Rating: 2.5 stars
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Jack’s got a pretty good life—a job he enjoys, a close friend, and meaningful work volunteering for a local community center. He’s moved on from the horrible event in his childhood that left him hospitalized and betrayed by the best friend he loved. Zachariah ran away to the South of France to become a writer after that terrible day, and Jack hasn’t spoken to him in the fifteen years since—until Zachariah calls him out of the blue and invites Jack to France, claiming he has to speak to him urgently.
At first, Jack doesn’t want to go, but figuring he’ll regret it if he doesn’t, he accepts Zachariah’s invitation. When Jack gets there, he learns that Zachariah wants more than to simply apologize and rekindle a friendship, he wants to try for a relationship. There are still the smoldering remnants of his feelings for Zachariah buried deep in Jack’s heart, but he’s scared to be hurt by this man again. Zachariah convinces him to stay in France long enough to give him a chance. Jack does, and he’s got to decide whether or not he can let go of his past hurt and anger and accept Zachariah back into his life.
In all honesty, this was kind of a tough one for me to review. It just didn’t work for me, and some of that was due to personal taste and I wondered if some of my other criticisms were based entirely on that. I don’t think so; I think the other issues I had with this book are valid and justified, but I am aware that some of you, especially those of you who really enjoy the lovers reunited subgenre, may not find some of the things I didn’t enjoy as off-putting and would perhaps rate it higher.
The biggest thing for me, and I know it’s entirely my taste, was the big falling out between Jack and Zachariah. It was obvious from the very beginning that the event that had caused the rift between them was as severe as possible on both the emotional and physical scale and that both characters were still struggling with it in profound ways even fifteen years later. I think this could have made for an interesting and gritty plotline in some ways, but instead it just felt like too much. From the very beginning I didn’t even want Jack and Zachariah to work it out because the feelings between them couldn’t possibly be worth all the effort of making peace with each other. It felt like they had both gone too far over the line from love into hate or regret, and even if they made it back to the other side, it just wouldn’t be worth it. As a reader I honestly thought both characters would be much better off just moving on, but of course that wouldn’t have made for a great romance—although I don’t think the story we got did either. This honestly doesn’t seem like the healthiest of relationships to me, but you might feel differently.
The other thing that made it so hard to let go of the intensity of Zachariah’s betrayal was how quickly Jack and Zachariah moved from fighting to dating. When they first start speaking again, Jack is so angry—justifiably so—and Zachariah is so desperate for forgiveness that tension is high, fists fly, and they can barely converse without it blowing up in their faces. They eventually manage an adult conversation, and Jack lets Zachariah know that it’s going to take a long time to fix this. In fact, that’s something that’s echoed throughout the book several times, by several different characters, how much time and work it’s going to take for both of them to heal enough to become friends again, much less try for something more, and then it just…doesn’t. Which was so disappointing. The one thing that could have possibly made the conflict feel worthwhile just never materialized.
The characters are pretty bland and one-dimensional here too, and that’s not just personal taste. They were simply stock characters—Jack the wounded one who kept others at a distance to keep from being hurt again, and Zachariah the former jerk turned good guy who lives his life like he’s punishing himself for one mistake—there really wasn’t a whole lot about either one of them that made them interesting. They were also written in this weird way where even though I thought the terrible past between them should have been too much to overcome, I still thought that they had been, and still were, acting like complete idiots about the entire thing. Neither of them actually addressed a lot of the important parts of what happened, in my opinion, and they never seemed capable of viewing the event through the eyes of the adults they had become, still acting like children about it.
The ending also really didn’t work for me. It seems that Duchene was trying to balance the angst of the first part of the book by compensating with sweet, emotionally satisfying, and entirely indulgent scenes, but instead of soothing the sting of the earlier emotion, it just ended up making the characters seem like they were trying too hard and took the plot almost into the realm of ridiculous at some points (specifically the class reunion scene). It all felt like too much, too fast, and that nothing had ever really been resolved. My mind couldn’t help but imagine these characters a few years down the road, their relationship imploding when they finally have to face the issues they just ignored in favor of thinking simply loving each other enough and trying hard enough not to worry about the past would be enough to make a relationship work. They didn’t strike me as a particularly strong couple, or even one that would make it very long.
For me, I just couldn’t find anything about this one to draw me in. The combination of not being invested in their resolution, the characters feeling flat, and the conflict feeling like it was resolved far too quickly to be healthy just didn’t work for me. I know some of this was personal taste, but some was simply poorly executed ideas. Unless this plotline just seems like something you’d really enjoy, I’d skip this one.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.