By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
I loved this book. I was afraid it would start strong and then go south on me, since that's the luck I've been having lately, but no: I loved the end as much as the beginning, and every moment in between. The story is unique, the writing is wonderful, and oh, my lord, this one has All. The. Feels!
Des Burnside is in the middle of terrible spate of loss. Her mother died when she was eight. Her father died six months ago. Very shortly thereafter, Des lost her job, and her older sister Sarah nearly died in a bike-versus-car accident (Sarah was on the bike). Des had to sell her car, and she drives her father's old limo to the library every day, where she searches diligently for a new job. She's been on countless interviews and received countless rejections, and one day, upon receiving yet another rejection letter, she falls apart and starts to bawl, right there in the library.
Hefin Thomas is a woodcarver working to restore the panels in the library's atrium. He's a Welshman stranded in Ohio after the end of his marriage to an American lawyer. Their marriage crumbled when he came to resent her after being unable to find work and fulfillment in the US, and now that the marriage is over, he plans to return to Wales as soon as the library project is finished.
Des and Hefin had both noticed each other, but it took Des's breakdown to bring them together. Even though their attraction is strong and fast, Hefin's planned departure puts a damper on their passion because they both know their time together is so short. Having followed his ex-wife to America and had the marriage fail, Hefin knows better than to ask Des to come with him, and Des can't just leave: she cares too much for her sister, her two brothers, and the community where she's lived all her life. Similarly, Des would never ask Hefin to stay: she knows how unhappy he has been in Ohio, and having lost her own parents, she won't keep Hefin from his folks, alive but far away in Wales.
Because the reader knows early on that Hefin will be leaving, the pacing of this love story is different from a standard romance. It's not about the Happy Ever After, but about two sensitive, sensible people trying to figure out how to enjoy each other in the time that they have, all while guarding their hearts against inevitable loss. It's bittersweet, but also beautiful, and it works because rather than holding themselves back, and resisting love because they don't have a future, both Hefin and Des set out to experience the whole affair and all of the whirlwind emotions that come with it, even though time is short. I'd never read a romance like this before, and I loved it!
I also loved that the supporting characters and the community (the fictional town of Lakeside, Ohio, modeled after Columbus) were so well-developed. Des's neighborhood was so well-described and so present in the background of every scene, it is as if the setting is a character in the story. Supporting characters (such as the Burnside siblings, Des' landlady, and Des' friend Lacey) are not simply cardboard cutouts, appearing in the story only for advance the main plot between the lovers, but they are fully-drawn individuals with their own backstories, their own motivations, and their own subplots that only casually relate to Des and Hefin's love story.
I've read a few other reviews that suggest that the writing is pretentious and overdone, but I didn't find it so. Sure, there was the occasional sex metaphor that didn't work for me (but that happens all the time), and there were a couple of sentences that ran on a little bit, but those were rare. For the most part, I found the prose really delicious and beautiful, and I will definitely read more in the series!
***ARC provided by NetGalley in return for an honest review.***