This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Contemporary Romance category.
Trying to escape her troubled past, Anna Romo has come home to Destiny determined to carve out a place for herself. When she buys the old Victorian house on the hill with the intent of furnishing it into a Bed and Breakfast, she’s thrilled by the possibilities.
Ex-biker-gang member Duke Dawson is as much a fish out of water in Destiny as Anna, but he’s handling it fine until an accident scars not only his body but his mind. When Anna stumbles across him in an old cabin in the woods near her newly acquired house, at first she’s terrified. But they work out a deal – she’s willing to keep his solitary living arrangement a secret if he’s willing to help her with some of the heavy lifting at the house.
Working together on the rennovations, romance brews between Duke and Anna. That is, until war hero Jeremy Sheridan returns home in a blaze of glory and sets his sights on Anna. Suddenly torn between the outgoing and charming Jeremy and the intriguing Duke, Anna’s heart is torn between two paths and left with only one solution.
I’d like to preface this review acknowledging that my issues with the book are partially my own fault. Some books in a series can exist as a standalone book, while others are infused with a lot of content and characters from the previous stories. Half Moon Hill definitely belonged in the latter category.
Half Moon Hill is the sixth book in Toni Blake’s Destiny series and the first one I’ve ever read. In my opinion, the cast of secondary characters is dizzying, especially for someone who isn’t familiar with the past storylines. There’s Lucky and Tessa, Amy and Logan, Jenny and Mick, Rachel and Mike, and Sue Ann and Adam. Plus our hero and heroine, Anna and Duke. I should have made some sort of flowchart or diagram to keep things straight.
That being said, I had really positive feelings at the beginning of the book. Don’t let the cover fool you; it’s not all butterflies and handmade swings. Anna won me over from the start with her smart mouth and snide thoughts. She wants to start a B&B, but she knows that playing Susie Homemaker doesn’t come naturally to her. Recently transplanted to Destiny, Anna comes with some baggage, at least on paper. The aforementioned Lucky and Mike are her brothers, ones she recently united with. When she was around five, she was kidnapped by a woman desperate for a child. Despite this, Anna acts surprisingly well adjusted. There are also several references to the previous summers, attending her brothers’ weddings and such. Something, as a first time reader, I had no knowledge of.
I did love Duke, our resident scarred and brooding hero. After a particularly rough string of events, he becomes a recluse, residing in a shack in the woods on Anna’s property in order to get his head on straight. He’s the sort of hero you just want to wrap up in a big fluffy blanket and feed him. The beginning of each chapter references quotes from The Phantom of the Opera, which is a nice touch and you can definitely see some similarities between the Phantom and Duke. For Duke, he very much doubts Anna’s attraction to him, especially on a physical level, given his facial scarring. But it’s always so sweet when Duke catches those moments where he forgets about his scar because it doesn’t even faze Anna; she doesn’t draw attention to it.
Though at first, I loved the two main characters, I felt lost during a lot of the book. There are several instances where the story focuses on the secondary characters as a way of continuing their stories from previous books. I wasn’t really invested in them, so I wound up doing a lot of skipping. There was also a bit of a pseudo-flashback trope going on. In Anna’s B&B, she finds an old trunk filled with diaries and letters, cataloging the romance between the home’s previous owners. I wasn’t really invested in those either, considering the diaries were written by a 16-year old girl from quite some time ago. I get that they were supposed to draw parallels between Anna’s budding interest in Duke and the young girl’s same interest in the farmhand that lives in the woods, but I felt it was unnecessary.
As a reader of romance, I get that sex is going to happen. In fact, I totally expect it to, and the first time Anna and Duke get together, it worked for me. Her curiosity and the intense heat of the day get the best of her and she just…goes for it. But there’s no foreplay in a majority of the sex scenes. None. And Anna mentions quite a few times that she hasn’t been with anyone in quite some time. Props to her for being raring to go at a moment’s notice, but it didn’t keep me from cringing at how uncomfortable it could be in reality.
They also have a lot of unprotected sex — even after Duke pushes her away, writing it off as just sex. Unable to control his thoughts or himself, he shows up at Anna’s house again and immediately gets to business with her in the living room. Girl, he just said he was just satisfying a simple need earlier. I’m all for sexual liberation, but be smart about it! Wrap it up until you two are able to discuss the particulars of your relationship!
While they do get it on a lot, I felt that their actual interactions as people were rather infrequent. And their “falling in love” was told rather than shown. I didn’t see Anna develop feelings for Duke through conversations or moments outside the bedroom. The same goes for Duke.
While the actual book wasn’t bad and the writing sucked me in from page one, I couldn’t get into the physical plot of Half Moon Hill. Part of that is on me, and readers who are more familiar with this series would probably enjoy the book and hearing about their favorite secondary characters. I would have liked more of a build up between Anna and Duke in terms of an emotional connection because I didn’t quite believe it by the end. My interest in Anna peaked rather early and most of the content felt like a big inside joke that I wasn’t quite a part of. So, unless you’ve read the previous five installments, you might have the same problems I had.