I read this a week and half ago, but then my Gramps died, and work got crazy, and my kids got sick, and now I don't remember half of what I meant to write about. Alas.
Jill Shalvis is one of my go-to girls when I want a snarky, sexy, contemporary that won't tax my brain too much but also won't insult my intelligence. The Lucky Harbor series is an autobuy for me, but I confess I've been underwhelmed by the last several installments. I liked Always on My Mind (Book 8) better than any since the first three (Simply Irresistible, The Sweetest Thing, and Head Over Heals, about the three sisters who own the Lucky Harbor Inn), but I'm a total sucker for a friends-to-lovers story.
Jack and Leah were neighbors and friends growing up. Leah helped Jack through his grief over the death of his dad, and Jack comforted Leah when her dad verbally abused and belittled her, which was pretty constant. And then, just as their relationship was about to go to the next level, Leah skipped town, giving up on Jack and what might have been.
Giving up turns out to be a pattern for Leah. She dropped out of college four times, and out of culinary school, and she messed up her chance for success on a reality cooking show that is airing at the time of the events in the story. (She's sworn to secrecy and can't tell the results, but it's clear from her inner narrative that things did not go well.) She doesn't commit to anything, including men, and though she is attracted to Jack, she doesn't want to mess up their friendship by Going There.
Then she has a total brainfart, and tells Jack's mom that they're a couple. (Jack's mom has cancer, and longs to see her only son settled and happy because she knows she won't live forever.) Jack plays along, because he's too polite to call Leah a liar in front of his mom, and also because he's still in love with her. So they pretend to be a couple, and that goes about as well as you'd expect. (Isn't there a nursery rhyme about that? "Oh what a tangled web we weave/when first we practice to deceive...")
At first, I was excited to see Shalvis break from her commitment-phobic alpha hero formula with a hero-in-pursuit story, but then I realized she didn't really alter the formula; she just gender flipped it. Leah is the one who's afraid of commitment, but in all other respects, the typical elements of a Shalvis romance are intact: Jack is an alpha hero (a firefighter) and manwhore who typically dates two or three women at once, strictly casually, of course. Leah is a smart-ass with the heart of gold. They both have entertaining friends and relations to make up a diverting cast of secondary characters. Spunky ol' Lucille is ever-present, updating Lucky Harbor's Facebook page with all the latest gossip.
This may sound like I'm complaining: I'm not. This was not new and different, but that doesn't mean it was bad. For me, reading the Lucky Harbor books are like going to different Chinese restaurants and always ordering Orange Beef because it's my favorite Chinese dish. There may be some variation, some restaurants do it better or worse than others, but for the most part, I know what to expect, and maybe it's not the most exciting dish on the menu, but I like it and I'm going to keep ordering it.