All Roads Lead to You
As always, Jackie Ashenden manages to write rich, heartbreaking, angst-laden and sensual romances but, zounds, did the heroine she gives us here rub me the wrong way! All Roads Lead to You’s realistic view on mourning definitely touches the heart, but it’s not a perfect reading experience.
Wide-eyed jewelry designer Bethany Grant is a walking ray of human sunshine. She and her two friends, Izzy Montgomery (heroine of the first book the series, Find Your Way Home) and Indigo Jameson have moved to New Zealand from Deep River, Alaska (see Ashenden’s Alaska Homecoming series) to start their lives over and repopulate the tiny, dying town of Brightwater Valley. Bethany is already friends with all the locals. All the locals except for grumpy Finn Kelly.
Finn just wants to be left alone, which was why he moved out to the wilderness in the first place. It’s also why he started an outdoor adventure company with friends Chase (Izzy’s love), and Levi. He likes the outdoors and isolation – mostly because his wife, Sheri, died slowly of a fatal illness, leaving him reluctant to make attachments. Which is why Bethany’s attempts at playing nicey-nice rub him the wrong way.
But Bethany wants to make him smile, and she’s very persuasive. A single night together leads to Bethany throwing up in the morning. Since Bethany has already been through the wringer with a miscarriage and an unsupportive ex-boyfriend she left behind in Alaska, this is not ideal, to say the least. Now Bethany and Finn need to figure out if there’s more than sex to their relationship, and if Finn can finally put Sheri’s death in its proper place.
The emotions here are what works, as they do in all of Ashenden’s books. But then there’s Bethany, who ended up setting my teeth on edge. She’s a nice girl and can be sympathetic, but her sunniness tended to irritate me. Bethany is a born fixer and a can-do optimist – and just can’t refrain from bringing up Finn’s first wife, causing them both a world of hurt. I kind of wanted her to leave him alone for a bit and let him have some breathing room.
Sherri is a real, living presence in the book. Ashenden makes Finn’s widowhood palpably believable, so Bethany has a lot of emotional minefields to avoid because (shocks of shocks) Finn will not discuss the emotional pain he’s going through and she can’t stand that he won’t talk about his past. Of course, they get married before verbally resolving all this, creating a fraught relationship. And that results in moments of miscommunication, because Finn constantly fails to tell Bethany to avoid his soft spots and storms away when she doesn’t. Thus we have Bethany sobbing nonstop about how she wants to take on Finn’s hurt and his pain and Finn running off to the mountains. He thinks of Sheri all the way through the book, right up to the last fifty pages. I loved this about the book, but it did mire things pretty heavily in angstland.
Of course, Finn and Bethany eventually bond over horses and the outdoors and the beauty of life. It’s all very sweet and touching and angsty, and yet I also wanted to tell them both to calm down just a little bit.
Thankfully, Bethany has Izzy and Indigo to lean on, and their friendship is nicely handled. Of course, the final chapter is sequel bait for Indigo and Levi’s story, so you can expect their story up next. But as for All Roads Lead To You, it’s very emotionally rich, moving, and frustrating all at once.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier