Desert Isle Keeper
How to Stay
Christina Mitchell’s Bad Girls of Cherry Lake series opens with a splash in How to Stay, the story of a tough rock-and-roller and a tough photographer whose past romance becomes a present entanglement.
The first time we meet rockstar Adelia Winters – famous under the pseudonym Lia Frost – she’s eagerly attending the burial of her crappy emotionally abusive jerk father while showing off a flair for music-related opinions (Metallica-si; Anti-Nowhere League-non). After justifiably cursing her father’s corpse out a bit, she’s horrified that her ’67 GTO’s transmission refuses to turn over meaning she’s stuck in Cherry Lake, a one-horse town she fled long ago, until she can get it repaired.
This brings Adelia back into contact with Conor Ross, her childhood best friend and one-time lover. She left Conor behind in Cherry Lake when she fled for the big city just after they made love for the first time, shattering his heart and leaving him wondering if he was just that repulsive. The once shy, chubby and sweet Conor is now a toned and much more cautious photographer at Razzle Dazzle Glamour and Costume Photography, a place where he’s met with sexual harassment and where he can’t grow his talents, but still makes decent money. His friends urge him to open his own studio, but he’s been dallying at creating his own business plan while living in a trailer park on the outskirts of town. Conor knows Lia’s back but wants to avoid her after the whole heart breakage deal.
While Lia, in Conor’s opinion, hasn’t changed a wit, Lia is taken aback by Conor’s new, more confident and cynical self. And they’re both powerfully attracted to each other still, in spite of all of their misgivings and wounds.
Lia has nothing more pressing to do. Having punched the head of her label (with just cause) and not regretting it means the tabloids are dogging her footsteps, which makes hanging out in her tiny hometown all the more enticing a concept. But Adelia’s ex and manager, EJ, continues to pressure her to make nice with the record executive who had verbally assaulted her. And her complicated history with Conor might just make things much more difficult than anticipated.
How to Stay combines a small-town romance that generally feels suitable hometownish with some very deep and heartbreaking character portraits. It’s likely that by the time you close this book you’re going to have a lot of feelings for Lia and her struggle toward happiness. You’ll also like the characters, and come to treasure Mitchell’s sharp wit.
Lia may be hard to like for some, as she’s abrasive and opinionated sometimes, but she’s just the sort of heroine I adore – tough, but not too tough to bend. Her music snobbery is generally appealing instead of being an obnoxious trait. Learning about her struggle with her father’s issues and her horrifying childhood and how she came out the other end a better person is both rewarding and heartbreaking.
Conor is gentler soul, softer and more easy to make vulnerable in ways that Lia never quite reaches. I liked him for his fortitude, and the fact that he needs to gather his courage about him to make a move.
They have boatloads of chemistry together, and you absolutely believe that these are two friends have known –and loved – one another forever.
The supporting characters – from the believably slimy EJ to Shannon and her daughter Jo to Cupcake, Conor’s funny, fierce dog – are delightful.
How to Stay is a sweet romance and a poignant character study that will keep the reader enthralled. It’s an excellent, engaging ride worth anyone’s time.
Note: This book contains detailed descriptions of sexual harassment and child neglect.