Never Too Late
What surprised me about Never Too Late is that it has almost no external plot, no particular situation driving the two protagonists together. Instead, it’s a strong friends-to-lovers story with the most important action happening internally as both leads deal with past pain and consider that they might just be more than friends. Never Too Late is the first book I’ve read by Ms. Tuttle and is the third book in the author’s Along Came Love series. Characters from the previous books do appear in Never Too Late, but it worked very well as a standalone novel, and I felt no need to read the earlier books.
As Rachael Stark drives home after dropping her son Gavin off at college, it hits her. Her house in Chicago will be quiet, empty, and filled with too many memories. Especially memories of her husband and daughter who died nine years before in a car accident. She also faces the reality of having no money since savings and insurance were burnt away during Gavin’s cancer treatments. A break is what she needs, and since her best friend Evan needs some assistance while recovering from a gunshot wound, Rachael makes a sharp U-turn and heads for her brother’s summer home on the shore of Lake Michigan. Two miles away from her destination, the car runs out of gas. Rachael gets out and walks.
Evan Wayne is currently on injury leave from the Abundance Police Department, and from his shore home in nearby Holland, he keeps an eye on his neighbor’s property. At the sign of a late-night disturbance, he heads over, ready to confront an intruder. Instead he finds Rachael – who is supposed to be home in Chicago – trying to break in. He’s been friends with her for ages, but over the past year, he’s let his affection for her grow into something deeper. His heart-racing reaction to her now confirms he’s gone beyond friendship.
Relieved that it is only Evan confronting her, Rachael explains her presence. Light banter is sprinkled through a conversation between close friends who know many, but not all, of each other’s secrets. In the quiet night, Rachael suddenly realizes that this friend, this confidante, is looking mighty fine, and his presence flusters her as never before. She has five reasons not to let stray feelings grow past friendship, number five being Evan’s dangerous job. That’s her story, and she’s sticking to it.
When Evan’s captain asks him to head up the department’s entry in the mural painting contest for the Fall Flower Fest, he knows just the person to ask for help. Rachael is a professional artist, known for her flowers, and he’s confident she’ll have no trouble with the project… until Rachael admits she suffers from “painter’s block”. When Evan adds that the charity she’ll be painting for is a local non-profit helping families of missing children, Rachael agrees.
The story continues, winding steadily through Rachael and Evan’s relationship, untangling inner knots that keep them from committing, and portraying the interactions of these two close-to-the-heart friends. The author weaves in a theme of the benefits of being with God and His healing grace. Living in love and gratitude are what the characters strive for every day. The arcs of the characters’ inner growth and of the blossoming romance are well-done, a good example of how these two elements can be effectively interwoven to create a lovely story.
However, I could easily put this book down, and I puzzled over why. Overall, the author writes from a surface-level perspective; for example, when Evan introduces Rachael to his special garden, she describes it in her mind and thinks “Marvelous.” From the description, I expected a physical reaction — a gasp, a murmured ‘Oh, my’, but there is nothing more than the one silent word. Many such opportunities are missed and this gives the novel a ‘head’ feel without connection to body and heart. Because the romance details what’s happening in each character’s inner world, I often lost the flow of time and place in the book’s external world, especially at chapter breaks. It could take me a whole page to find the clues as to how many days have passed and where the characters are physically. I would have preferred clearer chapter transitions given the emphasis on the characters’ inner lives.
Fans of Ms. Tuttle will no doubt want to read Never too Late. If you love a good friends-to-lovers story and don’t mind watching and listening in while keeping a bit of emotional distance, Never Too Late is a good choice. However, if you’re in the mood for a book that sweeps you away on a wave of emotion, then you may want to pass on this one.