Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-50205-4
Contemporary Romance, 2009
Lori Wilde was one author who dropped off my radar for some reason after I managed to overcome my reading slump a few years ago. I don’t know why, but I let her last few books languish on my bookshelves unread and I pulled All of Me from the bookshelf a few days back in a completely random manner.
Reading this one is a revelation. The author has improved tremendously since the last book of hers that I have read. This book is a very good mix of emotional drama and romantic comedy, with excellent characters drawn so realistically that I can easily imagine them to be real. It is a pity that the intensity and momentum of the story peters out eventually in the last leg of the story or this one would have been a surefire winner for the ages.
This story is a perfect example of how an author can take an age-old overused premise and make everything feel fresh and new through careful characterization and effective storytelling.
Jillian Samuels, our heroine, travels to the town of Salvation, Colorado, looking for a fresh start after being hit by a triple whammy in life. One, she’s burnt out in her job as an attorney. Two, her beloved mentor and father figure Blake Townsend, the District Attorney, died suddenly. Three, the replacement DA was the man Jillian had an affair with until she realized that he was married, and now he’s not very nicely suggesting that they resume their affair or he’ll make life hard for her. When Jillian learns that Blake had willed to her his lakeside home in Salvation, she packs up and heads down there, hoping to find (drum roll, please) salvation.
Alas, the house is already occupied. Tucker Manning was married to Blake’s estranged daughter Aimee until she died about two years ago after a long battle against ovarian cancer. Now Tuck lives for alcohol and self-pity, clinging to memories of Aimee and taking up odd jobs around town. He is certain that Blake had deeded the house to him, so he and Jillian are now fighting for the house. To him, the house is his last link to his beloved Aimee. To her, the house is a sign of her new start. Neither is willing to budge, and you can imagine what will eventually happen between the two of them.
As far as the set-up go, this story isn’t particularly original. But what makes this story a very good read is how Ms Wilde carefully create characters that feel real enough for me to relate and care for them from the get go. Jillian is a very well-written heroine – free from annoying neurotic contrivances typically present in romance heroines, she comes off an intelligent, capable, and likable heroine with a good sense of humor and self-awareness. Likewise, Tuck comes off like a cute and funny guy at first despite his angst – for a long time, he walks fine the tightrope balancing angst and likable humor. These two have incredible sexual tension and chemistry, and I especially love how Jillian can give back as good as she gets.
The secondary characters also add plenty of charm to the story. These don’t feel like annoying sequel baits at all, instead they actually add value to the story by having roles to play in the plot and interacting with the main characters to bring out various aspects of those characters in order for me to learn more about Jillian and Tuck.
There is plenty of comedy that manages to co-exist easily with some really heartrending moments. The fact that Ms Wilde manages to write a story that easily has me laughing out loud in one moment and then wiping clumsily at my eyes suggests that she has definitely come a long way from her initial wacky spy-caper romantic comedy offerings.
The only reason I can’t give this book a keeper grade is because after a while, I start to feel that Tuck’s angst is becoming too repetitive for me. In this story, he’s the biggest obstacle to the happy ending because it takes him forever (or so it feels like) to get over his guilt about loving another woman, and while he’s being all miserable, he does a lot of things to hurt Jillian. I can muster the patience and even have my heart break for him for a long time in this story, but after a certain point, I’ve had enough and I begin instead to wish that I can twist his ear and tell him to snap out of his funk. The author has prolonged Tuck’s nonsense for too long, in my opinion, and after a certain point, I stop feeling for him and start becoming annoyed with him instead. He hurts Jillian too easily and too frequently – he always knows how to cut her the deepest when her only fault is to fall in love with him, and I can only tolerate his nonsense up to a certain point.
Still, I admit I sort of forgive him a little when he finally cozies up to Jillian again by the last chapter. What can I say, I’m a softie at heart despite everything, especially when Ms Wilde has delivered such an excellent story that is heartbreakingly funny and sad at the same time.