If you’re only going to read one sentence of this review, read this one: Instant Attraction was charming in every definition of the word: it made me smile, laugh, and press my lips together to keep from getting all weepy on the Kindle.
Katie Kramer is a nondescript, vanilla girl until she survives a horrific bridge collapse. Now she’s determined to start her life over and live more adventurously. Katie ends up in Wishful, California, working at Wilder Adventures deep in the Sierra mountains, about as far from her old life, and her old climate, as possible. Katie is adorably fierce: she’s plagued by debilitating panic attacks and yet utterly determined to keep pushing forward to more adventure, more life, more more more.
Cameron is a former professional snowboarder who lost his career and nearly lost his life after wiping out in the middle of a high-speed turn at a competition. Left with no remnants of the life he lived and no chance of getting it back, he wanders the world and then returns home to Wishful. While Katie has a life that’s defined by “Before the bridge” and “After the bridge” and has accepted that a new life was thrust upon her without her doing anything, Cameron’s old life is gone because he made a mistake, and now has to own that mistake and accept his losses. Katie’s loss is brought about by circumstances; Cameron’s is brought about in part by his own emotional limitation. Both of them are starting over, but each can’t stop thinking about the other. The fact that Katie works for Cameron and his brothers, who run an outdoor adventure expedition center, only complicates their attraction.
While the twee small town naming trope is way tired, this book was wonderful. While I revel in small town settings (and honestly, I work in Manhattan. Often I wish to be in a MUCH smaller town!) I don’t naturally lean toward the very, very limited cast of characters, especially with a series. There are only a handful of characters in this story, but those characters are immense and fascinatingly deep. Shalvis’ narrative and plotline threads are so strong that I wanted more of the people of Wishful, more of the people who built Wilder Adventures, and more of the outdoor adventure. The setting was so real, I started googling for skiing lessons. I’m not even kidding. And I fully own the fact that that was the dorkiest thing I’ve ever said in a review.
The secondary plots that run concurrent to Katie and Cameron’s story continue through what I believe is a three-book series, one for each brother. Though the secondary story seems to contain some stock elements – a curmudgeonly older woman who mothered the boys, for example – Shalvis twists the character into something more. Annie, the curmudgeon, has to fix her own life and admit her own mistakes. Annie dances back and forth between a “bitter woman” stock character and real life older woman who wants to fix her marriage before it’s too late, and while she’s often irritable and annoying, she’s also very, very real. I mean, if I knew her in real life I’d want to clock her with a canoe paddle more often than not, but still, she’s realistic, even when she drove me nuts with her stubbornness.
Shalvis alters the stock character collection with other ancillary characters as well. Several of them took one step into stock character land, then moved like a chess knight and ended up one over and one up in a different direction. The “other woman” in the story, Serena, Cam’s ex-girlfriend and the inadvertent cause of his accident, starts off as a bitchy ex, but quickly diverts from that tired vindictive stereotype to become a much more interesting and enjoyable character. There’s one scene among the women that involves vodka and the sidewalk and I really and truly laughed out loud. Even nefarious rivals become real women under Shalvis’ pen, and while they’re coincidentally ripe for their own sequels, they’re also fun to read about.
At every moment reading this book, I was rooting for Katie, who survived and is determined to live every moment, despite panicking when she lives too much too fast. I was rooting for Cameron even though he took a little too long to get his head together. So many times they started conversations where I thought, “At last, they are finally going to get it,” and then he’d step back from commitment. GAH! Cameron runs away from confrontation and emotional entanglement by standing still and not doing anything. He avoids discomfort by ignoring it and pretending it isn’t there. Inertia is his greatest flaw – which is at odds with his former career, which consisted of going down a mountain on a piece of fiberglass as fast as he could go. There were a ton of moments where I wanted to bang his head on a hard surface, possibly Annie’s own incredibly dense cranium, but even though I was frustrated, I’m forced to admit that this much stubbornness was real and logical for the characters, and not just unnecessary continuation of dramatic tension.
Cameron ultimately has a lot to learn from Katie about bravery, even though he’s the former superstar and she’s the former quiet accountant. Cam can do amazing things so easily, but anything hard he runs from, or ignores. Katie has to fight her own uncontrollable reactions to things to try to gulp a life which she’d been content to barely sip, but the more difficult it is for her, the harder she tries.
I wish Cam’s brothers were better developed as his relationships with them were slowly repaired, and I wish I had a better sense of the differences between the three men. There were times when I wasn’t sure who was talking and had to rely on the character’s narration tags. Still, I’m looking forward to future books featuring their turns as the hero, because Shalvis accomplishes something I appreciate when reading a contemporary romance: she includes and deftly works in themes that touch every character and every scene. For this book: life is too short for bullshit, and that includes avoiding seeing yourself for who you really are. Or, in short, “Get over yourself and keep going.”
While Cameron was often a bonehead, Katie was the essence of the book and I adored her. I found myself with buckets of empathy for two people who had been terribly terribly hurt, who understood each other better than they probably understood themselves, and I was so invested in seeing them reach a happy ending that by the time they did, I was glad to see it, but sorry the book was over. You’ll rarely hear me say this, but thank goodness there’s more of the Wilders coming my way.