A Home Of Her Own
A Home of Her Own is the kind of series romance that’s increasingly rare: a well-written, character-rich and deeply emotional read. While it does have its flaws, in many ways it’s the best series book I’ve read all year.
Lucky Caldwell grew up an outcast in the small town of Dundee, Idaho. Her mother Red was infamous as the town’s resident prostitute, and that was before she earned a reputation as a homewrecker by luring a much-older man away from his wife and family. A wealthy man, Morris Caldwell was also the only person who ever showed Lucky any love or kindness. Red eventually returned to her old ways of turning tricks, forcing young Lucky to keep her mother’s secrets or lose the only home she’d ever known. Her classmates at school treated her with derision, constantly making comments about how overweight, painfully shy Lucky must be as slutty as her mother. Then Lucky’s world fell apart when Red and Morris divorced. It was only after he died that Morris proved he hadn’t forgotten about her, leaving Lucky his Victorian mansion – the only home she’d ever known.
Lucky never went back to Dundee to reclaim her inheritance, not wanting to revisit her hometown. When she finally does return years later, she has a very specific reason: she wants to find out who her father is. Red kept a diary naming all the men she slept with, and Lucky thinks she has her father narrowed down to three possibilities.
Soon after her arrival Lucky runs into Mike Hill, Morris’s grandson, who always blamed Red for tearing his family apart. Mike is convinced Lucky is exactly like her mother, a gold digger who will do anything for money. He and his family wanted to buy the house Lucky left abandoned for years, and she rejected every offer. He believes it was just to spite them, a sign that she’s a despicable person. But it doesn’t take long for him to recognize that Lucky is nothing like he imagined. She’s much more haunted and vulnerable, and even though he doesn’t want to like her, he can’t stop the need to help her.
From the very first page, the author’s writing is strong and evocative, as Lucky steps into the abandoned house that holds her only pleasant childhood memories. The moment is captured perfectly, portraying her ambivalence and setting the mood for the rest of the tale. This is a poignant story full of genuine feeling. Novak really pulls the reader into the characters’ emotions, letting us experience the story with them. Certain parts made me angry, others moved me. There were times when it seemed almost unbearably sad, but I had to admire the author’s skill in making the emotions so keenly felt that they come right off the page.
Lucky is a tortured heroine, very much a lost soul. She’s almost completely alone in the world, with no one in her life but two half-brothers to whom she rarely speaks. Some of her choices may not sit well with every reader, but they fit with tormented nature. I generally don’t care for virgin heroines in contemporaries, but it made perfect sense for this particular character (although the way the issue is dealt with does seem somewhat forced). For his part, Mike is older than Lucky, and is somewhat reluctant to get involved with her as a result. He must also deal with the conflict between his growing feelings and his family’s utter hatred toward her.
There are a number of secondary characters as the author paints a complete picture of the small town of Dundee. This is the fourth in a series set in this town, and I was initially surprised at just how unlikable I found it. While a good many romances create idyllic, nirvana-like small towns, others portray life in a small town in an opposite fashion, filled with cruel, judgmental, and close-minded people.
Novak’s story hardly seems to be offering a ringing endorsement of small-town America, but as it evolves, the author is careful to reveal other sides to the community. Not everyone Lucky meets is a horrible person, which surprises her. As with all places, there are good people in Dundee, too, and the reactions of some, particularly Mike’s family, are understandable given what they believe they know about Lucky. I still don’t have any particular desire to return to this small town, but I respected the amount of complexity the author brought to the place, neither glorifying or condemning the small town setting. She even manages to humanize Red, a character who initially seems unredeemable, in a well-played scene between Mike and Lucky that’s one of the book’s strongest.
A few quibbles: There are certain aspects of the story that could have been developed or explained better had the book been slightly longer. The book stumbles toward the finish line, with a cliched development in the final twenty pages that I wish the author had avoided. Its purpose seems to be to set up the nice moment that follows, but it’s so hackneyed I groaned out loud. The ending also isn’t quite as happy as I might have liked, although that may be because I wanted the big overblown happy ending for Lucky after everything she’d been through. The author’s approach is more understated, and likely more realistic.
A Home of Her Own is a well-written character drama that should please readers looking for an emotional read. Anyone hungry for a good story, series or otherwise, should check out this complex and involving tale.