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 am a sucker for the friends-to-lovers trope (maybe because I married my best friend from middle school), so when I saw this ARC in the NetGalley catalog, it had "CATNIP" written all over it. Jayne and Nick grew up together in a small town outside of Vancouver. Jayne was raised, reluctantly, by her cold and unloving grandmother after her mother died of a drug overdose, while Nick grew up in a close, warm, secure nuclear family. Jayne left town the day after her high school graduation, after her grandmother made it clear she wasn't welcome any longer. She's been back only rarely since, most recently for Nick's late wife's funeral several years prior to the start of the novel's events. That visit was disastrous, since Abby (the wife) had always been jealous of Jayne and Nick's friendship, and Abby's bereaved mother consequently flipped out when Jayne showed up at the funeral, the result being that Jayne essentially got run out of town on a rail.
When the novel begins, Jayne and Nick are in their early thirties. The grandmother has died and left her bookstore and apartment to Jayne, but in terrible shape: after Jayne left, Gram became a hoarder and the building is packed to the rafters with rats and trash, and the city has threatened to condemn it and tear it down if Jayne can't get it cleaned up and up to code in just a few weeks. Nick offers to help, putting his contracting skills, and even his crew, to work to meet the unreasonable deadline. Since the apartment is uninhabitable, Nick also offers Jayne his spare bedroom, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, Lisa.
If that sets "Infidelity Trope" alarms off in your head, you can relax. I usually hate romantic triangle stories, but my favorite thing about this book was that all of the characters aspired to behave like civil adults, and not hurt each other. Jayne didn't horn in on Lisa and Nick's relationship, and in fact went to pains to reassure Lisa that they were just friends. Lisa was clearly uncomfortable with Nick's and Jayne's close bond, but she trusted Nick and didn't behave like a jealous shrew. -And Nick lived up to that trust, and he did not make a move on Jayne until after he'd realized he had no future with Lisa. He broke things off with Lisa in a scene that was painful but honest and honorable before he even told Jayne that his feelings for her went beyond friendship.
Another thing I liked about this book was how deftly and believably the author crafted Jayne's character, and specifically her deep-seated loneliness and insecurities due to her neglectful childhood. Nick is the only person who has ever made her feel loved, but she knows how fragile that bond is, so she's terrified to risk their friendship. She'd rather be relegated to the friendzone than lose him entirely, and that means holding him at arm's length because in his enthusiasm to help her, Jayne knows Nick puts his relationships with Lisa and with his mother (not Jayne's biggest fan) at risk, but Nick doesn't see it. With her background, Jayne could have been a sad, insecure doormat, but she isn't: she hides her sorrows from everyone (except the reader) and does what needs to be done, looking out for Nick's best interests even when he doesn't know she's doing it.
There were other quirky things I enjoyed about this book, too: Jayne (like me) is a huge fan of 80s music and John Hughes movies, and the book is sprinkled with nostalgic quotes and references to those sources. I also encountered some delightfully colorful Canadian idioms, such as "I could eat the north end of a southbound skunk right about now." Um, yum?
However, there were parts of the narrative that dragged, and there were characters and sideplots included just to give the story that twee "small town feel" (or maybe they're sequel-bait, but either way they felt superfluous), and the author's attempt to explain why Jayne's Gram was the way she was felt too convenient and unsatisfying, which tainted the ending for me. This is Laura Drewry's debut effort, though, and if her writing improves with practice and experience, there may well be great things ahead.
***I received a free ARC from Loveswept and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***