I read this book in a matter of hours. That's how much I liked it. I didn't even notice that the Steelers were on, that there was dessert on the table, that it was past my bedtime. I thought it was charming and I loved reading it. I want to read everything Marion Lennox has written, and I want to read the rest of this series.
But after I finished it, I found myself arguing with my own opinion, challenging how much I liked it, pointing out flaws and figuring out that, yup, despite them, I still liked it. I'm conflicted about how to grade the book, because I know there are flaws and I know there are some uses of character that will drive some readers nuts, but I also really enjoyed it, with and despite those flaws.
Plot summary: Abigail is about to marry Phillip, who has been her boyfriend for ten years, who she went to law school with, who she practices defense law alongside each day, and who she has been with for so long it's hard for her to remember when things were different. Abigail also tries not to think about the time when things were different, because different was when her brother was still alive, she was still friends with Rafferty Finn, there hadn't been a horrible accident, and her life was a lot less painful. Now, instead of painful, her life is sort of… on auto pilot. Not quite numb, but not quite breaking out of her routine, either.
At the beginning of the book, Abigail comes upon a traffic jam on the way to court. Someone hit the back of the local animal rescue transport van and there are stray dogs running amok. Raff grabs one, hands it to Abigail after she tries to help out with the chaos and realizes that she's going to be late, and tells her to bring the dog to the vet. The dog, Kleppy, is going to be euthanized because time has run out for him, and all the other dogs in the van, at the shelter.
(This isn't part of the book, but, on behalf of rescue dogs and cats, including the two farting under my chair, spay and neuter your pets, please? Thanks!)
Abigail brings the dog to the vet, but realizes she can't hand him over to the veterinarian to be put down, and decides she'll bring him with her to court and keep him herself. Everyone, the vet, Raff, random trees and shrubs, point out that Fiance Phillip Will Not Like This and they ask her Are You Sure (heavy foreshadowing? Why, yes!) but Abby says she's keeping Kleppy – and then she learns what a real challenge that will be, as Kleppy has very good reasons for being named Kleppy.
As I said, I was going in circles trying to figure out how to grade this book, how to explain my reaction, how to explain why I liked it despite flaws that otherwise would have bothered the hell out of me. The strength of the writing and the warmth and charm of the characters really won me over. So what follows is Happy Sarah and Cranky Sarah debating this book.
Happy Sarah: Oh, my gosh, I really enjoyed this book. Part of it was the warmth and the joy and the happiness in the book – even with the emotional angst and the sad backstory of the characters – and part of it was the winsomeness of the characters. But I liked this book like gosh and golly.
Cranky Sarah: I can tell. The more I think about it, the more I think that I shouldn't like this book as much as I do.
Happy Sarah: Why?
Cranky Sarah: Because, the more I ponder it, the more annoying tropes there are: secondary character insta-love, entirely predictable villain, easily foreseen villainous doings both present and past, and predictable outcome.
Happy Sarah: Don't care! Still liked it. Despite you, or me, or whatever.
Cranky Sarah: That's confusing. But I understand. I'm charmed despite those things.
Happy Sarah: Why do you think the secondary characters had insta-love? Don't name them – it'd be spoilery.
Cranky Sarah: Duh. I won't. Despite the dropped clues that the the two had visited and been friendly before, without anyone else really knowing about it – a total departure for anything Banksia Bay, where folks know how your colon is doing whether you want them to or not – their affection and decisions toward the end of the book seemed alarming, especially because the beginning of the book made one of them seem very unlikely to do anything on her own, especially forming a relationship of a romantic nature.
Happy Sarah: Huh. I see what you're saying, but I also think that character had the ability to do more than the other folks thought, and could easily surpass expectations with the right external motivation – hence a relationship that is simple and sweet and I thought possible.
Cranky Sarah: Maybe. It still seems slightly off-key with the rest of the story.
Happy Sarah: What do you mean by predictable and easily foreseen? Again, too much spoilers make the internets get mad.
Cranky Sarah: Oh, hush. From the point where the entire backstory of the main characters is revealed in full, after being hinted at for the first few chapters, I could tell what had happened, and what would likely be the resolution at the end of the story.
Happy Sarah: Oh, that. Yup. It was a little easy to put together the backstory pieces and see what the ending of the book would likely be, but I was still charmed by the hero, the heroine, and the dog.
Cranky Sarah: You know some people are going to think that dogs a Furry Plot Moppet™, right?
Happy Sarah: He totally is. He's got the big doggy eyes and the crazy doggy behavior and the putting his paw on people's laps. He was really adorable.
Cranky Sarah: Come on now. That dog was approaching twee territory if not slipping secretly over the border a few times. Really. He was so communicative in adorably moppet-like ways, he might as well have had dialogue.
Happy Sarah: That would have been awesome!
Cranky Sarah: I throw up my hands at you.
Happy Sarah: Ok. I still liked the book.
Cranky Sarah: I know. What else did you like about it? (I'm going to regret asking that question.)
Happy Sarah: I liked that it was about the heroine recognizing how her own grief had gone on too long, and how she'd allowed herself to be subsumed in what everyone else thought she should be, instead of what she wanted.
Cranky Sarah: Yeah. That part was an interesting balance, the grief and the painful backstory with the goofy and hilarious dog activity.
Happy Sarah: Exactly. There was a lot of angst, and a lot of times where I laughed, too.
Cranky Sarah: Do you think that the dog could really be the catalyst for waking the heroine out of a ten-year haze of refusing to listen to her instincts, refusing to listen to her own doubts and desires and going along with what everyone wanted of her?
Happy Sarah: I think so. That was a pretty awesome dog.
Cranky Sarah: He was also convenient to the plot in several obvious ways. And if the dog was the impetus she needed to wake up and smell the inertia she'd allowed herself to be wrapped in, I have doubts about her intelligence on the whole. When she allows herself to really, really think about Phillip's character, the things she remembers, and the things she blithely ignored and pushed aside and ignored altogether were really kind of repulsive. What the hell kind of drugs was she on, anyway?
Happy Sarah: I can see that. And I am sure that the about-face reversals of opinion among ancillary characters were somewhat alarming for you at the end.
Cranky Sarah: Yup.
Happy Sarah: I see all that, and I think you're right. But the writing and the charm of the characters – and yes, the dog – made me happysigh, and even with those flaws, I want to read more of this series. I loved how breathless the attraction between Raff and Abby was at times, and how they struggled with their past, their present, and their own feelings about that past and present. I like that it was about healing and moving on, accepting the consequences and growing up.
Cranky Sarah: Yeah, I liked that part, too. Even if the dog was ridiculous sometimes.
Happy Sarah: Still don't care. Still liked it. Still have happy book sigh feeling, especially because there are four more Banksia Bay books to read now.
Cranky Sarah: Yay.
Happy Sarah: That's all I get? “Yay”?
Cranky Sarah: Oh, shut up and keep reading.
So that's my circuitous route to grading this book. I liked it, I was charmed by it, I see it's flaws and love it anyway, and even if the characters made me raise a brow or think to myself, “Come on now and I mean it!” I want to read more because the writing was so enjoyable.