All I Ask
Do you like your romance served with a large side of drama? If so, Corinne Michaels’ All I Ask delivers in spades. This tale of second chances and friends-to-lovers is full of angst and emotion. On the one hand, I liked this book at times because its very messiness felt like real life; after all, once you have a certain number of years under your belt, life has a tendency to get a little complicated. Then again, I have to admit that some of the details in this story certainly made my eyes roll.
At the age of twenty-one, Teagan and Derek both knew they loved each other, but they were best friends and both too scared to say anything about their feelings. It didn’t help that there were always complications, too. Teagan ran with the popular crowd in high school and was dating football star Keith, and just as she thought of being brave enough to talk, Derek let on that he’d started dating a girl he met in college. Before too long, life had pulled them in opposite directions.
As the main story action begins, Teagan is in her mid-thirties and the parent of a thirteen-year-old daughter. We learn that Keith deserted her upon learning of her unexpected pregnancy at twenty-one, and Teagan now lives in a modest apartment while working for her parents’ antique store. Needless to say, her life didn’t turn out as planned.
While I could sympathize with Teagan, the constant refrain about her letting Keith sign away all parental rights to his daughter and him therefore not having to pay support just didn’t ring true. The story is set in my home state of Virginia, and courts here generally don’t work that way – though when I practiced family law, I had more than a few clients who needed to be disabused of this very notion. Even if the parents agree to let one parent sign away his or her parental rights, the court isn’t required to accept that agreement and it generally will not if that acceptance is not in the best interest of the child. Given that Teagan makes minimum wage working for her parents while Keith is an NFL star, I found it somewhat doubtful that a court would find cutting the father loose to be in the child’s best interest.
Getting back to the story, we learn early on that Derek is back in town – and recently single. From the opening chapter, we know that Teagan’s heart broke when Derek married and moved away. Now recovering from both the failure of his marriage and his wife’s death, Derek has returned to town to assist in his father’s veterinary practice.
Not knowing why Derek originally broke ties, Teagan is initially far from eager to see him. However, their respective daughters become embroiled in some bullying incidents at school and that starts to bring them into closer contact whether they like it or not. Told in alternating first person, we see their friendship start to rebuild and romance begin to kindle between the two. Many books I’ve read in this style tend to be far stronger in one lead character’s voice than the other but in this novel, the author does a good job of getting into both Teagan and Derek’s heads. I didn’t always like the choices the characters made in their lives but because of how the book is written, I felt like I could better understand them.
The emotional honesty that Derek and Teagan have started to find in their mid-thirties is a refreshing contrast to what went on when they were in their teens. They’re willing to talk now, and they seem more aware of each other’s feelings. The romance in this book feels beautifully sweet, all the more so because the love Teagan and Derek find contrasts with all their losses. And in the midst of the lovefest, I appreciated that they considered their children’s feelings, because in some books I’ve read, the children are more props than people.
With that being said, there was one particular aspect of the storyline with the children that didn’t sit well with me. While the parents do take the bullying issues seriously, I did see the word “bitch” used to describe thirteen-year-old girls several times during the story, including at least once by an adult that I can remember. Yes, I certainly remember thirteen-year-olds can be mean and vicious but since the story is told in the first person by the adult characters, using that language to describe children was very off-putting for me as a reader.
While I can appreciate that life brings mess and sometimes drama, I did have one big complaint. What can feel like real life can also lack narrative focus, and that’s what came across to me as I read this book. We have Teagan and Derek re-uniting, Teagan having to deal with Keith and her own feelings of inadequacy, Derek getting through the death of his wife, and then all the major curveballs that get thrown at the characters throughout the book. Any one of these things would have provided all kinds of material for a deep dive into the characters’ emotions, but all of them piled together into one book felt like overload and this narrative decision also keeps any one issue from getting explored too deeply, thus muting the book’s emotional impact somewhat.
All I Ask tells an emotional story of second chances, and parts of it really are quite enjoyable. However, with tighter storytelling and editing, it could have been so much more. If you enjoy your romance heaped high with angst, you might like this one. However, even though it has some strong moments, I just cannot entirely recommend it.