Desert Isle Keeper
Sometimes I pick up a book on a whim: I have never heard of the author, nor has it been recommended by anyone, but there’s something about the description or the cover that strikes my fancy. Sometimes, I discover a gem this way, which is what happened with Reconcilable Differences by Elizabeth Ashtree.
Prosecutor Gwendolyn Haverty is used to being on opposite sides with defense attorney Aaron Zimmerman, who works for a nonprofit legal aid organization. Yet she has developed a grudging respect for his cleverness and dedication, and to some extent enjoys their battles of wits. One day Aaron persuades her to have coffee with him in order to discuss an old case, and so he becomes witness to a rather disagreeable scene in which Gwen’s ex-husband Clay (also a lawyer) demands his visiting rights with their ten-year-old son, Josh, on the very night for which Gwen has got tickets for a sold-out show. Clay storms off threatening to re-open the question of custody, and a frustrated Gwen on an impulse offers the tickets to Aaron and his own nine-year-old son, Ben (Aaron’s wife died three years earlier). However Clay changes his mind again about the evening in question, and Aaron, Gwen and the two boys end up going to the show together, which is the start of a great friendship for the children.
At the same time, Aaron keeps badgering Gwen about his old case. There is a witness on her deathbed who may deliver vital testimony, if only Aaron can get someone from the State Attorney’s Office to drive out to the hospice and listen to her. With that, their sons joining the same karate class, and a short mix-up of blackberries, Gwen and Aaron are thrown together a lot. In spite of their professional differences and vastly different outlooks in several areas, they become friends and perhaps something more, although Aaron is still mourning his wife and Gwen keeps worrying any closer relationship with Aaron may weaken her position at the office and in her custody battle with Clay.
If you think this a lot of plot for a comparatively short novel, it’s only the start. There is a lot going on here, but it’s all woven together so intricately and smoothly that is never feels contrived. Gwen and Aaron live multi-layered lives, both privately and professionally, and the ways this complexity gets integrated into the plot is marvelous and gives the novel more authenticity than many other contemporary romances.
Aaron is a delight. He does not fit Gwen’s pattern of ideal masculinity, with his too-long hair and rumpled suits, and once she even accuses him of coming across as a beta male while being just as calculating underneath as any lawyer. This is quite true, if a bit harsh: Aaron is a very caring person, sometimes even to the point of not being quite strict enough with his son, but if need be he can be most determined and assertive. He also has the gift of stubborn patience, which is a great change from her former husband for Gwen.
Gwen is also very likable. She struggles with the many and sometimes irreconcilable expectations heaped on her from all sides, and while she’s no doormat from the start, she profits from the different perspective Aaron helps her to take. I especially liked her interaction with her son: loving, but also exasperated and far from sugary sweet.
What also makes this romance so special is the topic of politics. Although specific parties are never named, it is obvious from the start that Aaron and Gwen have different outlooks about society in general and about the role of justice. Yet this does not keep them from becoming friends and from realizing that in spite of their differences they both care deeply about doing the right thing, and that both are able to look beyond boundaries.
This refusal on the author’s behalf to paint her protagonists black or white extends to the minor characters. Clay is a perfect example. You think you have him pinned down after that first scene, but while he does not change his spots completely, he is capable of revealing unexpected facets. With the exception of one very minor character, no person in this book is either all good or all evil.
The book’s setting is Baltimore, with a number of charming details, and while I’ve never been there and cannot comment on the accuracy of the descriptions, I enjoyed such a fresh setting a lot.
While the sexual attraction between Gwen and Aaron is strong and they do act on it, the novel’s focus is definitely on the emotional side of their relationship. The ending is another highlight. Elizabeth Ashtree takes several stock elements and turns them around to such effect that I had tears in my eyes due to the emotional intensity as I read the last pages.
Do I recommend you read Reconcilable Differences? I sure do, especially if, like me, you are a bit overfed with small towns, sheriffs, SEALs, and billionaires. In fact I liked the book so much I immediately ordered the paper copy after finished the eBook so that I will be able to lend it to family members. I’m happy to welcome this author on my autobuy list!
Buy it at A