Book Review

Whisper Falls by Toni Blake

B

Title: Whisper Falls
Author: Toni Blake
Publication Info: Avon 2010
ISBN: 9780061765803
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book Cover I tweeted about this book after I finished the ARC, and I still think about this book, AND remember the title – which is totally odd for me. Blake did a number of really interesting things that made this book different from a lot of contemporary romance:

The heroine, Tessa, has Crohn’s disease, which means she has periods where she’s very weak, nauseated, and ill, and she’s on a very strict diet to try to control the intestinal inflammation. Crohn’s disease is not a sexy disease, but it does profoundly affect the people who have it, often severely. If there’s a period of time where symptoms are active- more commonly called a “flare-up” – that person can be housebound, unable to work, and spending most of her time weak, sleeping, and near the bathroom. There is a real danger of becoming potentially dehydrated and malnourished. Crohn’s can be some misery, and that misery is part of Tessa’s character.

Yet Tessa is so determined to be upbeat and to focus on the right now, because tomorrow, you’ll pardon the really bad pun, could be shitty. While at times Tessa’s positivity came across as less than sincere and more like a Successories poster, by the end of the book I understood why it was so important to her to be so relentlessly positive and hopeful. One of the methods she uses to boost her mood when she’s feeling awful is the Ellen DeGeneres talk show, which seems like a goofy and bizarre way to find motivation, and initially I thought the involvement of DeGeneres’ show was going to become twee and overly cutesy. But as Tessa talked about gardening and writing down motivational quotes and all the other little things she does to find a tiny portion of happiness, I understood. Sometimes her ruminations on her activities, especially gardening, were cliched and somewhat annoying, but even then, I understood why, and could keep reading.

Tessa’s disease has a big impact on her life, but it’s also part of what made her character strong. Seeing her struggle with her own body and her life with-Crohn’s, vs. before-Crohn’s, made me appreciate her strength and her perspective. She was trying to find her own happiness when really, she was often terribly miserable and trying to talk herself out of it:

Maybe you’re just destined for a life of soup and daisies.

And if so, was that really so horrible? She liked soup. She liked daisies.

Yet right now it did feel horrible. It felt like… not enough. Simply not enough.

The hero, Lucky, is a big, muscular, tattooed, motorcycle-riding bad boy with long hair and a serious artistic talent. He sets up his shop in the house and garage up the hill from Tessa’s somewhat-remote cabin located outside Destiny, where he does custom airbrushed artwork on motorcycles. Lucky has come back to town after a long, long time away – and after he basically ran away from home and never contacted his family once he was gone. He’s not sure his family will be happy to see him, so he’s not sure he should even tell them he’s nearby. You can guess how well the secret keeping goes down in a small town.

Plus, the motorcycle gang from Lucky’s past was dangerous enough that he doesn’t really want too many people knowing who and where he is, mostly because that might be deadly for them. He doesn’t have long-term relationships with anyone, save one friend, and he’s never had a serious relationship with a woman before. He was more of a one-night-stand kind of guy, until he meets Tessa.

From the moment he sees her he’s attracted to her – calls her “hot stuff” after her see-through pajama top gave him an unintentional show, causing Tessa to burn up with embarrassment every time she thinks of it.

There are so many parallels to the storylines, they fold back onto one another: Lucky and Tessa are trying to start over, returning to their hometowns a little embarrassed and defeated, and trying to get people to see them as more than just the superficial identifiers they have, though that superficial item is very different for each of them.  She’s the girl who is sick all the time, while he’s the one who has rumors about him and a past life of crime. Both want to move past those roles, even when they are true, and in Tessa’s case, sometimes more true than anything else.

Plus, there’s the issue of violence and forgiveness, and family and independence. There’s a lot of layers that make up each of the characters and their conflict and struggle, which makes for some thoughtful reading. There are some saccharine moments and some truly emotionally painful moments, but this is a book I enjoyed and read for hours straight through without getting distracted or pulled out of the plot.

Blake still has a tendency toward infodump and dialogue that reveals way more than I think real people would actually say. For example, would one dude say to another that he gets hard just thinking about some girl? I say not so much – it doesn’t seem like something men would say to one another. 

But I have a lot of respect for the topics she chose – Crohn’s disease, for example, is a big challenge for a heroine and for the reader and created a lot of empathy. Moreover, Lucky did some seriously bad shit in his past, and has to choose every day to be different, to let go of his old life and focus on who he could be today and tomorrow, knowing that the bad decisions he made are not going to go away.

