Meeting the family.

It’s a simple event, really, but it’s the cause of about 14 tons of anxiety in every new relationship. Will his mother like you? Will your Significant Other’s father approve of your becoming the Other Half?

Would you fall in love with someone your family and friends didn’t like? In the new novel “Whiskey Road” (c.2008, Washington Square Press, $13.00 / $15.50 Canada, 277 pages) by Karen Siplin, Caleb falls for Jimi Anne, despite nearly an entire towns’ worth of disapproval.

There isn’t much in tiny Darby, Pennsylvania, but it’s got a coffee house and that’s all Caleb needs. Ever since Sally left him, Caleb can’t stand the looks he gets at home in Frenchman’s Bend so he flees to Darby every chance he gets. People know Caleb has a temper, and they know he’s trouble. Caleb, they say, is just like his brother, Mason, except Mason’s in prison and that’s surely where Caleb is headed.

Jimi Hamilton was on a cross-country escape from a hot-button job as a paparazza when her BMW motorcycle was stolen and sold somewhere near the Pennsylvania-New York border. She stole back the money the thieves got, but it wasn’t easy.

When she walked in the coffee house, everybody turned to look, then looked away. It wasn’t because Jimi was black, and it wasn’t because she was dressed in shoulder-to-toe biker’s leather.
No, the black eye and bruises made the coffee house customers instinctively shy away from her.
Except for Caleb. He understood what it was like for everyone to assume the worst about a person. He knew how people sometimes thought they knew someone, even when they didn’t. He had a temper, true, but he wasn’t anything like his brother even though everybody thought he was. Caleb gave Jimi a ride to a nearby inn.

Now everybody knows Caleb is spending time with the stranger in town, and they’re warning Jimi Anne away. But who will be the one to get hurt? Jimi Hamilton, black, street-smart, and Big-City never thought she’d fall in love with someone like Caleb Atwood: a white, country, builder-contractor with a violent brother who just got out of jail…

Did you ever find a book that doesn’t grab you right away, but once you take a hard look, you’re hooked? That’s what happened with “Whiskey Road”. I almost tossed it in the “no” pile. That would have been a shame.

From the first sip to the oh-no-she-won’t ending, author Karen Siplin gently draws you in to a cocktail of mystery, romance, and thriller with her spare, powerful style of writing. I liked the way Siplin keeps certain secrets from readers as we get to know Jimi and Caleb, and I liked the way even the most peripheral characters mean something. This is one of those books you share with friends; it’s a quick read and I think you’ll love it.

This weekend, pour yourself into a comfortable chair, and give this novel a shot. Once you start “Whiskey Road”, it’s going to be hard not to finish it in one big gulp.