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.