This book is part of Destiny series, so other characters pop in, including the hero of a previous book who I didn’t like in his novel and I still don’t like now – which is probably why I didn’t finish that earlier book. As determined as Tessa and Lucky are to live on the fringes of Destiny, outside the main busybody community, they are drawn to each other and drawn to being part of the town, so that their happy ending is as layered and multi-dimensional as they are. Blake’s writing is deceptive: you think you’re getting a limited diet of light and funny contemporary, but with the issues that this book explores, and the characters she’s created, there is more to feast on, and the feast is satisfying.


Whisper Falls is available for pre-order at Amazon.com and for the Kindle, at Book Depository, Powell’s, and at BN.com in paper format only.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    StephB says:

    I’m pre-ordering this NOW. Thanks for the review!

    As someone with a chronic and debilitating illness (not Crohn’s in my case, but M.E./CFS), I really love the idea of a romance featuring a heroine with that kind of condition (esp. since it sounds like there’s no magical miracle cure at the end for her to make her “normal” – it’s just about having a great romance and a good life anyway).

  2. 2
    Barbara W. says:

    I totally mean this in a non-pun(ny) way, but I’m so anal and shallow, I don’t know how to get past the fact that the H’s name is Lucky.  Lucky?

    Beyond that, I like the concept of a h with Crohn’s – really, who’s gone there?  I like Blake’s other things, so if I can work my way past the Lucky thing, then your review sold it for me.  :)

  3. 3
    Tamara Hogan says:

    As someone who’s had Crohn’s Disease since I was a teenager, I look forward to reading this.  StephB is right – when you have chronic health problems, dealing with them has to be factored into how you live your life (in my case, it factored into the decision to release one book a year instead of more frequently). But knowing you have some limitations has a way of carving priorities into very sharp focus. To me, this is chronic illness’s silver lining.

    I must admit to some morbid curiousity as to how Blake renders this distinctly unsexy disease in context with a developing romance. Imagine having to go to the bathroom five times during a first dinner date. Yep, been there, done that.  ;-)

  4. 4

    My niece has Crohn’s and so do some of my friends.  It does make relationships more challenging and difficult, and I’m glad an author is exploring the issues related to having a chronic disease. 

    Thanks for sharing your review.

  5. 5
    Donna says:

    Well, this will be an easy one to picture myself in… sigh…
    Is it ok if I picture Charlie Hunnam as the tattooed ex-biker?

  6. 6
    Becky says:

    I’ve been interested in this one since SB Sarah first tweeted about it.  I have Crohn’s, too, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Blake handles the subject for myself.  Heroines who drive race cars, climb mountains, and jump out of planes are all well and good, but it will be nice to read about someone I can really relate to.

    Positivity is a big part of how I face my disease, too.  Along with a heaping helping of snark and an endless supply of poop jokes.

  7. 7
    hoosierneals says:

    I think the Ellen show tie in is interesting.  I have a 15 yr. old DD with a debilitating chronic disease so she’s mostly homebound and doesn’t go to school.  Ellen is kind of a highlight of her day and can get her to crack I smile.  I think it’s that she’s so silly!  I love her too….But it reads totally legit to me for this heroine to be attracted to that show.

  8. 8
    Meggrs says:

    @Donna:

    Yes. Yes, it is VERY ok.

  9. 9
    KellyM says:

    Thanks for the review, I’ll be picking this one up very soon.  I also have Crohn’s and am curious to see how the author deals with this decidedly non-sexy subject.  I especially want to see how the character deals with the body image issues and the whole idea of trying to connect pre-Crohn’s life with post-Crohn’s life.  My diagnosis and initial illness were extremely catastrophic – forcing me to quit my job, break my lease, and leave the life I’d built for myself in Arizona to come back to my hometown and start over.  Now it’s almost 9 years later and I’m still trying to connect old life and new life and figure out what the hell happened.  This book sounds like it could be cathartic (ha!), so it goes to the top of a very lengthy TBR list.  :-)

  10. 10
    Jessamine says:

    I never buy new books online, but I may buy this! I also, have chronic illness (FM/MCS) and am excited about reading a contemporary dealing with this! Yay for the author for tackling this. Someone should- we sick people read a lot!

