When I bought this book, I worried that this might be the stereotypical romance novel: the gorgeous woman with the perfect life including the Harvard degree, the amazing career and the dream New York apartment dates the perfect but boring man and wants something more. Yet as I read the first love scene, such as it was, I felt that internal pang that occurs when I read something that feels all too real in relation to what I have experienced in my life. This “perfect” relationship of Leigh Merrill with Joseph Middlebury was anything but. From only a few pages into the novel, Joseph appears to use Leigh for the attention she can give him and the ways in which she can meet his needs. Her desires take a backseat in the relationship. While there was love in the relationship between Leigh and Joseph, there also were a lot of deep and problematic issues as well. When Leigh talks about Joseph to others, she becomes immediately defensive in that way so many of us are prone to do when we know there is truth in what others are saying to us yet we don’t want to see the reality.
Enter Jake Rhodes, a former boyfriend with whom Leigh experienced a tragedy ten years ago in the Hill Country of central Texas. When Leigh returns to the Austin area as a big city editor and keynote speaker for a writer’s conference, she and Jake reconnect out of a need to find closure with regard to their past. Jake is the opposite of Joseph in so many ways: he doesn’t have an amazing career, but he is a romantic and his love for Leigh is unconditional. Harrison slowly unfolds the story of what happened to the two when they were teens, a combination of their love story and their tragic past. As Leigh and Jake reunite after their ten year separation, their love and their passion is still as strong as ever despite the wounds that have hurt them. When a new challenge arises in their lives (aside from the obvious one of Leigh’s serious romantic involvement with Joseph), the two have to decide how to handle both their past and the future.
For having such a great verbal grasp on the fine details that can color a book, some of the situations in the book became clichéd. In trying to set the scene firmly in the Austin area, Harrison mentions bats and bluebonnets far more often than necessary. He also repeatedly sings the praises of Guero’s (Bill Clinton ate there!) though many locals will tell you that it’s overhyped nowadays. In addition, the not-so-trivial detail of birth control and sexually transmitted disease prevention falls by the wayside (just as it does on The Bachelor/ette). While I know many romance novels ignore such practicalities because they feel it takes away from the passion of the moment, in a novel with as many details as this one, the absence felt glaring to me especially as two teenagers seemingly engage repeatedly in unprotected sex with no consequences. Despite these small issues, the book is an overall strong effort that is well worth reading.
At the book signing I attended, Chris Harrison was clear that he wants this book to be made into a film; he asked the audience to start thinking about who should play the leads. I can easily see this novel being turned into a movie filmed in the Texas Hill Country and attracting an audience of men and women alike because of some of the high-paced action it contains along side the romance. I also look forward to Harrison’s future works, and I will definitely be picking them up when they release!
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC