Allison Shire (yes, like where the Hobbits live) is a disgraced academic who is done with love. Her belief in “happily ever after” ended the day she discovered her husband was still married to a wife she knew nothing about. She finally finds a use for her English degree by guiding tours through the famous sites featured in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. By living life on the road and traveling New Zealand as a luxury tour guide, Allison manages to outrun the pain of her past she can’t face.
Jackson Gregory was on the cusp of making it big. Then suddenly his girlfriend left him—for his biggest business competitor—and took his most guarded commercial secrets with her. To make matters worse, the Iowa farm that has been in his family for generations is facing foreclosure. Determined to save his parents from financial ruin, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince his wealthy great-uncle to invest in his next scheme, which means accompanying him to the bottom of the world to spend three weeks pretending to be a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, even though he knows nothing about the stories. The one thing that stands between him and his goal is a know-it-all tour guide who can’t stand him and pegged him as a fake the moment he walked off the plane.
When Allison leads the group through the famous sites of the Tolkien movies, she and Jackson start to see each other differently, and as they keep getting thrown together on the tour, they find themselves drawn to each other. Neither expected to fall in love again, but can they find a way beyond their regrets to take a chance on the one thing they’re not looking for?
Jackson almost didn’t answer his phone, especially when he saw it was a blocked number. He maintained a general policy that if someone didn’t want him to know who was calling, he didn’t feel particularly obliged to talk to them.
The only reason he took the call was because it served as a valid distraction from his latest attempt at Hobbit cramming, which was proving to be a fruitless exercise, as the more he learned, the more he realized he didn’t know.
The voice was familiar. “Yes?”
He knew the name should mean something to him, but all neurons were obviously not firing. “Allison, hi.” Hopefully whatever she said next would provide some clarity.
“I’m kind of . . . stuck.”
Well, that didn’t help at all – now so was he.
“I was walking back to the house and I slipped down a bank and I’m in some mud and I can’t get out.”
Things were starting to connect, but not fast enough to beat his mouth, which decided to bypass his brain. “Sorry. Who is this again? Are you sure you’ve got the right n-”
An icy tone he was intimately familiar with rang down the line. “Ha ha. Don’t worry about it. I knew calling you was a bad idea. I’ll find someone-”
“No, wait!” Finally, it all clicked together in a blaze of light and a choir of angels singing. “Where are you?”
“In the paddock behind the house. I can see the main barn from where I am.”
“And you’re stuck in mud?”
“That’s what I said, Einstein.”
A smile slid across his face. He was probably never going to get this opportunity ever again. “Okay. I’ll come, but first I need you to say it.”
“Jackson, please come and rescue me.”
“You cannot be serious.”
“Fine. Jackson, please come and rescue me.” The sarcasm in her voice was so thick you could have eaten it with a spoon.
He pivoted his body and placed his feet on the floor. “Hmmm, I think I’m going to need it to sound a little more genuine than that.” Especially after she’d spent the entire day taking great pleasure in his misery.
A few seconds of silence, then: “Jackson, please come rescue me.” If he hadn’t already been sitting down, the sultry tone probably would have put him on the ground.
He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. “That’s much better. I’ll be there soon.”
Oh my goodness! I don’t know where to start. There were so many things to love about this novel. I feel like I’ve been through an emotional wringer, and yet I can’t remember laughing so much during a novel for a long time. This is a debut novel you don’t want to miss.
Allison Shire and Jackson Gregory are strong characters who are just a little (or perhaps a lot) tangled up in the aftermath of some poor decisions they have made. Boy is there some chemistry between these two – and the sparks aren’t always pretty fireworks! The tour is a delightful mixture of misadventure, mischief, and sparring, but with enough genuine moments to prevent the story becoming farcical.
The story flowed very naturally and the characters’ observations and attitudes often had a dry humour to them, which always appeals to me. I also loved that I was so often surprised at the direction a scene or conversation took. There are some scenes in this book that will definitely stay with me for a while (the mud, the boat, the hike, and the pizza delivery all come to mind!)
The spiritual content was relatively unobtrusive, and yet it is a driving factor in some difficult decisions for Allie and Jackson as the tour reaches its conclusion. The one point that gave me a little bit of unease, particularly as the story drew closer to the climax, was the issue of Allie’s marriage. I was pleased that Allie fought against acting on her attraction to Jackson while she awaited the Court’s final verdict on the validity of her marriage, but it did get me questioning where the validity of a marriage really stems from, Biblically speaking. Is it the approval of a civic authority or the speaking of the vows? Allie’s specific situation adds yet another dimension to the question and I think it would provide the basis for an interesting discussion. I’m not sure that I would feel freed from my vows simply because a court ruled them invalid. In any case, I was glad that Kara Isaac resisted making the resolution too quick or neat, because I think it really showed how Allie and Jackson had matured as a result of their difficulties.
I could say so much more about this novel (like mention the great secondary characters, for instance) but the bottom line is this was a very satisfying read. It was fresh, sparkling, sweet, funny, and yet surprisingly serious at times. Although there is obviously a physical attraction between Allie and Jackson I really felt as though it was their emotional connection that drove this novel (not to mention their emotional friction!) and they’re always the more satisfying romances for me.
I strongly recommend you put this on your TBR list for 2016. In fact, I think I might just sneak it back into mine and pretend I haven’t read it yet!
Thank you to Howard Books for providing an advance copy in return for my honest review.
Release Date: 26 April 2016
Publisher: Howard Books
Author’s website: http://www.karaisaac.com/