One of the hardest books to rate is one filled with both mundane and magical moments. I found the latest release by Ms. Kleypas falls in this category. Fortunately, this book is my favorite of the three books that I have read in the series, making it very easy to recommend.
Zoë Hoffman is a gentle soul trapped in a sex pot body. Her inherent shyness was cemented by the circumstances of her childhood and adolescence. First there was the abandonment by her mother at a very early age, then her father’s ensuing distance and rejection, resulting in her being raised by her grandmother. Then there was her voluptuous figure at an early age. While other girls might view a bombshell body and all the attention it gathers as an asset, it created more distress for Zoë, having to deal with the leers and the attention of boys looking for a conquest. Finding a confidante in Chris Kelly while in high school eased the pain of this awkward time and after both finished their education they married. But after one short year, Chris asked for a divorce.
During this time Zoë’s second cousin Justine is an unexpected source of comfort. When she offers Zoë a share of her bed and breakfast business in exchange for her expertise in creating magical dishes, after a brief hesitation Zoë agrees. But now after two years, her life is changing again. Eighty-seven-year old Emma, Zoë’s beloved grandmother, has been diagnosed with vascular dementia. Her grandmother still owns a place on the island so Zoë plans to update it and take on her care. Since most of the contractors are booked solid, she decides to take a chance on Alex Nolan.
Alex has gone from living the high life to barely existing. His soon to be ex-wife has divested him of their shared assets, and the economic slump has done the rest. The bank foreclosed on his Roche Harbor developments and now the proposal for Dream Lake has stalled indefinitely. As a child of alcoholic parents, Alex doesn’t seem to care that he is sinking more and more into the bottle. And the ghost that he has acquired, which no one else can see or hear, is not helping. His first meeting with Zoë delivers a knockout punch so he is not predisposed to accept the job of remodeling her cottage. Only after his brother tells him “your 401 (k) is now a 501 (k)” – meaning “your next worth is now located in the pocket of your Levi’s” and the ghost accuses him of being chicken does he agree to submit a bid. And in doing so he has to fight his greatest temptation.
Many authors use a lot of telling to create the backdrop of the story. Just recently re-reading a favorite author I was surprised at how much she used it too. The trick is to engage the reader so they forget this type of background building at the beginning. Unfortunately, that never happened to me here. Finally, after a little over 100 pages, the hero and heroine truly interact and that is when my interest was captured.
Typically, shy, retiring types of heroines fail to survive well under my intense scrutiny, but Zoë’s innate goodness and good looks set her apart from the stereotype. In a word, she is very appealing. Rather than deal with the issues of poor self-esteem related to average looks, she has had to deal with men’s presumptions and biases. It is refreshing to see the other side of the coin and something that it is not often used. Zoë also has a magical ability but for me it was better integrated into the story than the magic from the previous book. In fact, I would have loved for it to have been expanded upon.
While I liked Alex, the reasons for his jadedness, besides having alcoholic parents, is not fully explored. We have been told in the last two books that Alex was exposed to the worst mistreatment but I still never really understood why he was so different from his brothers.
The ghost portion of the book left me ambivalent. While it is well done, it is very predictable and I felt like it sidetracked from Zoë and Alex’s romance. Still the two separate scenes toward the end are truly heartwarming and memorable- so it worked out in the end.
Within the second half of the book, the reader finds the true gems of humor and emotional intensity. Zoë’s poor memory of the meaning of numbers caused me to laugh out loud. And Alex’s visceral need for her is riveting. I have only read a few books by Ms. Kleypas but with this book, I better understand her appeal. She does write extremely entrancing love scenes, elevating the emotions beyond lust and longing.