This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Released on September 25, 2018
It was cover love and the animals that grabbed me first. A romance set at a small town zoo, people! How could I resist. And soon, I settled in to enjoy the heartwarming story that was more than the adorable cute animals, zookeeper trying to keep the zoo open, and a romance. This new to me author packed a sensational punch as she paired the cute and cuddly with the painful and serious topic of bullying and the lasting effects. But, the delight was old Fluffy the Honey Badger!
Katie Underwood comes back to town after a dozen years away to take care of her police chief dad who was shot by an escaped prisoner. She spent some of the most miserable days of her life through Jr High and High School being persecuted by the guy who now shows up to take some orphaned baby cougars off her hands. Katie nearly falls over with shock to discover the bully who pranked and tortured her is now a responsible owner of the small zoo and a dedicated and loving single dad with a gentleness and kindness for animals. Okay, fine, Bowie’s always been amazingly cute and sure, she has always crushed on him and apparently still does, but she is not letting this man anywhere near her heart when she throws herself into volunteering with the baby cougars and using her design and marketing skills to help save the zoo.
I was not expecting a story of such heartwarming depth when I set out. Bullying leaves jagged scars and I was not sure what to think that the hero was the bully of the heroine with terrible pranks and harassment though he never threatened her physically. I worried that I would not connect with Bowie or that I would because the bullying was dusted under the carpet after the attraction showed up. But no, thankfully, this author balanced the effects of bullying on everyone and still brought a romance I could believe and root for. Rather than excuse the bullying, the author chose to explain which I thought was the best way to go.
The book had so much cuteness going for it from the baby cougars, the lonesome camel, the rocking out cockatoo, the aged grizzly and the matchmaking honey badger. Then there was Bowie’s darling daughter who he is raising by himself who is herself much like Katie the target of a mean girl.
I enjoyed both Katie and Bowie separately and like their matchmaking folks, was secretly working for them to work through Katie’s pain, anger, and distrust and Bowie’s feelings of inadequacy. Katie’s smart, hardworking, compassionate, and loves those animals as much as Bowie. I loved the ways she got things turned around for the zoo with her campaign ideas that started from her need to get back at Bowie prank for prank (he knew about and approved these as roasting style fundraiser videos and stunts to help the zoo). Her struggles were real and she didn’t make it easy on Bowie, but she didn’t carry on too far or too long because she is a good, tenderhearted person.
Bowie had a tough row to hoe all his life as a kid with abusive, addicted parents who were put in jail and he had to then go on to endure the foster program. He was an angry and messed up kid and he took it out on Katie. He got a second chance with Lou who was a vet and owned the zoo and turned his life around. His mean girl ex from high school left him with Abby when he was just a homeless teenage day. Abby is the apple of his eye, but he fears she will someday have to learn just who and what he was as a kid and in highschool. Meanwhile, he has an uphill battle to convince Katie to stay in town and give him a chance. which I liked that he understood that he was at fault and deserves to have her want to scratch the itch, but want nothing else from him.
My heart broke for them both because she really did have to fight past her demons and reach out on trust after what happened before. Bowie gave her whatever she needed from him and made no demands. Love just sort of slipped up on them and I liked how it all turned out.
The surrounding cast of characters with young Abby, Lou, Katie’s parents and brothers and her best friends and yes, the zoo animals, particularly Fluffy really helped add some sparkle to this one. And, fun fact, Fluffy the honey badger has a narration part that just made me giggle each time. But he also had a heroic role to play not once, but twice.
All in all, it was a fabulous series beginning and has me eager to see more of this group of people and the animals finding fun and romance at the zoo. Contemporary Romance fans who like some spice should give this a go.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
New Release #145
Books N Tunes #43 Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk Tune:
“Well, there’s Frida here,” he said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the grumpy grizzly. “She’s about nineteen years old. You might remember her from when you were a kid. She was brought to Lou as a juvenile with a damaged foot. Poachers had set up a bear trap in Rocky Ridge National Park, and Frida had been caught in it for days before a ranger found her. She’s walked with a pronounced limp ever since, so she couldn’t be reintroduced into the wild.”
