I usually love second chance romances and the blurb sounded right up my alley, but unfortunately this one just didn’t work for me.
“Find Garland, write the book,” she repeated like a mantra with every strike of a foot against pavement. “Save your job.”
Athena’s an assistant English professor given an impossible assignment: find out the identity of C.L. Garland, the author turning classics into erotica (“David Copafeel”), and write a book about it by the end of the year, or her job is gone. Luckily, she has a lead: the author supposedly hails from her small hometown of Laurel. So, Athena packs herself off from San Francisco to the town where her divorced parents still live, certain she’ll be able to track her down quickly. What she doesn’t expect is that her ex, Thorne, has moved to Laurel and taken over the local cafe, complete with literary-themed daily sandwich specials. Especially since his decision to follow in his father’s footsteps and study law, rather than English, that broke them up. As Athena works at the diner and hunts for the reclusive author, she finds herself remembering just how good she and Thorne were together. But surely that ship has sailed, right?
Athena doesn’t always make the best decisions, but she sure commits to them. Her dogged determination to find the author and secure her job was admirable, if a bit misguided in my opinion. Her workplace environment is toxic (as is her love life) but that’s the last thing she’ll share with Thorne… considering she gave up being with him for that career. She’s not always likeable, and she’s the queen of forced obliviousness when it comes to her feelings for Thorne, but she did change a bit during the story. Growing up obsessed with the Brontës, she always dreamed of a moody Heathcliff of her own, but now she realizes that an unkempt man of the moors isn’t what she wants at all. In case there’s any question, it’s Thorn who she wants, and it’s incredibly obvious from the beginning that he isn’t over her either.
“So, how’ve you been, Thena?”
Keep calm and carry on was Thorne Kent’s personal motto.
Keep calm and lie through your teeth worked perfectly fine for Athena Murphy.”
There’s a few things I expect from a second chance romance. First, they have to address whatever issue led to their initial breakup. Sometimes it’s just immaturity, sometimes it’s family reasons, but it has to be brought out into the open and discussed by both sides. In this book, at the 75% mark, Athena is still trying to pretend she doesn’t want to stay in Laurel with Thorne. Over the course of the book, their relationship goes from “cordial” frenemies to kinda friends to friends with benefits but I never really felt the connection between them. So much of their relationship depended on their memories of what they did when they were young and in love in college, not how they related in the present. Second, they have to prove that they’ve learned from their initial breakup and won’t repeat the same mistakes. But in this case, the bleak moment comes so late in the book (and is resolved so quickly) that I found it hard to buy that they both learned their lessons.
Athena’s quest to unveil Garland also leads to her reconnecting with a lot of the locals at the diner and uncovering secrets (including family ones) that she never expected. She figures out, eventually, that the face one presents to the world isn’t the actual whole of a person, and that they can have unexpected facets, from her dad’s reasons for suddenly dressing well to the elderly curmudgeon at the diner to, well, the whole thing with her and Thorne. I liked this part of the book and wished it’d been emphasized more than the quest to find Garland. I mean, it’s blindingly obvious from the beginning who she was, so all of Athena’s sleuthing felt wasted. It’s also sort of weirdly flippant in a way that didn’t sit well with me. There’s mention of an earthquake in San Francisco – where Athena and her brother Finn nominally live – and it sole reason for being included is as an excuse to get Finn and his boyfriend back together. Plus the whole Sergei thing was just eesh. He’s a Russian guy (complete with stereotypical speech patterns) who wants to marry Athena for a green card and in exchange she gets the baby her ticking body clock wants. Athena’s not really interested in him, but he won’t take no for an answer. Everyone’s just “hahah, crazy hijinks!” while the dude’s literally stalking her. I think it was supposed to be OTT but it missed the mark for me.
Overall, unfortunately, this didn’t work out as a second chance romance for me, which makes it a 2.5, rounded up to a 3 for the perfection that is Thorne’s daily sandwich specials.
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.