Thursday morning, my 17-month-old son had a massive seizure. We got an ambulance ride, an MRI, an EEG, a spinal tap, tons and tons and tons of lab work, and two days and one very, very long night in the pediatric ICU. This book kept me company in the wee small hours of that long, sleepless night, and in the interminably tedious moments spent waiting for test results and doctor's consults, stuck in a small, sterile room amid the unfamiliar beeps and buzzes of all that medical equipment, holding my small, sleepy baby in my arms. It didn't demand too much of my concentration, and it was sort of nice to trade my own all too real fear and grief for someone else's fictional troubles.
Ashley Winston leaves her friends and life in Chicago to go home to rural Tennessee for the first time in eight years when her mother misses their nightly phone call twice in a row. She turns out to be terminally ill, and Ashley goes home to help her Momma through the last few weeks of her life. In doing so, Ash reconnects with her six bearded brothers, who are no longer the selfish boys who used to torment the only girl in the family, but instead smart, reasonable men who would love to welcome her back home, if she can only trust them. She also meets her oldest brother's best friend and boss, game warden/park ranger/poet/songwriter Drew Runous. Drew is like a son to Ash's mom and like a brother to her brothers, but his feelings toward Ashley are not at all brotherly.
This story sort of defies the usual romance tropes, although Ash compares herself to the unlikeable heroines in so many romance novels: "It's like they've been hit with a vanilla ninny stick, devoid of personality and blind to the gift before them. They're doomed to wander in ignorance until the last thirty pages of the book." (Loc. 2684 of 7852) Ash isn't unlikeable or devoid of personality, and her failure to wake up to the "gift" of Drew's love and devotion until the last thirty pages of this book has more to do with her grief over the loss of her mother (and Drew's determination to keep a respectful distance as she works through that grief) than it does with any vanilla ninny stick.
This story wasn't perfect--Ashley's six hillbilly brothers (Jethro, Billy, Cletus, Beau, Duane, and Roscoe) are totally over the top, and personally I'd have liked it better if she had maybe two or three brothers and we (the readers) got a chance to know them as fully drawn characters, rather than six brothers who all blend together into a single caricature; and also leaving Chicago means leaving the friends and the knitting group which ties this series together, though Ashley managed to keep in touch with them even from a distance. Also, Drew was a little on the Gary Stu/too-good-to-be-true side.
However, I thought Penny Reid did a really good job portraying Ashley's emotional journey through the shock of her mother's diagnosis through her death, and beyond, but perhaps because of my own emotional journey with my baby's seizure, I was particularly drawn to that part of the story.
Anyway, this one struck a chord with me.
(P.S.: my son is home now and recovering well. All of the diagnostic tests were normal. We may never know what causes his seizures, but at least we have a plan (anti seizure meds) and will know what to do should this happen again.)