Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

 

Russell Schar is a former high school art teacher turned puppet artist who lives a solitary life in a showplace historical home renovated and owned by his best friend, Angelo. Russell hates leap years, because they always bring him personal disaster–dating back to his youth, when he entered foster care in a leap year. Four years ago, during the prior leap year, Russell suffered a severe injury that ended his career as a teacher. Now, he’s just waiting for some new upheaval that will bring him further struggles to add to his scars and chronic pain issues he manages with physical therapy.

Behind Russell’s home is a restored carriage house, which is now a two-bedroom rental. Angelo’s mom has essentially promised the vacant carriage house to a young man and his son who are struggling with some hard times. Patrick and “Frog” aren’t local to Reynolds, North Carolina, but Patrick’s mother had a home there for many years and, as her health failed, Patrick moved from Nashville with his adopted son to help care for her. She’s recently passed on, and Patrick’s clearing her home out for sale. Patrick’s a musician who had hoped to make it big in Nashville, but he got mixed up with bad guys and bad contracts, which set up a dire situation that sent his elder brother Bryan, Frog’s bio dad, to prison. Frog is finally settled at a decent school and living in the carriage house will enable him to remain there.

Russell’s sure that Patrick and Frog are going to become the problem that plagues him this leap year, but he’s quickly enamored with the green-haired budding naturalist. And, well, Patrick’s something unexpectedly special. Sweet, rather innocent, and traumatized in a way that calls out to Russell’s nurturing side. It’s something they need to keep on the down-low, though, because Patrick doesn’t want Frog to be hurt if Russell wants to walk away; the boy has experienced a lot of loss in his seven years of life.

Russell’s “leap year” phobia caught me, because I’ve had a Friday the 13th phobia due to multiple personal crises, like Russell with his leap year tragedies. I had anticipated more emphasis on Russell’s personal anxieties and struggles with accepting these changes, despite the possibility that they become a boon. The few instances where Russell considered he might get hurt once again, he dismissed his worries rather quickly. With it being the title, and seemingly set up as the central conflict, the quick dismissals made the execution seem a little haphazard.

Other than that, this is a really sweet hurt-comfort book that allows two men who’ve had really awful past traumas to find champions in themselves and their new partners. Russell’s scars are out in the open, but his vulnerability and attention eventually makes Patrick feel safe enough to reveal his deep emotional scars. I really thought Patrick’s history of abuse deserved a little more page time, for the same reason I wanted more of Russell’s struggle. I would have only loved Russell and Patrick harder if I’d been a little more connected to them. That said, I adored Frog, who’s an interesting child character. The way this little family gelled was so cool, especially as they explore small-town life in Reynolds, and other local areas. There’s some tension when Bryan’s parole is finally granted, but it’s handled with clear boundaries and communication.

This story is related to the Neighborhood Shindig books, as the first in a spin-off series. For those who’ve read those books, I’m sure they’ll enjoy the cameos from previous protagonists. I easily enjoyed this book as a standalone, however. The stage is set for Angelo and Bryan to find their happiness in future stories.