Desert Isle Keeper
Maybe at a different time in my life, my slightly cynical self might have given Charlie Sunshine the side eye. But this is April 2020, I’m spending entirely too much time cooped-up with my husband and two boys, and Lily Morton’s brand of sunshine is just what the doctor ordered. Charlie Sunshine is a saccharine-sweet ode to the ever popular friends-to-lovers trope, and it left this Morton fan happy and satisfied. In the second Close Proximity novel, best friends move in together and before long, things take a decidedly naughty turn. Morton shoe-horns in a Big Misunderstanding late in the second half, but it’s a half-hearted effort at best. Charlie Sunshine is a mostly light and lovely story about friends (one of whom struggles with epilepsy) who are the last ones to know they’re meant to be. I liked it – and them – very much.
Charlie Burroughs has a great life. Only twenty-seven years old, he’s got a job he loves (librarian), great friends – especially best friend since childhood, Misha – and a wonderfully supportive family. He’s moving out of the dinghy flat he once shared with Jesse (Best Man), and moving into Misha’s luxurious apartment. He’s got a boyfriend he likes, and by rights, he should be on top of the world. Except he isn’t. Three years earlier, Charlie fractured his skull in a fall; he recovered but was later diagnosed with epilepsy. Early on he struggled with the diagnosis, but rallied. He gave up smoking and drinking, and other behaviors that triggered his seizures (or ‘turns,’ as he prefers to call them), and finally found the right mix of medications to keep them at bay. But eight months before – after nearly a year without a turn – they came back with a vengeance for no discernible reason. Terrified his medical team will recommend brain surgery to try and fix the problem, Charlie’s been avoiding his regular check-ups. He’s exhausted, sore from the falls that accompany his turns, and scared. Trying to keep up his happy and healthy façade with friends and family gets more difficult every day.
Charlie thinks he’s hidden how poorly he’s feeling, but Misha Lebedinsky knows everything there is to know about his best friend. A serial bachelor who flits from lover to lover, the only constants in his life are Charlie, his mom and his twin sisters. Misha doesn’t have room for another serious relationship in his life, and anyway, Charlie’s health is stressing him out. Wary of bringing it up when Charlie seems to be pointedly avoiding discussing it, Misha hopes he’ll finally get his chance now that they’re living together. He’s dreading an upcoming weekend getaway with Charlie’s friend Jamie and Harry, Charlie’s smug and oblivious boyfriend, but since the long car ride might provide an opportunity to talk, he decides not to try to dissuade Charlie from going – even though he looks like he might keel over at any moment. And besides, Misha takes care of Charlie. Wherever he is, Misha is.
The weekend away gets off to a poor start after Harry takes it poorly when Charlie, who isn’t feeling well, tells Harry he’s not in the mood for sex. They break-up, but before Charlie can tell Misha, they’re called to the private dining room for dinner and wind up seated at opposite ends of the table. When one of the guests discovers Charlie is a librarian, and proceeds to complain about the library system and its patrons, Misha is ready to step in, but Charlie easily rebuts the man’s arguments. A miserable Misha waits for the interminable dinner to end, but just when he’s ready to make his escape, he sees Charlie stand and then go abruptly still. He rushes to his side after Harry lets him fall to the floor, and then escorts him back to his room.
The seizure ultimately provides the catalyst for Charlie to confess he hasn’t been seeing his doctor, and once he finally does, it turns out his medicine is the culprit. Misha arranges for Charlie to spend the next six weeks recuperating with his mom in the country, and when they finally reunite – Charlie surprises Misha in the apartment after he’s had a tough day – something about the reconciliation feels different for both men, and marks a change in the relationship.
Six weeks apart after a lifetime in each other’s pockets, and then close proximity… well, you know where this is going. And happily, it doesn’t take Morton long to maneuver these two into bed together, and their first night together surprises them both. Intense, passionate and tender, it just feels right. Misha is a possessive and protective partner who has loved Charlie for years as a friend, and is thrilled (and relieved) by the change in their relationship. He flourishes as one of these two lovebirds, and falls headlong into coupledom. He’s so happy, friends! And he’s so, so, so good to Charlie. Charlie, meanwhile, is similarly smitten, but panics before Misha convinces him they haven’t ruined things. He’s surprised how quickly Misha falls into the relationship, and can’t help but worry Misha will tire of him, and if his health makes him a bad bet. But reader, all of this is window dressing. Charlie and Misha are sexy and hot and sweet and lovely together, and it’s a treat to spend time with them.
Morton usually sets up future stories in her books, and this one is no different. Since they were introduced in Best Man, fans have been waiting for details on the relationship between Felix (Misha’s cousin) and Max, part of the small, tight knit group that Charlie and Misha call friends. Both of them make appearances in this novel, and Felix even plays ‘the fixer,’ after the Big Misunderstanding that helps bring this novel to its conclusion. I’m intrigued by this pair, who clearly have LOTS of unresolved issues. I loved sharp-tongued Bethany, Charlie’s friend and co-worker at the Southwark public library, and Rupert, Misha’s co-worker, who is head over heels gaga for Bethany. Although he only makes a few appearances in this story, Rupert steals his scenes, and when he quizzes Misha about all the reasons he’s rejected so many acquaintances as possible boyfriends for Charlie (in a ridiculous attempt to pretend he doesn’t want him for himself), I was giggling. As per usual, the friendships are lovely, and the secondary cast of characters help our principals find their way to happily ever after. Charlie and Misha’s families are similarly charming. Friends, Morton likes happy families, and I’m here for it! Not everyone needs a skeleton in his closets.
Featuring an appealing cast of characters, funny and sharp dialogue, a moving depiction of someone struggling with and managing a chronic medical condition, and a sticky sweet happily ever after, Charlie Sunshine is a ray of light in this challenging time. If you’re a Morton fan, you’ll love this one. And if you aren’t? You’ll find it hard to resist, too.