Welcome to Last Chance
by Hope Ramsay
(Forever, $5.99, PG) ISBN 978-0-446576-093
Welcome to Last Chance is Hope Ramsay’s debut novel, and she does a lot of things right. If you enjoy romances set in somewhat-stereotypical small towns, this story might appeal. While I enjoyed many of the characters, I was frustrated by the kitchen-sink plot.

Wanda Jane Coblentz rolls into Last Chance, South Carolina on the 9:30 bus one evening and finds the only place open is the local bar, Dot’s Spot. Jane has five bucks and change in her purse, and she sets her sights on one of the locals as a potential meal ticket. Clayton Rhodes, the good-looking fiddler in the house band, sees this happening and decides to step in and protect his friend, Ray, from this unknown woman. Clay and Jane surprise themselves by ending up at the Peach Blossom Motor Court for a night of hot sex.

Clay wakes up to find Jane rifling through his wallet. She was just looking for his name, but Clay decides the best way to deal with her is to feed her breakfast and then help her leave town. Jane, who is on the run from an ex-boyfriend with mob ties, isn’t keen to go, and when the town gossip informs Ruby Rhodes of what her son has been up to, Jane finds herself installed in a small apartment above Ruby’s beauty salon, and with a job at the salon to boot.

Clay has his own demons to face. He’s thirty-four, a former Nashville musician who left his band, The Tumbleweeds, when his girlfriend dumped him for the lead singer and the band voted him out. The band has since struck it big; Clay is back in his hometown, at a crossroads in his life and unsure what to do next. A hot number like Jane is definitely not what he needs. Or so he thinks.

The story got off to a strong start, and Clay and Jane were both likable sorts. If the author had focused on their relationship, instead of adding so many elements of Wacky Southern Small Town, it would have been stronger. Clay’s brothers are named Stony Rhodes and Tulane Rhodes (I am not making that up). Stony is the town police chief and views Jane with a high degree of suspicion. He’s also a widower with two daughters, one of whom converses with angels. I’m guessing there’s a trilogy in the works, because Stony takes up a lot of page space. Ruby runs the Cut ‘n Curl, and everybody in town stops by to gossip. The local church ladies group has a hand in things, and though Last Chance has a couple thousand residents, there only seems to be one church. Ray, who is mentally disabled form a car accident years earlier, plays a hand in the plot and eventually gets an unexpected happy ending of his own.

But all this insistence on cramming in elements of small-town life really distracted me from Clay and Jane. They spend the book floundering, alternately lusting after each other and wondering what to do, and since the book takes place over just a few days, there isn’t much time to grow the relationship. Plus, Jane is ten years younger than Clay, and the difference in their ages showed. He’s a guy with some heartache behind him; she’s still growing up. When both of Clay’s exes re-enter his life at the same time, it was too much. The heavy hand with religion and angels might not work for readers, either.

Welcome to Last Chance is well written and the dialogue is sharp and snappy. If the story had been less cluttered, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It will be interesting to see where Hope Ramsay goes with her next book, which will feature Clay’s brother Tulane, a NASCAR driver.

--Cathy Sova

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