I liked this novel, but I didn’t love it. Rachel is a manager at a large luxury hotel in Fort Lauderdale, when she loses her job after she’s sexually assaulted by a wealthy patron. When she can’t find a decent job in Florida, she moves to Kelley Island in Ohio for a job working for Mason Brown, managing a brewery/hotel.
This is book #2 in a series, and I always prefer to start with book #1, which is called Float Plan – though I find most romances can stand alone without giving too much away about the previous book (since you always know who ends up together).
I liked the two main characters a lot, loved the small town setting, and I liked the way the author went into a lot of detail about the work of creating a brewery and small hotel. I really enjoyed reading about what goes into designing a hotel room (balancing comfort, cost, and atmosphere) and also the creative ways they tied the brewery and accommodations together thematically. I also liked that initially, these characters were not a great fit for each other — he’s a little older than she is, she’s a single parent, he’s getting over a divorce and the death of a child, and they are trying to get a really difficult business venture off the ground. Oh, and there’s the fact that he’s her boss.
I should say right off the bat I think it’s really hard to write a good romance where one character is the other’s boss. That’s a really problematic relationship. Doller doesn’t ignore that, but in this book it’s a double whammy – Rachel not only works for Mason, she lives in his house. That part made me a bit uncomfortable, especially considering her child lives in the house too. That’s a whole lot of trust in someone you’ve never met.
Doller says in her acknowledgements that since she wrote it during the pandemic, she wanted it to be “warm and gentle”. It’s definitely that. Sometimes romances are full of manufactured conflict that doesn’t add to the story, and I can appreciate that Doller didn’t do that. If that appeals to you, feel free to stop reading this review and grab this book. For me, though, everything in this book felt too conflict-free.
Maybe I’ll sound like a terrible person when I say these characters are too nice to each other, too understanding. I wanted more push and pull – not manufactured conflict, but the very real stresses that occur when two people make themselves vulnerable to each other. In this book, everything fell into place much too easily, from Rachel’s friendships with the other residents of the town, to getting their business off the ground, to the relationship between Rachel and Mason.
Ironically, Doller put plenty of potential landmines in place, some serious and some just situational, but none of them ever pose a problem. For example, there are places where they might disagree on some of Mason’s or Rachel’s business choices, like when Mason spends thousands on a giant antler chandelier – but they never disagree. They both seem to be perfectly in sync when it comes to Rachel’s daughter. Even the weather never presents a problem, despite the fact that Rachel has moved from sunny Florida to a place so cold no one can leave the island 3-4 months of the year. I wondered how Rachel would adapt when the weather got really cold, but it never comes up.
If you’re looking for a kind and gentle love story, this is a great book for you. It’s well written and I liked the story, including the diversity of the characters. But the romance didn’t sizzle for me, and everything felt too easy to be realistic.
Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher St. Martin’s Press. This book published March 8, 2022.