Reviewed by Helyce
I enjoy the theme of second chance love, so I was excited to read this by new-to-me author Violet Duke. I also thought that the circumstances for this romance were interesting since the blurb infers that there was a death but more than that, it tells us that Jake takes the fall for his brother. I was very intrigued by this. How could this possibly play out to the hero’s advantage?
Jake and Emma were neighbors and best friends in their teens until a fire destroyed Emma’s home, killing her younger brother and injuring her sister Megan. Jake takes the blame for the fire and spends time in juvie. In the present, Jake is an extremely talented woodworker and gets by working construction jobs. His past is a heavy anchor of guilt though the fire was not his fault.
When Jake’s brother contacts him to let him know he bought a library in a nearby small town and wants Jake to do some specialty woodwork in order to keep the original beauty of the library while making significant updates, Jake is excited. It sounds exactly like the kind of work he enjoys and is really good at. He heads to Juniper Hills, a town a few hours away from his home. Jake is excited when he sees the cottage-like building and knows this is a job he can really put his heart into.
Emma and her sister Megan spent a lot of time looking for just the right place before they settled in Juniper Hills. Emma owns the bakery in town and wows her patrons with her delectable treats. Everything is going well until disaster strikes in the form of a broken water pipe and she has some major repairs that need to be made before she can get everything up and be running again.
How fortuitous that Jake happens to be in the same town, checking on another job, when all this happens. After checking out the library job, the foreman tells him about Emma’s bakery and Jake agrees to take a look and bid on it. The work he’d be doing on the library won’t start for about three weeks, so he has time to help out if the owner wants to hire him.
This is the set-up for Jake and Emma’s reunion after so many years and it does not go well, initially. Emma doesn’t want anything to do with Jake, but she needs her building repaired, and Jake is available immediately and can get the job done in a relatively short time. She really has no choice and if she were just a little bit honest with herself, she’d admit to being more than curious about the adult version of Jake.
This book was just okay for me. I liked it; that is to say, it held my attention and I was captured enough to keep reading to see how things would go, but I did have an issue which I will get to. I really liked Jake’s character. I liked the man he was in spite of what was done to him. And it’s clear, he had little choice in what happened in the past when he was forced by his father to take the blame for the fire, though it was his older brother’s fault. To go through what he did after his own father found him expendable enough to convince him to take the blame for his brother who had “so much going for him”; and to come out the other end a decent human being was extraordinary. His life after juvie has not been easy and he lives with a lot of guilt anyway, in spite of the fact that he wasn’t at fault. Knowing inside that you didn’t do what everyone thinks you did and having to live with how people see you when you know they are wrong is a challenge in and of itself. But Jake has learned to live with that stigma and has come to a place of acceptance.
I didn’t warm up to Emma for a long time. Though I understood where she was coming from, she had clearly suffered a great tragedy and loss, I had a hard time with her wishy-washy feelings for Jake. While she was angry and wanted to hate him, she was attracted to him. This particular type of I hate him but he’s so hot just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Emma is desperate for her shop to be fixed because it is her livelihood and when Jake bids on the job her initial reaction is “no way”, but he’s available immediately and the price is right!
Of course, this puts Jake and Emma in close quarters and they are left to deal with their past, their feelings and the truth of what really happened in the fire. I did like how the author handled this. It’s spelled out factually and with emotion but it doesn’t drag or take over the story of Jake and Emma’s reunion. However, this brings me to what I struggled with. As Jake and Emma are rebuilding their relationship the author would introduce a topic or event and then take it office page only to come back after the fact leaving the reader to just accept what happened or that “something” happened but not having actually been a part of it. It was the weirdest thing as the reader to be involved only to a point and then turning the page expecting more only to find we’d jumped right past it. I found this difficult it took me out of the story and left me having to make assumptions. There is a fine line between being overly detailed and just skipping stuff altogether. In this case, less was definitely NOT more.
While we get the gist of what actually transpired the night of the fire I felt that I was still in the dark as to the details of why Jake’s dad forced him to cover for his older brother. We know it’s because of Jake’s brother, Carter who was 18 at the time, had a lot going for him and he was at a pivotal point in his life and all would have been lost for him if he’d come forward. He’d have been tried as an adult, where Jake being younger didn’t actually do hard time. But I needed the nitty gritty details, and we don’t get that yet. We know, too, that Carter is now very successful and has over the years made financial amends in secret, both for his brother as well as Emma and her sister Megan. I expect we’ll see more in future books, but the lack of explanation was frustrating.
Which brings me to secondary characters. Duke certainly does a good job of setting up the next book which I can only assume will be Carter and Megan’s book. Megan is another character I truly admired. Duke gives her a beautiful personality as she is not at all jaded by what happened to her. In spite of her injuries, she has come through with a zest for life and a beautiful spirit and outlook. Though a little shy and hesitant to trust, Megan is slowly coming out of her shell as she makes a life for herself in Juniper Hills.
We do not get to know Carter well, and only get glimpses of him through his conversations with Jake and Jake’s thoughts. But what we do see I did like. Though he allowed his brother to take the fall, I believed he truly regretted the circumstances and was just as much a victim in some ways as Jake was where their father was concerned. He is successful now, so his father’s plan worked out. He’s done what he could to help Jake along over the years, though there was no expectation on Jake’s side. I would have loved it if the author delved deeper into what really happened with the fire, but I imagine that will come out in Carter’s book. Though it isn’t spelled out in anyway, I got the feeling that Carter has been watching Megan from afar over the years and has made it his mission to make her life comfortable in any way he can. But I think that there is more to it even though I believe there is a bit of an age difference for them. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the author has plans for them.
So, interesting theme and good character setup, a little shy on details to win over the reader and truly draw them in. If Carter and Megan are next, I’ll definitely add to the TBR list.
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