Always on My Mind
by Jill Shalvis
Book 8 of Lucky Harbor
As I stated in a Booklikes-opoly update, this book felt overly complicated when it didn't have to be. With the previous two Lucky Harbor books being super enjoyable, I was hoping that the streak would hold.
But just as usual, sometimes you just come across a Jill Shalvis contemporary that doesn't work for you... even as you really, really hope it would because of how much you love firefighters.
Leah Sullivan ran away from Lucky Harbor when she was younger, having endured a tough childhood involving a physically and verbally abusive father. Unfortunately, her father's belief that she would never amount to anything has followed Leah her entire life--she drops out of culinary school, and even manages to screw up a big break on a reality cooking show where she'd been everyone's pick for a winning, up and coming star.
She returns to Lucky Harbor to be with her grandmother, who has had a health scare and cannot manage her bakery for a while; and so Leah takes over, putting herself to work every hour of each day so that she doesn't have to face the consequences of her failures. Meanwhile, she feels this urgency to at least do something with her life, to accomplish something to prove to everyone, and maybe simply to prove to herself, that she's not a screw up like her father has always told her she was.
But while in Lucky Harbor, she starts connecting with old friends, especially her closest and best friend, Jack Harper. Once upon a time, Leah and Jack had had a special bond with the possibility of developing into something more. But she knows that having run away from Lucky Harbor meant running away from Jack--and a relationship she doesn't think she'll ever be able to salvage.
But then when she's talking to Jack's mother, Dee, a hair-brained idea pops into her head. With Dee's concern that Jack will never find a woman and settle down and start a family, Leah blurts out that she and Jack are together. It's just a little fib to make an older woman in the midst of chemotherapy happy; or at least that's what Leah keeps telling herself.
Always on My Mind had a great amount of potential to be a cute, breezy, and fun contemporary romance. And it was breezy in some aspects. But at the same time, it was also overly complicated, and our main couple does a wonderful job of creating a lot of unnecessary angst.
One of the major things that bugs me about a lot of romance novels is the characters' bad habit of never talking to each other.
Well, in this case, it's not so much that Leah and Jack don't talk to each other. Because they DO talk to each other. Even with their history and their hidden animosity towards each other, they are still best friends and still care deeply about one another. But when the subject of romance, love, or even lust comes up, they spend more time avoiding each other, or talking in circles around each other than they do trying to understand what's going on.
Honestly, half the time I had no idea what either of the two wanted with each other. Whenever it sounded like Jack was wanting to have a more binding relationship with Leah, he'd then monologue something that made me think otherwise. Leah did the exact same thing, and it got really frustrating after a while.
Then we find out why Jack had been acting like such a butthurt jackass around Leah whenever the subject of a deeper romantic relationship between them came up. It felt a little... childish? Leah ran away from Lucky Harbor, and ran away from him, apparently, and he took it seriously enough to hold a grudge all these years. Even knowing the shit that she'd gone through during her childhood and why she ran away.
His continued jackass attitude was not very appreciated; especially since Leah was already self-conscious and casting self-blame for all the things she feels like she's screwed up in her life.
I really wanted to like Jack. He's a really great person when he's not trying to unintentionally hurt Leah for hurting him all those years ago. When he's sweet to her, he really is sweet to her. When he's thinking as a friend and not as a jilted almost lover, he really does come off as a wonderful best friend. And when he's in firefighter mode, saving lives and investigating arson, he's kind of hot.
And Leah... well, I really don't know how I feel about Leah. She was a study in complications.
Meanwhile, it was really the senior citizens who stole the show.
Well... the senior citizens and Jack's cousin Ben. Ben's snarky, deadpan attitude might have stolen my heart. His relationship with Jack and Luke (from the previous book) was a most excellent one. And on that note, I DID very much appreciate all the friendships, relationships, and character interactions in this book. The trio of Ali, Leah, and Aubrey was a strange one, to say the least, but a fun one, and I have a feeling I'm going to like Aubrey a lot in the next book.
Book takes place in a small town called Lucky Harbor.
Page Count: 318
Cash Award: +$6.00
Updated Bank Balance: $239