (of Chachic’s Book Nook and The Book Harbinger respectively). The previous couple of books that we’d chosen for our readathons ended up being a little darker than we were expecting them to be, but we were hoping Whisky Road would buck the trend, especially since it came highly recommended by Angie of Angieville, and has the subtitle, “A Love Story”. Thankfully, we were right.
The Premise: From the back blurb – “After one too many run-ins with irate A-list celebrities and their bodyguards on the streets of Los Angeles, paparazza Jimi Anne Hamilton has decided to throw in the towel. But when she planned to ride her BMW K 1200 motorcycle from California to New York, she didn’t count on having her cross-country adventure interrupted by a motorcycle thief. After the brutal attack, which sees both her motorcycle and camera equipment stolen, she finds herself left with only her helmet, a few clothes, and a bag of money she swiped from her attacker. Disillusioned and hurt, Jimi chooses to recuperate in a nearby town where she meets Caleb Atwood, a local contractor fighting his own demons.
Jimi and Caleb make a mismatched pair: black and white, highbrow and low. But in Caleb, Jimi believes she has found someone who feels as much of an outsider as she is. With Whiskey Road, Karen Siplin again succeeds in giving readers a story about opposites who manage to see what no one else can — that they’re right for each other.”
My Thoughts: When Jimi rolls into the coffee shop Caleb frequents, battered up by some unknown event and dressed in motorcycle leathers but without a bike, most of the people there don’t treat her very nicely. She’s a outsider and a black woman. The only person willing to be helpful is Caleb, but maybe that’s because he’s been treated as a Bad Boy in his hometown long past when he should be. For her part, Jimi’s recent experience on the road makes her wary of a man she sized up as harmless but has traits she associates with racist hillbillies.
Over the next few days, the small town of Frenchman’s Bend gives Jimi and Caleb plenty of opportunities to run into each other, and every time they do, they’re surprised. While they are both as different as two people can be — Jimi being a black city girl from a white-collar family, and Caleb a white country boy from a broken home, they are both so alike. Jimi and Caleb have not been perfect – Jimi questions the lengths she has gone to for a photo, and Caleb, reeling from a failed marriage, sleeps with an older married woman who reminds him of his wife.Β  Each of them are a little hardened and worn by life, but they quietly see things differently from the people around them, making them outsiders in their own communities, and drawn to each other.
The story flows very simply from there. Caleb and Jimi begin a subtle relationship where the smallest look and gesture holds vast meaning but hesitation and second guessing comes from both sides. The greatest danger to their fragile new connection is the people that surround them. Jimi’s affluent older brother loves living near Frenchman’s Creek but stays apart from the locals. He’s friendly to the contractors that work in his French-style country house, but would frown on one of them dating his little sister. Caleb friends’ problem is not so much about the class difference and more about Jimi’s race and outsider status. And then there are the things in their recent histories that could spell trouble for both of them if they were to mix: the reason behind Jimi’s bruises, and Caleb’s no good older brother, released from prison.
There was a quiet resonance to this story. Fragments stuck in my mind long after reading it: the commentary on racism in little rural towns; how easily one can be sideswiped by that selfish family member; how falling in love is like a beginning. There are some bumps along the way, but was happy when I finished it. The only thing that felt off to me was how abrupt the transition from the climax to the ending was, but I think I was the only one in the readalong that had that quibble, and it was a little one. But then, who hasn’t wanted a bit more time to say goodbye to characters they’ve gotten attached to?
Overall: I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking this contemporary novel. It’s a story that is deceptively quiet and slow moving at times, tense with the promise of unpleasantness at others. It was gritty and real, with small town flavor. And most of all, it has love story with an unlikely couple. Jimi and Caleb weren’t looking for or expecting each other, but it only made me root more for them that they found a kindred spirit in the unlikeliest package.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Reviews from my readalong friends:
Chachic’s Book Nook – “an under-the-radar novel that I’ll recommend to readers who like slow burn, complicated romances”
The Book Harbinger – “not-your-average contemporary romance in the best way”
Other reviews:
Angieville– I love what she says about the ending – “Not tied up with a bow, not unrealistic in its perfection, but touched with just the right amount of maturity, rightness, and possibility.”

16 thoughts on “Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin

  1. Pingback: Retro Friday: Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin | Chachic's Book Nook

  2. It’s funny that we were all surprised by how much we ended up liking this book – maybe because our other readalong choices weren’t so great? Glad we finally got a good one. I had a lot of fun discussing this with you and Holly, especially since I wanted insight into how accurate the small town racism is in this. I loved how Jimi and Caleb make an unlikely pair but they make sense together.

    I also asked this question in a comment in Holly’s review – what’s our next readalong pick? πŸ™‚

    • I think we were feeling the trend. πŸ™‚ Heh, I always have fun on our readalongs!

      Next one? Maybe a Netgalley book we all got by any chance? I have to go download UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan soon… did you get that one? I would suggest the newest Julie James which I have to go out and buy this weekend, but I saw you read it already (good?)

      • I have Unspoken from NetGalley but it’s one of those galleys that have to be read on the computer (no Kindle/ebook edition). I’m okay with that (Holly, I hope you get approved for Unspoken). Or do you have a copy of Unearthly, Janice? Holly suggested that one.

        Had a lot of reading the latest Julie James! πŸ˜€ I need to write my review of that, as well as the latest Kristan Higgins. I’m behind on reviews as usual.

            • Umm.. well it’s Diana Wynne Jones week a couple places online.. has everyone read FIRE AND HEMLOCK? Cause I’m thinking it’s time for a reread.. it’s been soo long I hardly remember it.

              (But I’m also perfectly happy to read UNEARTHLY too).

  3. Even though I had no quibbles with the ending I definitely wouldn’t have minded more from these two – a sequel perhaps? πŸ™‚ Articulate and thoughtful as always, Janice. Great review.

    • I would love a sequel where they’re living together in Brooklyn or somewhere that is a city and Caleb is opening a motorcycle repair shop and Jimi is showing in a gallery! That would be lovely. Even a short story…

      Thanks Holly. But articulate and thoughtful is what I was going to comment on YOUR review! πŸ™‚

  4. I like that each of you wrote about very different aspects of this book in your reviews! I like that even though it didn’t exactly end up being a light or fluffy read, it wasn’t dark, but a thoughtful in-between.

    • The motorcycle aspect is a small one in this story (I’m not a fan either). It’s worth a try – I found my copy at my local library, so if you aren’t sure you’re sold, that’s a place to look.

        • Yeah.. I had the opposite of a good experience. I tapped one with my car the day I bought it because the guy on it went around me on my right side through some parking spots and surprised me by cutting in front of me. Then he yelled at me for hitting him. I am not a fan now. 😦

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