Desert Isle Keeper
Just Kiss Me
Rachel Gibson an author whose books I come back to again and again. She is at the top of my go-to list for contemporary romances and on stand-by when I need a good comfort read. But I’ve been a little disappointed in her last few books. They seemed to lack that certain lagniappe or a little something extra that her earlier books contain. While Just Kiss Me is not going to shoot to the top of my re-read pile, this novel does seem to place Ms. Gibson back on the correct path though there are a few rocks to step around on the way.
When Vivien Leigh Rochet grows up, the one thing she knows is she wants to buy her mother a house on Charleston’s Rainbow Row. After a childhood spent living in the Whitley-Shuler’s carriage house as the daughter of the housekeeper, Vivien has been schooled on her societal place in the old money scheme of things, so buying Macy Jane Rochet a house on Rainbow Row is Vivien’s way of making her mother equal. Macy Jane was a bi-polar single mother, and Vivien has been managing her mom’s depressive states all of her life. Vivien made it big in Hollywood as the star in a dystopian series (think Hunger Games) and, when she was 25, purchased Macy Jane that candy button house on Rainbow Row. As the book begins, Vivien’s now 27 and headed back to Charleston for her mother’s funeral.
Harrison Whitley-Shuler grew up in Charleston’s privileged upper crust society. From boarding schools to boating, his childhood was one of the upper class. He was a Wall Street trader until a heart attack at the age of 33 stopped him in his tracks. He moved back to Charleston and, for the past few years, he’s been making furniture and doing house renovations. He is repairing the fireplace in Macy Jane’s Rainbow Row house when she suddenly dies. Her death brings his childhood nemesis, Vivien Rochet, back into his life. There is no love lost between Harrison and Vivien. Since he moved back to Charleston, Vivien has not been back once to see her mother, so Harrison has no reason to think she is anything but the spoiled, selfish girl he remembers from his childhood.
Vivien arrives in Charleston with no clue as to how her mother died, how to plan a funeral, or how to go on now that her anchor in the world is gone. Help arrives from the last person Vivien expects; the bane of her childhood existence, Nonnie Whitley-Shuler – her mother’s employer. Nonnie enlists the help of her eldest son Harrison to help Vivien navigate the funeral logistics and it is through this means that Vivien and Harrison learn to know each other again.
The absolute best thing about this story is the relationship between the hero and heroine. While Gibson stretches credulity a bit in her lack of coverage of Vivien’s transition from teenage brat to mature, empathetic adult, especially in the cutthroat environment of Hollywood, the adult relationship works. I liked both characters in their adult personas. Vivien is on her way to being self-actualized even though she still has a ways to go. Harrison has been honed through fire and he is now at ease in his own skin. The relationship proceeds at a believable pace especially given the prior relationship between the two. Other than an ending that was slightly rushed, the pacing in this love affair is strong.
The problems with this story are the sheer number of clichés. For those who are unaware, Vivien Leigh, played Scarlett O’Hara in the movie Gone with the Wind. So we have a famous actress’ name for Vivien Leigh Rochet to live up to; an actress who played the quintessential southern character of the 20th century and a mother with the completely stereotypical twice named Macy Jane as a moniker. Employer Nonnie Whitley-Shuler is just icing on that stereotypical name cake. Throw in a few southernisms that are stretching 21st century limits on current sayings south of the Mason-Dixon Line and the book nearly wanders into too stereotypical to overlook. I am a born and bred southerner and am very cognizant of the portrayal of southern characters in literature and admittedly unforgiving when that portrayal is too sugar coated and dripping molasses to stomach. Rachel Gibson just misses that too syrupy line though and survives my southern pet peeve test. This is a nice read and I hope the beginning of another Rachel Gibson contemporary run.