This was a To Be or Not to Be…Read winner. It was sitting on my shelf for ages and definitely needed some book loving. Thanks, everyone for the votes.
Spencer Lang had a rough war. Now, on his homecoming, he discovers the whole town thinks he is dead. Staring at his own tombstone drives that point home and rattles him. But what brings his anger and bitterness blazing to life is to see the woman he thought he would marry walking down the aisle with one of his best buds. Well so be it, the world went on without him and now he doesn’t have a place in it. Or so he thinks.
Shy, quiet Melanie Wolfe grew up in a home where family heritage, appearances and decorum were everything. Now her father is gone after botching the family finances and her mother has decamped to shroud herself in her grief and pretend the family still has wealth while living at her sisters. Melanie is left to pick up the pieces and try to hold things together. The once bad boy, Spence, was a teenage secret crush, but now that he’s back and floundering, Melanie reaches out to him on instinct and secretly dreams again that he will stay- for his own happiness, but hers as well.
Alright, so I’ve had this on the shelf for a while and now I’m glad to have read it. The author was new to me, but I liked her writing. The small town setting and circle of friends who share a past was a definite plus. But it was the idea of a tangled situation such as what happens when a guy presumed dead comes back and tries to pick up his life that really had me curious.
So curious that I didn’t pay attention to the fact that this was a book in a series that really should have been read in order. Sometimes, I get away with reading out of order. And to a certain extent, I did this time. I wasn’t confused or missing information, but I did miss the tie-in of Melanie and Spence to the earlier books. These stories probably tied together pretty closely. The curious part is that by skipping the other books, I formed an interesting opinion of the characters from the earlier books. Someone who read those books and came to this one most likely wouldn’t feel the way I did- or maybe they did.
I’m going to bring up what I think of as a big LITTLE thing. In other words, I enjoyed this book, I would read more from this author, I would recommend this book, but I also had a niggle that was a big issue for me so it’s distracting me from complete book love.
See, I wasn’t vested in Callie, Nick, or Leif and I didn’t really care for them for most of this book. I’m pretty sure they were wonderful people and swoony heroes and heroine in their own books. But the roles they played in this one felt like they were the villains. Okay, not that drastic, but still…
When Spence lost it at Callie and Nick’s wedding (not even during, but after when they approached him and wouldn’t back off like he asked- not the other way around) and when they continued to blame and push at him to meet with them to talk and tell what happened, when they recriminated against him for not calling them before showing up, when they were nagging at him to decide about the home they were living in that he owned, I really wasn’t seeing how these could possibly be his friends.
Oh yes, I get it. Spence should have called. Spence is forcing them to hold off on the renovations for a business that is their future. And yes, they were probably frustrated that he avoided the people who were supposedly his friends.
But yeesh people, he’s messed up in the head after all he’s been through. Not thinking straight and he admitted it. He asked for time. He came home to a mess and they- not on purpose, but they are still part of it. And they know it.
I wanted to smack all of them and I couldn’t stand how self-absorbed they came across. They had time to heal from the war and get adjusted to civilian life. Give the man a break! Guy was a prisoner of war and wounded and comes back to enough changes to shake up more put together people than he was and they were in his face first thing. The final scene was like a re-set on the first one. They still hadn’t gotten it. They pushed for what they wanted. It all ended up well because it’s a romance, but I really felt conflicted that it was somewhat about Spence seeing how much people cared, but also that they wanted to force his hand and force his decision.
Melanie, the only person NOT claiming to have been his best friend, was the only one to consistently understand what was going on for most of the story.
I did a big ‘woot woot’ when gentle Melanie told off her own best bud when Callie cornered her at the coffee shop and started in on Melanie. Callie pushed Melanie into the middle of her issues with Spence and then got ornery and snippy because Melanie wouldn’t be used as Callie’s tool to force Spence to do what she wanted. Callie also got her undies in a twist because Mel befriended Spence and was starting a relationship with him and because Melanie was cautioning Callie to give him space and time. Callie constantly made it known that Spence was just a friend and they had been best friends just as she was with Melanie, but there was some definite ‘Spence is my shiny’ vibe coming off her when she realized that Melanie was interested in Spence and he, in Melanie.
I did end up warming to them and wanting all involved to patch up their differences and restore the friendships. But I never really got past thinking that, really, Spence ended up doing all the giving and restoring while they took it in stride like he should be the one putting forth all the effort.
I think, even if they denied it and talked of how Callie never felt more than sisterly affection for Spence and they fell in love honestly believing he was gone, they both felt some guilt and it caused them to be defensive and reactionary.
Now, as you can tell, I found the above situation rather distracting (but don’t forget it was my big-little issue and not the whole story). But for all that, Melanie and Spence were the focal point of the story. They had personal demons to slay and they had to get to know the adult versions of themselves. Their relationship was characterized by two people feeling their way and holding back because they agreed early on that it was all temporary since Spence planned to leave and Melanie might also leave if the family business failed. They pretended to a friends with benefits agreement. Melanie early on acknowledged her feelings and was honest with Spence. It was Spence who was both confused about his feelings and in denial. He was so set on leaving town and mostly because he was being pushed and pulled and not allowed to gather himself so he felt he was broken and on edge and not fit for anything. He knew he loved Melanie, but he didn’t feel good enough for her.
This was the third book in a trilogy and it most definitely felt like the book at the end that drew the series arc to a close and wrapped things up with the whole cast of characters. Although, there was one thread that wasn’t explored and left me curious. Maybe that means there are actually more stories in this series.
Uh huh…so, it was an interesting situation and I’m a little curious if reading the other books would have altered my impression of this one or if it wouldn’t have mattered. I’ve always had a soft spot for stories of wounded veterans coming home and I found both Spence and Melanie engaging hero and heroine. I’m somewhat divided in my opinion, but I think overall, it was an engaging read. As I said, I would read more from the author and I think others might enjoy this small town romance with a bit of spice.
My thanks to Penguin Group for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Romance Roundabout #183 CR
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New to Me #73 author/series