Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Published by Berkley Books on August 10, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
A woman looking for a new lease on life moves to Arizona where she rents a guest house on a gorgeous property with a mysterious owner--a man who teaches her about resilience, courage, and ultimately true love, in this funny, bighearted novel about hope and healing from New York Times bestselling author Jenn McKinlay. Stuck in a dreary Boston winter, Annabelle Martin would like nothing more than to run away from her current life. She's not even thirty years old, twice-divorced, and has just dodged a marriage proposal... from her ex-husband. When she's offered her dream job as creative director at a cutting-edge graphic design studio in Phoenix, she jumps at the opportunity to start over.
When she arrives in the Valley of the Sun, Annabelle is instantly intrigued by her anonymous landlord. Based on the cranky, handwritten notes Nick Daire leaves her, she assumes he is an old, rich curmudgeon. Annabelle is shocked when she finally meets Nick and discovers that he's her age and uses a wheelchair. Nick suffered from a stroke a year ago, and while there's no physical reason for him not to recover, he is struggling to overcome the paralyzing fear that has kept him a prisoner in his own home.
Despite her promise to herself not to get involved, Annabelle finds herself irresistibly drawn to Nick. And soon she wonders if she and Nick might help each other find the courage to embrace life, happiness, and true love.
I could say that this is an opposites attract story – and it sort of is. I could also say it’s a story about two people who have some really serious issues learning to deal with their own shit because no one else can fix your crap for you – no matter how much they might want to. Or need to because of their own crap. And both of those things would certainly be true, but they are not the whole story. Even if perhaps they should have been.
The thing about Annabelle Martin is that she’s impulsive in the extreme. It may have something to do with her being artistic, but mostly that’s just the way she is. She’s open about pretty much everything, including her need to please the people around her – even when she hurts herself in the process.
Her impulsiveness and need to avoid conflict have led her to some pretty strange places. Two marriages and two divorces before she’s even turned 30. A friends-with-benefits relationship with her first ex-husband, along with an engagement ring that she’s just swallowed.
And a desperate need to escape that situation leading her to impulsively accept her best friend’s offer to move from Boston to Phoenix in order to become the Creative Director for her best friend’s PR firm. That’ it’s winter in Boston probably explains the rest of Annabelle’s surprising acceptance. Winters in Boston are cold. And ugly. And did I mention bloody damn cold?
Annabelle’s impulsive move, along with giving up her successful freelance design work – she must be really successful as Boston is an expensive city to live in! – runs her headlong into way more problems than she left behind.
There is something wrong at her friend’s PR firm, and possibly her friend’s marriage. And the place that same friend arranged for her to live in comes with its own set of issues in the form of Annabelle’s mysterious landlord. The one who has presented her with a 10-page list of supplemental rules for her six-month rental of the guest house on his property but who can’t be bothered to meet her in person.
Annabelle is intrigued and annoyed by turns. The rules are ridiculous and have a strong whiff of “get off my lawn”, making her think her landlord is an old curmudgeon. She’s only half right.
Escape Rating B: First, the title of this book gave me a terrible earworm. Actually, I think I picked it up for the earworm, and now I can’t get Wait for It from Hamilton out of my head. The song from the play is only applicable in bits, especially the part that goes “I am the one thing in life I can control” but I still can’t get the damn thing out of my head. Again.
Annabelle’s landlord, Nicholas Daire, is the one who is trying to control a life that went completely out of his control less than a year before, when the 35-year-old property mogul had a stroke. By the time Annabelle moves into his guest house and starts driving him crazy, he’s mostly recovered from the stroke.
Except that he’s stuck in an endless loop of panic, afraid that he’ll have another one. Panic that is so acute that it mimics another stroke. In his fear, he’s become a hermit, retiring from his business, refusing to leave the house except for doctor’s appointments, and relentlessly training his body, when it works, with the idea that he can make himself strong enough to recover completely.
And refusing to even entertain the notion that what’s causing his current problems isn’t his body – it’s his head.
Annabelle, with the help of a tiny cat she names “Sir”, throws Daire’s carefully ordered life and his ten pages of rules out the window the moment she sets foot in the guest house. He’s order, she’s chaos, and they need each other to deal with all the baggage they’ve carted along to the point where they meet. And combust.
For me it felt like there were multiple things going on in this story, any one or two of which would have made for either a terrific romance or a great bit of relationship fiction, but that all together couldn’t devote the necessary time to make the whole feel satisfying.
Annabelle’s work situation was painful but oh-so-real, as the inside candidate for the job she took does his worst to use office politics and his long-time friendship with one boss in order to trump Annabelle’s qualifications, capability and long-time friendship with the other boss. That inside candidate is a user and a douchecanoe, but like many such people in real life and fiction (honestly he’s Spender from Mass Effect Andromeda), Carter West is terrible at doing the job but very effective at keeping it by sabotaging everyone around him. Dealing with this asshole, along with getting her friend to own up to having brought her to Phoenix with ulterior motives in this direction would have made an excellent story of female friendship and empowerment and I wish we’d gotten more of that.
While Annabelle has her own issues, the story on Daire’s side is about falling into a relationship with Annabelle in order to avoid dealing with his own. That they call each other on not dealing with their shit was terrific, because they both have lots. But the romantic relationship between them felt like instalove. Something that Annabelle has been known for but Daire is infamous for keeping people at arm’s length and refusing to admit that he cares no matter how much he does. I bought that they loved each other by the end but didn’t really feel them, or particularly him, falling. Although the relationship he manages to re-establish with his sister felt hard-fought and hard-won every step of the way.
Hence the good but not fantastic rating. Each part was good, but they didn’t quite make a whole for me. Your reading mileage may vary.