“Poor girl.” Katie leaned against the fence to get a better look at Frida. The bear lifted her head to emit a long-suffering sound halfway between a grunt and a roar.
Katie laughed. Bowie joined her by the rail, his T-shirt brushing against her bare arm. Unwanted desire flared within her. She almost succeeded in suppressing a tremble, but then he chuckled—the sound low, deep, and most of all warm. The husky timbre of it washed over her. Despite the wave of heat, she shivered.
Bowie’s gray eyes darkened at her reaction. With the summer sun beating down on her back, Katie couldn’t claim a chill to explain away her body’s instinctual reaction to him. Instead, she changed the subject.
“I guess Frida doesn’t like to be called ‘poor,’” she said.
“Frida has her dignity,” Bowie said. And then he grinned. Devastatingly.
Katie’s heart squeezed. A rush of sweet fire swept through her again, threatening to burn through her shields of self-preservation. She straightened before she did something very foolish, like trying to capture Bowie’s smile with a kiss.
“So, what’s the name of your camel?” she asked as she pushed back from Frida’s fence. “She always trots right over to me for a pet when I pass by on my way to watch the cougars.”
“That would be Lulubelle,” Bowie said as he led Katie around the corner. “She’s always been a little needy, and she’s been having a particularly hard time lately.”
Katie knitted her brow in concern as they approached Lulubelle and the llamas. “How so?”
“She’s lonely,” he said. “Ever since one of the llamas had a baby, Lulubelle has seemed to be longing for one of her own. Lou thinks she wants a mate too.”
“Awww,” Katie said as they approached the llama pen. Lulubelle instantly raised her large head and raced toward them. She thrust her neck at Bowie in clear demand. Katie swore that the animal sighed as he scratched the thick patch of fluff on top of her head. After thoroughly nuzzling him, Lulubelle turned her attention on Katie. Finding her line of vision full of insistent camel, Katie laughed and petted the old girl. When she dropped her hand and both she and Bowie began to turn, Lulubelle emitted a plaintive rumble.
“My goodness,” Katie said as she whirled back around. “It’s okay, Lulubelle. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
The camel made a raspberry sound in response. Bowie shook his head. “She’ll keep you here all evening if you’ll let her.”
“But that cry was awful!”
“I know,” he said as he ignored his own advice and rubbed the camel’s neck. “I wish we had the funds to purchase and take care of another camel or two. I’m hoping another zoo will at least lend me a stud.”
A thought struck Katie. She spun toward him, unable to stop her exuberance. “Bowie, I think I have a brilliant idea!”
He seemed to freeze. Too excited to pay much attention to his reaction, Katie spoke in a rush. “You can use Lulubelle as part of a fund drive.”
It took Bowie a second to respond. He stared at her for a long moment, then blinked hard. “Lulubelle?”
“Who can resist a lovelorn camel?” Katie asked. “I mean, look at her liquid-brown eyes and those ridiculous lashes. We could really sell her story of wanting a partner and a baby. There are so many sites on the internet where anyone can set up a fund-raiser. We could get people involved in the process of finding her a companion. Maybe you could pick a few candidates to be her mate, and the public could vote. We could even set jars outside the llama pen with pictures of potential boy camels, and visitors could cast their ballot by putting in cash!”
Bowie rubbed the back of his head, clearly con¬sidering her idea. “It could work, and it might bring in more foot traffic too.”
Katie nodded enthusiastically. She hadn’t been this excited in years about work. Her old boss had slowly killed her enthusiasm as he’d rejected idea after idea. It felt good to unleash her creativity on a receptive audience.
“Come on,” she said. “I want to see more of the zoo while I’m on a roll.”
Then, without thinking, she grabbed Bowie’s hand, tugging him forward. He chuckled—the sound once again low and this time even edged with surprising fondness. His fingers curled around the back of Katie’s hand, his body heat searing her. Instantly, she released her hold and kept her focus forward.
“Hurry up,” she said instead. “I don’t want to lose momentum. What’s next?”