This is Mary Ann Rivers first full length romance novel. I loved the two novellas she released last year (The Story Guy and Snowfall), so it is fair to say I was very excited to have a chance to read Live, and that I had very high expectations. She lived up to them.
Live is the story of Destiny "Des" Burnside. Des's is having an awful year, first her father died, then her sister had a devastating accident and she soon after lost her job. The year has been a string of frustrating and humbling days job searching and economizing. Since her mother died Des has been the one that held everything together in their family, making lunches for her siblings, and holding her siblings together as best she can with un-noticed or un-acknowledged sacrifices. Her competence and self-reliance are now a burden, unused as she is to letting anyone help her.
Every Monday to Friday she makes her way to the Lakefield Public library to use their computers for her mandated job-searching time, with the same dedication she had for her job. The only bright spot in this daily excercise is the stolen glimpses she gets of The Woodcarver. A tall dark haired fellow, whose accented voice she hears carry across the library atrium where he is restoring the Library's decorative wood paneling.
The Woodcarver, Hefin Thomas is finishing one last project before leaving the US, ten years of underemployment and an impulsive failed marriage behind him to return to Wales. Outwardly he is focused on his work, but even his crew has noticed his noticing of the red-haired Des's comings and goings. But Hefin is set on going home, and is determined to be content with sidelong glances till the day that Des breakdown crying at her workstation.
Her breakdown, breaks the ice. Hefin can't let her cry alone, and a bewildered Des lets herself be comforted and helped for once.
Rivers does a beautiful job drawing Des and Hefin relationship from that first meeting to their flirty batting cage date, their scorching kisses, and shared pancakes to the eventually deepening of what they could start meaning to each other.
"I'm not afraid, you know. Of how I'm going to feel after you go. I think I'm kind of starting to figure out that no matter what you lose, you still have yourself. There you are. Everything in pieces all around you. I can't stand the grief of losing something and the fear of losing something else at the same time. I can't. And since I already am living with the grief, I guess I choose not to bother with the fear."
What I loved:
- Hefin. Just about everything about him, from his mixed complicated racial background, his accent, his self-deprecating inner voice, his adoptive parents and his regrets. I completely identified with his experience of being the trailing/transplanted spouse and his special kind of yearning for home and its familiar geography. Wales isn't just home for Hefin, it is the last place he was before his life went awry. He is a man rebuilding his sense of self and has powerful need to find his center again. I loved that he is vulnerable, emotional and soulful, without being whiny. His determination and commitment is part of what draws Des but is also what is taking him away.
- Des's heart. I think Des's awful year and her fearlessness in letting herself fall in love with Hefin is always going to stay with me. She is brave and dignified in ways that are seldom acknowledged. She is giver and a doer, who has an ability to see what people need. She takes big risks in this book, and they are completely believably portrayed.
"she knew every corner, and all the corner's corners. If every other place on Earth was a blank canvas, Lakefield was like one of those Richard Scarry books she loved when she was a kid with the infinitely detailed drawing of the insides of houses and buildings, of city streets and farms. Every little piece new, but familiar, and there was always the little worm with the hat, the touchstone to find your way."
- Lakefield. Lakefield was also the setting of "The Story Guy" and we see Carrie again very briefly in the opening chapters, at Lakefield's Central Libary. Des has never lived anywhere but Lakefield and has never really successfully seen herself outside of it. In order for us to believe Des, to understand how rooted she is we need to believe in Lakefield and Rivers makes it into a real living place, with real people living in it.
- The portrayal of long-term unemployment and under-employment and the ravages on the dignity and confidence of the unemployed. I have several friends who have been or currently going through what Destiny and Hefin have gone through and I think Rivers's portrayal was authentic and touching.
Live is the first in a series following The Burnside siblings. Next up is Sam's angry workaholic over-protective older brother. He is bossy overworked Doctor who frankly has been bulling his siblings around since his father died because he is so scared of losing them too. I am very curious about what Mary Ann Rivers has in store for him. I didn't much like him in this book, but Destiny loves the grump and I trust Rivers to give me a story worth crying over.
5 out 5 stars!
Digital ARC provided by the publisher, Loveswept via Netgalley for review purposes.
Publication date January 21, 2014