Love Is All Around
I’ve been having some good luck with debut authors and new publisher lines lately. Luna is offering what I’d consider some of the better hybrid books out there and the line is getting better as each new offering comes out. I enjoyed the first ones I read especially Laura Anne Gilman’s Staying Dead, but loved two of the newest (Guardian of Honor by Robin Owens and The Compass Rose by Gail Dayton). Equally good for me has been Zebra’s debut program. Of the historicals I’ve read there’s only been one miss amongst some real hits, including Lady of the Knight and both of Sandy Blair’s Kilt books. With all that success, I decided to give one of the contemporary Zebra authors a try. I’m glad I did.
Lori Devoti has done that very rare (in romance land anyway) thing. She’s written a small-town setting that rings almost entirely true. Wit the local factory shut down, work at the BiggeeMart is one of the only remaining options; all the smaller mom-and-pops are closing. For entertainment the locals spend their weekends at the local bar or tubing on the river. And in a small town it’s tough to escape your past – either literally or figuratively – as both the hero and heroine in Love is All Around discover.
Patsy Lee Clark lived in Daisy Creek all her life and can’t wait to shake the dust of her hometown off her feet. More and more lately, she’s felt the urge to escape the dead-end trap set by her town and family. She hopes her burgeoning web design skills will provide the out she seeks. Patsy wants to land a job in St. Louis or New York or just about anywhere else that isn’t Daisy Creek. One kink in her plan is her friends and family who are reluctant to see her go. A much bigger kink arises out of the arrival of Will Barnes in Daisy Creek.
Will Barnes and his family lived in Daisy Creek when he was a kid. They moved away when he was a teenager, but he never forgot the small town. After selling his Internet business, Will realizes he’ll never be what his father or the rest of his family wants. That epiphany came with the recognition that he wasn’t happy living in Chicago and the one place he could be happy was Daisy Creek. So Will bought the biggest fixer-upper he could find and plans to spend his time getting it in order and coming up with a new business venture. Meeting Patsy again sends his thoughts in a whole new direction.
The small-town setting is very well done here – the good and the bad. For an intelligent, hard-working, creative person like Patsy, there aren’t any job options, period. And everyone knows it, reluctant as they are to see her leave. I got that. The painful realization that a friend or family member is slipping away can be tough. And each person who loves Patsy has that pain. That’s very well done here. No cutesy attempts to force her to stay in town. They do exert a fair amount of pressure by making Patsy feel guilty, but nobody really expects her to stay. And Patsy herself is conflicted. Does she really want to go or is she running away?
Though I wished Will was a little more developed (just why did he feel such a burning desire to return to Daisy Creek?) he does make a nice foil for Patsy. He’s been there and done that in terms of trying to figure out what he wants in life. But he never tries to bully Patsy into the “right” choice. He treats her like an adult and is willing to live with her choices, painful as they might be.
The build-up of Patsy and Will’s romance is believable – but it’s also slow. For much of the first half of the book they are doing the will-they, won’t-they dance. I’m all for a realistically drawn relationship, but this one gets pretty darn repetitive and the pacing bogs down with each repetition. By the time Patsy does realize some of her ambitions, there’s very little space left in the book to deal with the fallout. Whereas I applaud Ms. Devoti for her realistic drawing of Daisy Creek, Patsy’s experiences with a city are stereotypical and sketchily drawn. That has everything to do with the pacing. As much as I enjoyed Patsy and Will and the inhabitants of Daisy Creek, there were times I wished they would just get on with it.
Pacing problems aside, this was another successful debut for me. I look forward to exploring more Zebra debuts.