Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥
You know that feeling when you are on your first date with this guy that you're totally into and everything is going fine - he doesn't have gunk in his teeth during dinner, he has good manners, you share a few laughs - but then when it's all over you're like "Huh. That was...nice"? You know that feeling? Well, that's where I am right now.
First, a quick story review and then I will try and explain why I'm not calling my best friend up and giddily rhapsodizing about my hot new date.
He: Josh Kowalski - the youngest brother of the Kowalski clan - is sick of holding the bag of familial responsibility for the running of the Northern Star Lodge. He's been sick of it for ages and is just waiting for the chance to get out of there as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
She: Katie Davis has practically grown up with the Kowalski family and has been best friends with Josh since they were little. She's always been one of the guys and even though she's harbored a secret longing for him to notice her as a girl, they've remained close.
Conflict: He's desperate to get away from what he sees as his "noose" and lack of life choices - running the family-owned lodge himself after the death of his father has meant he hasn't really had the opportunity to build a life for himself anywhere else. He's resentful and frustrated by the smallness of his life and just wants out. Even when he realizes he is attracted to Katie, he still feels like he needs to go out into the world to discover what he really wants.
What I was troubled by:
1) The hero was basically a huge whiny baby
I appreciated that Josh was very rightly resentful that he was the only one in the family who bore the responsibility of running the business, and can easily understand how he would be keen to get out of that rut. But he doesn't really seem to have any other passions to fall back on, so the way I see it, if you don't have a plan to do anything you love, you may as well do something useful.
He goes on and on about how he needs to break free to go forth and discover what he wants to do, he doesn't want it to be imposed upon him. That sounds like something a whiny 5 year old would say. Everyone has stuff imposed upon them! If you really have some burning desire to DO something - say you want to play professional sports, or you are an artists or writer, or you want to be a doctor or design buildings - wouldn't that desire translate into actions taken from the minute you realize you have them.
And ok, if you were unlucky enough to never have left the 20 square miles around your hometown for 30 years and didn't have a clue what you wanted to do, and all you knew is you didn't want to be doing THIS, wouldn't you just say, ok guys, I'm taking a gap year. I need to travel and clear my head. It's going to be expensive but you're all going to just have to suck it up and or you guys should just pitch in with a little help.
To do something about his unhappiness that didn't involve categorically rejecting everything would have required maturity that this guy didn't seemed like he possessed. It just seemed like the attitude of someone who was 22 - not really an adult of 30.
2) The heroine was more like his mom than his partner.
There was a lot about how Josh and Katie had been bffs since childhood. But their entire relationship seems to be based on talking about football and hockey and her fielding grunted, emotionally constipated responses from him and then cracking a joke to neutralize the tension so he wouldn't get too wound up. Poor baby.
He just comes across as a child and she as a mature adult who constantly needs to give him space, and time, and whatever else kids in a funk need.
Also, not hot.
3) Guy Sees Outline of Cold Nipple and Gets An Epic Hard-on That Just Won't Go Away.
It MUST be love.
Have you guys seen this before? Guy feels nothing but chummy brotherhood with this girl - his best pal, like forever, but then one day, he gets an eyeful of cold nips and ba-BOOM, he's 30 floors up Erection Tower in Lust City in the express elevator. Puhleese.
First of all, if he's a guy and they've been friends through his hormonal adolescence, even if nothing happened, he'd have noticed the outline of her parts waaaaay before now. And secondly, there is this out-sized reaction to a dress that makes him want to rip it off her post haste and have his way with her over a table NOW. Sure. She's one of the guys and you never see her like that, and now she looks feminine and nice and it's INEVITABLE that you'll feel an interest, right? Julia Roberts wore that hooker dress that was arguably ASKING to be ripped off but Richard Gere managed to keep it in his pants the entire evening. Are you asking me to believe that this woman looks SO amazing in a basic black number than this guy gets an unmanageable woody that can not be held back unless he has sex with her Right. This. Second. That he basically spends like 30 pages (like days) of the book "distracted' and in a state of semi-arousal?
I love stories of guys being hilarious dummies as much as the next girl, but if this condition could even be physically possible, I shudder to think how little blood flow was being directed to the poor man's brain. No wonder he was irritable and moody all the time.
What was nice:
1) Just the right dollop of torturous anguish
Weirdly, I thought the most romantic part of the story - and basically what saved the whole thing for me - was their phone conversations when they "break up". By this point they know they love each other, and they understand why the other is doing what they're doing, and they know they're just prolonging their anguish by keeping in touch, but they do it anyway because they can't help it. That was so sweet.
2) No cheapo plot device to raise the stakes
Often, when the characters need to be made to See The Light, the author will introduce a new entanglement like a second male character who makes the hero jealous and drives him back to her like a raging papa bear protecting his mating rights. Luckily, Ms. Stacey is too smart for that. Because those are super lame.
Skeptic's last word: So yeah... would I do on a date with this again? Nah. Not a re-read or anything. But it was a nice way to spend a few hours.