Jill Shalvis has been a favorite Harlequin author of mine for a while, inspiring total confidence whenever I pick up a book with her name on it. Whether it’s a sexy hockey coach in Time Out, or a charming holiday novella in Heating Up the Holidays, she’s a writer who can bring a level of detail and emotional oomph to a hot romance novel.
So why on earth did I wait so long to tackle her acclaimed Lucky Harbor series, published under Grand Central’s Forever line? The only reason I can think to explain my behavior is the covers – they are lovely, don’t get me wrong, but with fully clothed models engaging in hugging with romantic backgrounds, they appeared to be more of a sweet romance and my taste runs to a hotter level of sensuality in my romance fiction. Color me pleased and surprised to discover that they actually are nice and spicy, with Shalvis delivering her usual emotional journey of the hero and heroine in and out of the bedroom (with no lack of detail in either location). Yay!
It appears that Jill usually tackles the books in this series in related trilogies with the setting and many of the vibrant minor characters tying the novels together. Having gotten At Last as a advanced reader copy from NetGalley, I also decided after reading and loving it to request the other two volumes starring the hero and heroine’s friends to give me a more holistic picture (and unadulterated reading pleasure).
This turned out to be a good strategy, since it seems from Jill Shalvis’ website, particularly the page where she discusses how she approaches this series, that the first three books were conceived as an interconnected trilogy as were the following three books. This makes it easy to read the second trilogy independent of the first three books, although I’ll bet you’ll do the same thing I did and fall in love with the crazy people of Lucky Harbor so quickly that all the books will find a place on your shelf or ereader ASAP. So let’s take a look at why these three books deserve shelf space, shall we?
Lucky in Love (Amy and Ty’s story)
In the fourth book of the series and the first one focusing on the three women who call themselves the Chocoholics, we discover Mallory, the ER nurse and all around town good girl who is finding herself increasingly frustrated with her life. Her attitude of caring for those around her, whether it be friends, family, patients, or neighbors is genuine, but it causes people to think they know her, never seeing the streak of wildness she keeps hidden.
There’s a reason for that. When she was sixteen and all three of her siblings were busy sowing wild oats, her next oldest sister Karen got into serious trouble, trouble that ended with Karen overdosing on drugs. Mallory’s parents divorced and Mallory has worked incredibly hard to be the least amount of trouble for her family – to the point that she almost has herself believing it’s who she is. Her good friend and diner waitress Amy knows the truth however, and on a scary, stormy night, Mallory heads to the local diner to find Amy for a little comfort.
It’s just the two of them and a stranger in town, a lovely blond named Grace who quickly bonds with them over chocolate cake, and the three of them are brought together by a power outage. Huddling in the dark and devouring a sinful chocolate cake doesn’t stave off their fears, but it does make them confess what they really want from life. Mallory wants to date Mr. Wrong (her Mr. Rights being far from ideal), Amy wants to stop putting life on the back burner and truly live it, and Grace wants to stop living life according to other people’s expectations and have fun.
But their confessions come to an abrupt end when trees start crashing through windows. Checking things out, Mallory braves the weather and realizes that there is a man caught under one of them by the entrance. The three woman discover its Mysterious Cute Guy, a sexy newcomer to the town who no one seems to know much about, with a head injury. While waiting for the ambulance and trying to keep him warm in Mallory’s car, Amy and Grace try to convince her that anyone as sexy and aloof as this man is exactly the kind of Mr. Wrong she needs.
Ty wakes up in the hospital with vague memories of a soft body and warm hands which comforted him when he got hit by a tree on the way into the diner for pie. He’s come to Lucky Harbor on the recommendation of his former Navy buddy, Matt (now a Park Ranger), who has said the area is perfect for his recuperation. Ty is a former SEAL and medic who now does a lot of private security work. A bad leg injury needs time to heal, but even more than his body, Ty’s mind still feels the trauma and guilt surrounding losing his whole team in a plane crash.
More than aware that he’s not only not staying in town for long, Ty is nevertheless drawn to Mallory. Her big brown eyes, gorgeous curves, and caring demeanor has him actually feeling things. As frightening as that is, he makes the parameters of his attraction really clear and Mallory still gives him the go ahead. As part of her new plan of Mr. Wrong, she’s willing to take Ty however she can get him, and the physical connection they have cannot be denied. Neither of them count on how addictive that connection is, but as Ty finds excuses to stay longer in Lucky Harbor, he has to confront the reality of his situation. He is not for her.
