Molly O'Keefe is one of my favorite writers. You can count on her to create characters that will test you and take your emotions for a spin, one moment loving them the next wanting to give them a good shake. Well, she didn't let me down with this story!
The set up
Monica Appleby returns to Bishop, Arkansas to write her next book. She was the unwilling reality TV star growing up and labeled the teen-aged "Wild Child." Bishop is where her father was killed when she was five years old and she wants to reconcile her memories with those who witnessed the events. Meanwhile, Mayor Jackson Davies is preparing the town to show it's best face in a contest to woo a major conglomerate to move their factory operations to Bishop. He's not sure the Wild Child fits into the scenario.
Monica has her own agenda and gets prickly when Jackson balks at what she plans to do. He can't afford to have anything (or anyone!) foil his plan to save this town because he plans to leave as soon as the town recovers. Jackson hasn't had a chance to explore the world since being forced to return to take care of his much younger sister following his parents' deaths. His sister is rebelling and pulling further away from him every minute. He also doesn't want to give in to the obvious attraction he and Monica have for each other.
What I loved about the story
Having both Monica's and Jackson's individual points of view kept me in the romance because these two did a dance with each other that kept me off balance. They were so true to their emotionally battered selves when dealing with each other I thought it might take forever for them to come together. There was no instant love here but the lusting didn't hold them back. The dialogue is clever, the sexual tension high and the secondary characters/story lines pitched perfectly to add even more conflict. The writing is some of the finest I've seen in this genre.
But what I REALLY loved was the complexity of these two characters. Monica is really damaged and I liked how she didn't seek sympathy nor made any excuses for her past behavior. She owned her identity, flaws and all, and disarmed her detractors. It pained me sometimes to see her be so exposed while at the same time be incredibly private about the real depth of her pain and loneliness. Her prickliness with Jackson could be maddening at times. He, on the other hand, masked his pain and disillusion behind a pleasing facade..."I've got it handled" so no one ever saw the real Jackson. And yet, these two saw straight through each other and their relationship was as complicated as they were individually.
Why not 5 stars?
I usually complain about a book needing to be pared down, maybe 50 fewer pages and it would be a more nimble read. Here it was just the opposite. The story deserved just a little longer ending as I think the issues involving Monica and her Mom were resolved too quickly and neatly. It didn't ring true to the rest of their story and they deserved more time. I would have been thrilled with 50 more pages.
The bottom line
This is not chic-lit or some light and breezy romance. This is a serious story, meaning the writing is spectacular and meaningful, the story has depth and the characters EXTREMELY interesting and true to their designed nature. I make no bones about O'Keefe being one of my favorite writers and, even though I was prepared for a good book, I was blown away by this one. It's not a light read and it should be one you make a point to include on your shelf. Just make certain that you take the time to savor this story when you do read it. 4.5 stars.
(I received an ARC from Edelweiss)