Whisper Falls, by Toni Blake
Sometimes, I'm glad when I decide to give a book a second chance. My usual reading rule is that, if I don't like what I'm reading by the time I've hit the 10% mark (I usually read on my Kindle), it's off to the DNF pile. But some books seem to demand a bit more, because while I may not like them at 10%, I have this feeling that if I just hang on a little longer...
And this is what happened with Whisper Falls. At the start of the novel, I was put off by certain stylistic quirks that, while they never disappeared, seemed to fade into the background once I got into the story. Also, this is a novel whose heroine has Crohn's Disease, an illness that for many people means a serious disruption in their intimate relationships. I found this a fascinating enough premise that I decided to keep reading.
Nevertheless, while Tessa has an illness that has forced her to give up a beloved job in the big city and move back to her small hometown, Crohn's does not define her. She has a couple of flare-up episodes throughout the novel, but her illness is just one part of who she is. She herself has decided that her health issues will not define her, so while this aspect of the novel is important, it never becomes a heavy focus for either Tessa or the reader. We accept early on that Tessa is sick enough that she's had to make important changes in her life, but her determination to enjoy life shines right through these circumstances, and is one of the aspects that attracts Lucky to her.
I found Lucky himself to be a welcome change from previous bad boy heroes I'd read recently. I read Whisper Falls on the heels of Motorcycle Man and, though Lucky and Tack have shared many of the same life experiences as members of motorcycle clubs, I found that of the two Lucky seemed more real, like someone I might acually run into. While Tack is larger than life, Lucky is a quiet man who has decided to play the part of prodigal son and try to make amends for his past. When we meet him, he has set up shop in an isolated house next to Tessa's property. Both Lucky and Tessa want to be alone, albeit for different reasons. Tessa wants a safe place close to nature where she can retreat during her health episodes; Lucky's home is more like a base of operations, where he can rebuild and redefine himself before re-entering society. Lucky returns to Destiny to escape a dangerous past, run his motorcycle painting business, and create a comfortable part-time home for the ten-year-old son he recently discovered he had. They're both hermits with very specific reasons for not wanting romantic entanglements, but once they meet they find themselves negotiating a place for the other in their lives.
One of the things I really liked about Tessa and Lucky's relationship is that its slow, tentative progress seemed very true to life. It takes them time to trust each other; Tessa especially needs to trust that Lucky will eventually reveal certain details about his past that he thinks might put her in danger. She does falter at a crucial moment in their relationship, when he's contemplating something that she can't just accept as part of who he is now. But, for much of the story, Tessa defends Lucky with all her heart agains the family and friends who refuse to believe he's a changed man. Best of all, the resolution to their central conflict is, again, realistic: with some rough edges and the understanding that they might have to face similar issues in the future. There's a happily-ever-after for sure, but tempered with the knowledge that Lucky's past might return to haunt them in the future. The novel doesn't shy away from the fact that Lucky has done some terrible things, and that consequences don't simply disappear when one falls in love.
And those quirks that had put me off at the beginning? My biggest issue was one of writing style: the constant, repeated use of ellipses in both internal monologue and dialogue. Every character thinks and speaks like this, and I found it very distracting once in a while. I think ellipses are best used very sparingly, lest they make the text sound unintentionally overwrought with drama. The other problems, as I said, faded into the background as I kept reading, to the point where now I only remember a wonderfully bittersweet story with complex characters and a well-developed setting. Whisper Falls is just one novel in Blake's Destiny series, and I'll definitely revisit this town in the near future.