Parker Hawkins is newly separated from his Navy SEAL unit, trying to make it as a civilian. He’s also recently divorced from his wife, who was tired of waiting on Parker to take care of himself. Having no other supports, Parker packs up his life and heads to Mayberry Holm, a tiny Atlantic island off the Massachusetts coast. That’s where his sister, Autumn, has moved, working in a bar run by his former commanding officer. Other men from his unit have also settled there, and Parker’s hoping the community will be a good do-over place. He’s not best pleased to learn his former SEAL pals are working on covert protection of the Mayberry Holm populace, or that Autumn seems to be neck-deep in their communications, if not operations. But, Parker has no place to go, and Autumn won’t leave with him in any case.
Hwan is a long-time resident of Mayberry Holm. He’s fabulously out, a You-Tuber, and has just opened a bubble tea shop in honor of his late mother. His only remaining family is his feisty grandmother, who encourages Hwan to find a good man to be a partner. She knows first hand that life is short and she doesn’t want him to be alone. The local gang of baddies tosses a brick through Hwan’s shop door, hoping he’ll pay up for “protection.” But, Parker’s pals have a different idea: they plan to stake out the place to catch the perpetrators, and Parker volunteers for the job, since he’s got nothing better to do.
Mother Parker is the first book in a series featuring former SEALs looking for redemption on Mayberry Holm, a process that includes finding love. Both MCs have had a lot of trauma in their lives. Parker had abusive parents and tried to protect his younger siblings, somehow, despite having little discernible contact for years while enlisted. Hwan’s father was horrible; he abandoned him when he noticed Hwan’s effeminate behavior as a child. His parents are both dead, yet Hwan has a strong support system with the Mayberry Holm community and his grandma. And his fans, who all want a look at the surly ex-SEAL learning the ways of bubble tea making.
There was a lot of awesome cultural context here, with Hwan being a fully fleshed out character who consistently challenged grumpy Parker into sweetness. Parker shelved his bicurious side early to survive his bigoted, homophobic upbringing. To him, Hwan is a revelation in bravery, and when he recognizes that his own internalized homophobia was harming Hwan, Parker made changes in a positive direction.
However, I had trouble with the pacing of this story. There are many days of bubble tea making and scenes of everyone teasing Parker about his moodiness that seemed to repeat over and over. There were also a LOT of characters, and I struggled to separate them in my mind, beyond Autumn, Hwan, and Parker. In the first chapter alone we meet at least ten characters, and the names didn’t stop after that. It was even more difficult since the SEALs go by their first names, last names, and sometimes nicknames. To that end, all the SEALs felt interchangeable, and a little too good to be true, honestly, with the exception of one bad guy who is the subject of the next book. I felt like a lot of page time was devoted to introducing and explaining side characters to the main story, which slowed the pace considerably.
While the pace of the conflict dragged, the romance seemed to develop extraordinarily quickly. Parker about-faced his life-long determination to only date women after a short time spent with Hwan. Hwan, who’d planned to stay single and build his business, was immediately captivated by Parker and planned to seduce him with drinks and (eventually) passion. Their teasing and passive-aggressiveness felt a touch juvenile, so I wasn’t as connected to these guys as I would have liked when they fell in love.
I had mixed feelings about this one. I liked Hwan a lot, and Parker was okay. I think I’d have enjoyed it a bit more if there weren’t so many other people taking up space in the book. The whole organized crime subplot was too superficial to bring the high stakes drama I’d expected. It took so much time to develop that conflict, I’d practically forgotten its potential impact on the characters. Some dramatic moments brought Parker and Hwan closer, but the vandalism that presages Hwan’s run-ins with the baddies seemed understated to the point of being ignored, or treated as bad luck, until the very end. I’m sure the next book will have more of the crime-fighting factor, but I’m not sure I want to jump back into this world.
People who’ve read previous books from this author might really enjoy this series. And, if you like SEAL redemption stories, this is a series that could produce a few intriguing books.