One of my least favorite things in contemporary romance is the deification of small towns, especially the ones where every neighbor knows your business and every relative’s a matchmaker. Don’t these places have privacy laws? Thankfully, though, Pink Moon is about a small town that actually sounds like a nice place to live, even to a city girl like me.
Lauren Jessup is a wanderer. After a bleak childhood in a series of foster homes, she can’t seem to put down roots anywhere, not even now that she has a six year old son, Billy. On little more than a whim, she moves them to the small coastal California town of Bella Luna, where the full moon is pink and the locals whisper that it means something – not good or bad – just something momentous. Lauren arrives under a pink moon. She really wants to be a chef, but the only job she can find is waiting tables in the local diner, so she takes it, hoping to get a crack at the kitchen eventually.
Nick DiMartino also has a six year old son, Nicky-J. He’s happily raising his son with only minimal input from his ex-wife, Debbie, until Debbie informs him she’s changed her mind about their informal custody agreement. She wants full custody of Nicky-J, and she’ll go to court to get it. Shocked, Nick resolves to fight her. He runs into Lauren around town and encourages Nicky-J to play with Billy because he can see that Billy hasn’t had a normal childhood, and Nick feels sorry for him. He’s also attracted to Lauren, and they gradually develop a relationship based on their children and an unspecified something that won’t let Nick leave her alone. He wants to help her – and Billy – and to do so he draws her into his family and his life.
Their romance develops slowly and almost fitfully. Lauren is very hesitant to get involved with any man because she doesn’t want to hurt Billy, and because of her own lonely past; she really believes she can’t stay in one place for long. Nick, in the middle of a custody battle, knows he shouldn’t complicate his life with romance now, especially not with someone who’s still trying to figure out her own life. He’s willing to go to any length to stay close to his son, and doesn’t feel he could drag Lauren along if he should lose custody of Nicky-J. There is a strong sense of conflict, and it feels real. Both are single parents, with an appropriate but not excessive emphasis on their children, but both are also lonely adults who have devoted maybe too much of themselves to being two parents at once. Since Nick and Lauren have this in common, they respect each other’s feelings and obligations. I love it when characters behave rationally!
The pink moon is a bit overplayed. Is it magical or not? The moon seems perpetually full and perpetually pink, even when nothing much was happening. Lauren’s ability in the kitchen is also less than clear. She’s practically a grocery store mystic, and her muffins seem to be better than Prozac, Viagra, and a winning lottery ticket, all rolled into one; everyone who eats her cooking is happier and luckier than ever. When Nick hires her to cook for him and Nicky-J, he almost falls in love with her the moment he tastes her roast beef. Which made me wonder: why did the magic only work on other people? Why couldn’t Lauren eat a few of her own muffins and turn her luck around? I wasn’t sure if there were really supposed to be something otherworldly about her cooking or not, and if there were some special power in it, why didn’t Lauren take advantage of it sooner?
Pink Moon is a slow-paced visit to Bella Luna. A number of local characters wander in and out of the story, some with purpose, some without. The DiMartino family is a close-knit, loving clan, and they give Nick a depth and background that was very nice and sweet to read in a hero. They all go to some lengths to protect Nicky-J from the nastier aspects of his parents’ battle, and Nick never badmouths his ex-wife in front of his son, even when he hates her, and I really had to admire that. Lauren’s past remains somewhat nebulous and it was harder to get to know her. She has some traits of the damsel in distress, but in the end she takes care of herself and makes no excuses for who she is. I also have to say that the two little boys, Nicky-J and Billy, are well-drawn, realistic children.
The only part of the book I didn’t especially like was the end. Something happens involving the two boys that was kind of manipulative. It seemed too convenient and emotional; most of the plot points unfold over pages and chapters, but a major issue changes abruptly within thirty pages at the end. It was something I knew had to happen – it was almost as guaranteed as the happily-ever-after for Nick and Lauren – but it seemed a little out of tune with the rest of the book.
Otherwise, Pink Moon is a quiet, nuanced romance between two people who deserve to be happy. It’s a good read…with or without the vague supernatural elements.