OMG, damaged military men, especially ones with soft, gooey centers, are a personal favorite and Ty is no exception. He had my buy in from the first moments of the hot storage room encounter with Mallory at the health center’s auction and he only got better from that moment. Mallory is an amazing women who is so sweet and honest about what she is thinking and feeling that you can’t help but love her. The fact that she truly accepts everyone for who they are renders the affection the whole town holds for her unsurprising. Shalvis’ rich description of the many vibrant secondary characters, particularly the town gallery owner and busybody Lucille, with her relentless Facebooking, makes this book a pageturner.
At Last (Amy Michaels and Matt Bowers Story)
When Parks Ranger Matt Bowers (currently in the running for the Lucky Harbor’s “Mr. Hot Buns” competition on Facebook) gets the call that there is a lost hiker in his park, he’s pleased to discover it’s gorgeous diner waitress and relative newcomer Amy Michaels. He only eats when it’s her shift for the pleasure of looking at her, but even his patented panty-melting smile doesn’t seem to work on this cool and wary woman. Having more than enough heartache in his past, he can respect her distance, particularly when he knows he can’t offer her more than a hot tumble, but that doesn’t mean he can’t try and convince her as to his way of thinking.
Amy is annoyed by her attraction to the devastatingly sexy man in uniform. Having a wild youth and being a homeless runaway at sixteen means she’s got lots of reasons to not trust men but there is something about this one that gets right under her well-laid defenses. She remembers her stated goal to the other chocoholics about living her life and not being a spectator any more. Caving to him might result in blazingly hot sex unlike any she’s had, but she knows she’s got nothing else to give, and he claims the same. Yet feelings emerge that neither of them seem to be able to deal with, and what good can come of that?
I was so impressed by how deftly Jill Shalvis wove in the overarching theme of Amy using her grandmother’s journals and sketchbooks to guide her own emotional journey. The minor plotline of the young runaway Riley and how her presence dredges up Amy’s emotions about her own troubled past never feels like a tacked on plot device but instead moves the characters forward. I was rooting so hard for Amy and Matt to honestly confront their emotions that when they finally did, I couldn’t help but give a much-warranted fist pump in triumph!
Forever and a Day (Grace and Josh’s story)
Having watched her friends Mallory and Amy find love, Grace is happy for them, if a little wistful for herself. She’s a downsized investment banker who came to the Pacific Northwest for a great job in Seattle, until she discovered her boss expected extra “benefits” as part of her package. Taking off down the coast, she literally wandered into Lucky Harbor and made it her base of operations while she scours the market for a new position.
The only problem is that in this economy they are impossible to find and she doesn’t even want to touch the idea that she never really liked investment banking in the first place. She’s been trying to live up to her parents’ high expectations, so she can hardly tell them she’s doing odd jobs and the books for the town citizens to make ends meet. When Dr. Josh Scott, aka Dr. MacSexy on Lucky Harbor’s Facebook page, calls her by accident to ask her to dogwalk his obnoxious new pug puppy, she agrees even though she has zero experience. How hard can it be?
Um…really hard, particularly when the puppy is the a cross between Satan and a coked up rock star. An ER doctor trying to simultaneously run his late father’s practice, be a single dad to his adorable son, and responsibly care for his 21 year old sister (a hellion put in a wheelchair by the same car crash that killed their parents), Josh is the definition of overextended and everything is paying the price. His two best friends have found the women of their dreams and Josh can barely remember the last time he had sex!
Sex is also all he can think about when he comes across his dogwalker up to her thighs in the ocean by his home and convinced that his puppy committed suicide in the waves. The way the water and sand have plastered her thin sundress to her frame has Josh’s mind frying its remaining gray matter but he convinces himself he has no time for the distraction. Circumstances seem to have different ideas, and when a dogwalking gig becomes a live-in nanny arrangement, the chemistry between Grace and Josh becomes a conflagration. He knows she’s not long for the area but his son and sister are finally getting the attention they deserve and by a stunning woman who seems to genuinely care for them. He’s falling for her too, no matter how hard he’s fighting it, but Grace might very well choose to leave them. After all, everyone else in Josh’s life has done just that.
OMG – Josh is soooooo awesome. The former 95 pound geek weakling who filled out to a buff six foot something hunk of man and then becomes a caring doctor? Sign. Me. UP. Fun Grace, who happens to be a major smartie and multitasker, is exactly what this doctor ordered. Seing them each deal head on with each other’s baggage and actually communicate with one another is a sigh-worthy journey to their happily ever after.
Summary or What’s Taking You So Long?
Anyone who enjoys well-written contemporary romance written with blazing sensuality, a compelling emotional journey, and rich characters should have themselves committed if they don’t run out and devour the Lucky Harbor series, particularly the latest three additions. Like the chocolate recipes in the back of each book (yes! amazing romance novels with chocolate recipes as a bonus!!), each book is a sweet, rich treat, but minus any fattening calories. What are you waiting for?