Just Another Love Song
I’ll admit, I expected Just Another Love Song to read like Just Another Small-Town Romance. Based on the cover blurb about Sandy Macintosh and Hank Tillman, high school sweethearts reunited, I assumed the book would be set in an overly cute, overly perfect small town where nothing goes wrong and everyone is married to their true love.
But the town of Baileyville, Ohio is much quirkier and more real than I expected. If I ever make it out to Ohio on a road trip I’ll be disappointed if I can’t find a B&B to stay at like the Ohio Inn owned by Sandy’s parents, where every room is themed after a famous Ohioan. And although there are many happy residents of Baileyville, there’s also a recognition that small-town life isn’t for everyone. The options for romance are limited, as are the career opportunities – which is why Sandy and Hank once dreamed of getting away to pursue their dreams of art and music, respectively.
Unfortunately, a lost scholarship prevented Sandy from attending the art school of her dreams, so she was left behind in Baileyville when Hank left to become a musician. In the 15 years since high school, Hank has become a world-famous country singer, while Sandy owns her own home and is a successful businesswoman in her own right. When their paths finally cross again, they’re both content with their lives… but not quite happy. Sandy never left home to try to make something of herself in the art world, and Hank has one unsuccessful marriage behind him – although he got an adorable and cherished son out of it.
The chemistry between these two isn’t the sparky kind, but it feels like the natural pull of two people who know each other well and just fit. In flashbacks from their high school days we get to see how Sandy and Hank first fell in love, how they shared their deepest thoughts and feelings with one another, and how Sandy broke things off when she felt insecure about holding Hank back. It’s an age-old story, but it’s nice to see things come to a resolution as Hank reappears in Sandy’s life.
That’s not to say that the resolution is easy for either of them. Hank has come back to Baileyville to build a base for his son Henry while the boy is at school. His life and career may take him all over the world, but he wants some level of consistency for Henry during the school year. Although things are messy with his divorce and the logistics of co-parenting, Hank seems very settled in himself and what he wants. And one of those wants, now that he’s back in Baileyville and single, is to renew his old friendship with Sandy and see if there could be something more between them.
Sandy is a much more conflicted character, and I liked her the better for it. While Hank is nice, calm, and responsible… that gets a little boring. Sandy is also responsible – she owns her own business and house, makes time to help her parents regularly with their B&B, and maintains strong friendships with other women in town. But for all that she has a perfectly lovely life which she enjoys, there’s a thread of discontent in Sandy. She always wanted to get out of Baileyville and see the world, but she feels that opportunity has passed her by. When Hank returns she goes out of her way to avoid him, trying to evade both the memories of her teenage heartbreak and the clear eyes of someone who knows how badly she wanted to leave Ohio and can see how unhappy she is with staying.
Naturally, that goal of avoiding Hank isn’t attainable for long. As soon as Sandy has one chance meeting with him, it seems like he’s everywhere, and she can’t help but fall back into the rhythm of their old relationship. Sandy fights for a while to just stay friends with Hank, but the emotional intimacy that grows between them is so significant that there’s essentially nothing left to lose by making it a real relationship. That’s definitely one of this book’s strengths – developing the emotional bond between Sandy and Hank to the point that it’s palpable and satisfying to see them move together toward a relationship.
While the simplicity of Hank’s character keeps this at a B, I must say I enjoyed Just Another Love Song much more than I expected. Watching these high school sweethearts reunite is very satisfying, and its nuanced porrtayal of Baileyville, Ohio made me long to visit small-town America, even as it reminded me why I love living in a city. Who knows – maybe a stay at a themed B&B is in my future.