  11. 11
    orangehands says:

    This sounds really interesting. I too know a lot of people with chronic illnesses who watch Ellen DeGeneres. I think its because she makes people feel good about themselves and smile and she brings music into her life and therefore her audiences. She’s the girl you hang out with and laugh a lot with during lunch. 

    I just watched the movie Love and Other Drugs; its a romance and the heroine has early onset Parkinson’s. It was interesting because her disease informed her character and later informed her relationship with the hero. (It also had one of my favorite I Love You scenes.)

  12. 12
    Diana L Smith says:

    I am an avid fan of toni’s and love thise series so have been waiting for this book for awhile. I liked your review and yes there are a lot of guys out there that tell their guy friends that they have the hots for certain girls as you decribed in your review. Men do talk about women to other men. I have a lot of men friends and I have heard their banter back and forth. Especially guys who ride motorcycles. thanks for giving Toni a B but in my books it should be an A.

  13. 13
    Alpha Lyra says:

    I’ve never actually watched the Ellen Degeneres show (with sound), but the gym I used to go to had it running on one of their TVs. I always listened to my own music, not the audio track for the show, but I found that whenever Ellen was on, my eye would inevitably be drawn to it. There was always someone laughing, smiling, or dancing. It was visually irresistable compared to the programs running on the other TVs.

  14. 14
    Kate says:

    As someone who has struggled with an auto-immune disease for my entire life its refreshing to see someone write a romance novel about it.  It isn’t sexy, but it is real.  Some days my husband has to be more of a nurse than an equal partner and there is a romance in his willingness to do so.  It’ll be interesting to see how they find their way to romance with what could potentially be a huge obstacle.

  15. 15
    MelB says:

    I like the idea of this heroine, but relentless positivity in any way, no matter the motivation, turns me off. Plus, I have yet to finish a Toni Blake novel…But I am intrigued so methinks this will have to be a library read.

  16. 16
    lunarocket says:

    I’m not a big fan of contemporaries but I may have to pick this one up. My brother has Crohn’s and I have its cousin ulcerative colitis. Be interesting to see how the author handles it in a romance. All I know is I am very lucky to have found a guy who has put up with all the sorts of problems flare ups can cause over the years.

    Yes, definitely will have to try this book out.

  17. 17
    Melissa H says:

    The book is also availab @ Barnes & Noble for nook as well as paper, just FYI. I put it on my wishlist. I always enjoy a H/h who have it less than perfect, but make it work anyway. Thanks for the review.

  18. 18
    Anna says:

    Is anyone here following the censorship issue on Amazon?

    Selena Kitt’s books were removed from Kindlestore and deleted from customer’s Kindles

    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/

  19. 19
    Diana says:

    I’m a big fan of Toni’s books, so I can’t wait to read Whisper Falls!

  20. 20
    Jenn LeBlanc says:

    I am a professional photographer and have been shooting scenes for a historical romance novel. One day on set we were shooting a scene where the two brothers were bantering about the heroine, so I asked the two male models to swirl their brandy balloons and talk about women.

    I thought it would be harmless and real.

    It was real.

    That was the most enlightening 30 minutes of boy-time I have ever had. And I’m not young, been married twice, for a total of many years, as well as being the girl with only guys as friends growing up.

    We blushed to our roots. Their conversation carried on throughout the day, which only went to show that it was genuine, and guys talk about that, and more. Just sayin’. WHOA.

    Also, mmm Charlie Hunnam. SOA FTW.
    And I look forward to this, a hard reality story line will be interesting to read.

  21. 21
    Mary says:

    Putting this in my Amazon cart NOW. Thank you for the review. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia about a year ago, and while on one hand it’s been a blessing in disguise, forcing me to really look at the important stuff in my life and what I want, on the other… I think it’ll be fascinating to see how a chronic disease is handled in this book. Really really appreciate the mention. Thank you.

  22. 22

    I definitely want to read this. It sounds like the author has avoided making the disease, rather than the heroine, the focus. I have a couple of chronic health conditions myself that prevent me from doing some of the things I used to enjoy, including working full-time (I used to be a teacher, which I loved; now I do part-time office work for my father-in-law and write my books), and I’m interested to see how Ms. Blake presents a character who has limitations because of her health.

    Captcha: always62… I always have at least 62 things on my TBR pile, but this book has moved near the top of the list.

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