Best Laid Plans
I enjoyed the previous book in this series, and was pleased when I learned that big-hearted, slightly awkward Charlie Matheson would be getting a story. Better Than People was warm and lovely, with a well-developed romance and well-rounded characters, and I’d hoped for more of the same here – but while there are glimpses of that warmth and loveliness, there’s not enough to hide the fact that the characterisation is sketchy and the plot is practically non-existent. There are lots of sweet moments between the two leads and I liked certain aspects of their relationship, but the whole thing is patchy and not on a par with the other books I’ve read/listened to by this author.
Best Laid Plans opens as Rye Janssen, unemployed and recently homeless, is driving from Seattle to Wyoming. He’d been couch-surfing with friends since he was evicted from his apartment, and when he got a phone call, completely out of the blue, from a lawyer telling him he’d inherited a house from a grandfather he’d never met, Rye thought must be a prank. But he soon realises it isn’t, and although it means leaving the only place he’s ever really called home, he packs up his few belongings (the most precious of which is his cat, Marmot) gets in his hunk-o-junk car, and off he goes. When he finally arrives, tired after a long drive, the misgivings he’d been harbouring about leaving Seattle come back in full force; the house is in such a terrible state of disrepair, it’s a wonder it’s still standing.
But turning around and going back to Seattle just isn’t an option, so Rye decides to fix up the house – somehow – and the following day (and after looking up some ‘how-to’ videos on You Tube) drives to the hardware store in Garnet Run to buy what he needs.
Charlie Matheson (brother of Jack from Better Than People) is one of life’s natural caretakers and truly does love to help people. When Rye first turns up in the store, Charlie is immediately struck by just how gorgeous he is; although as he soon discovers, the man’s prickly, standoffish manner doesn’t match his swoonworthy looks. He’s itching to help because that’s kind of what Charlie does, but he’s also really concerned for Rye’s safety. After a few days of watching Rye come and go with a new mountain of purchases each time, Charlie finally manages to get him to agree to let him take a look around the place. It’s an uphill struggle; Rye doesn’t trust easily and has become so used to doing everything for himself that he finds it hard to let go and accept help. But eventually he comes to see that Charlie really does want to help for no other reason than that he… wants to help, and from there, their friendship starts to take off.
The book gets off to a good start, but things start to derail not long afterwards. Before long, I was scratching my head asking myself how an adult with any pretension to common sense could think it would be possible to fix up a house in the state described a) on his own and b) at minimal cost. We’re told Rye is broke, so how does he buy all the stuff from Charlie’s store? But basically, after Rye has got over his scowly-leave-me-alone phase as far as Charlie and accepting help are concerned, it’s pretty much plain sailing. Rye gets a bank loan with spectacular ease. The renovations go well. Rye (who has temporarily moved into Charlie’s place) and Charlie become a couple with ease, too, falling into a relationship without there being any real consideration given to the massive power imbalance of Charlie supporting Rye financially.
Charlie is a big teddy-bear with anxiety issues who genuinely likes helping people, but his life has been far from easy. Probably the best thing about the book is the way the author explores the effect being burdened with huge responsibilities at a young age can have on a person. My heart really hurt for Charlie when the full extent of what his life had been and what he’d given up and missed out on became apparent; that he’d had to become an adult and a parent when he was still grieving and was little more than a child himself, and how he wasn’t able to experience young adulthood – college, dating, finding out about yourself – in the way that most of his contemporaries did. I liked Charlie’s relationship with Jack and how it changed – even though it took Rye saying some rather harsh home-truths to get there.
As I said at the beginning, the romance is underdeveloped. I couldn’t quite see what Rye and Charlie saw in each other beyond their obvious physical attraction to one another, and they didn’t seem particularly sexually compatible either. Apart from some teenaged fumbling years ago, Charlie has never had sex or been in a relationship and has no idea how to go about it; so it’s up to Rye to take the lead there, which he does, while paying careful attention to Charlie’s wants and needs, which is all well and good. But the sex scenes, while steamy enough, sort of appear out of nowhere, and I was surprised at the direction they took considering Charlie’s inexperience. (YMMV of course). And the other big problem overall is that there is practically zero conflict in the book. Rye and Charlie have a small fight in the latter part of the novel that is sorted out a few pages later – which might be how it sometimes goes in life, but it makes for a rather dull romance novel.
And then there’s what Rye decides to do with his house, as he’s going to live with Charlie for good. This veers into spoiler territory, so if you don’t want to know, then look away now.
He decides to turn it into a cat shelter. Now, I LUURVE cats – I am absolutely a cat person – but even the presence of a gorgeous Maine Coon (*sigh*) and cute, shoulder-perching moggy didn’t mean that I wanted to read several chapters (the last quarter of the book, give or take) about building and opening a cat shelter.
I had started to feel, earlier on, that there wasn’t enough substance to the story in this one to fill a full-length book, and that just confirmed it.
I really wanted to like this book a lot more than I did, and the parts I did like just couldn’t make up for the lacklustre plot and thin characterisation. Sadly, Best Laid Plans is a miss, which saddens me, because I’m a fan of Roan Parrish’s work. I’ll just have to hope for better next time.