Saturday, January 8, 2011

Finding The Way Back Home: Whisper Falls by Toni Blake

Tessa Sheridan came crawling back to Destiny, Ohio, after her big city interior design career crumbled. Now she struggles to make ends meet and worse, has to contend with the neighbor's Harley shattering the serenity of her rustic cabin by Whisper Falls. Worse still, the bad boy biker next door makes her feel breathless and weak, and shy, petite Tessa knows what a mistake it would be to get involved with someone so dangerous.

They say that Lucky Romo has a dark secret past and that he's trouble with a capital "T." Still, Tessa tingles when she sees how well he fills out a pair of tight jeans. And when Lucky invites her into his world, she knows the intense heat sparking between them could lead somewhere wild and wonderful and yes, dangerous.

As an inveterate people-watcher, I have often been fascinated with the way people appear to be so "together" while actually dealing with some pretty heavy-duty stuff. In airports or train stations it looks like folks are just hurrying to get somewhere when in reality all of them are dealing with stresses that can range all the way from having forgotten one's toothbrush to dealing with death, divorce, or loss of employment. One of the major problems we don't like to discuss very often is the onset of a chronic illness and the changes this may force in one's life. In Toni Blake's novel, Tessa is now having to deal with the life changes that have been forced upon her as a victim of Crohn's Disease, a debilitating intestinal disease that can greatly complicate what many of us consider a "normal" life and a prospering career. So it was with Tessa: lost days at work, having to complete projects when feeling weak and sick, dealing with the continuing presence of pity from one's co-workers, i.e. " . . . poor Tessa; I wonder when she'll be back on her feet." So "poor Tessa" has returned to Destiny, OH, believing she had a job. It was not to be, and now she is trying to put her life and her career back together, knowing that it will probably not ever be the same.

The last thing Tessa needs is a dangerous "bad boy" like Lucky Romo, a man caught in his own mess made up of a checkered past, the march of time that is moving him away from the wildness of early youth, new responsibilities from discovering he is a father, and wondering if he can re-connect with his family--or even, if he wants to. Yet the attraction between Tessa and Lucky begins when he sees her sun bathing on her deck, and being a healthy male, he finds a way to strike up an acquaintance. He then engages her services as an interior designer for several rooms in his house, and their connection grows. Yet Lucky is a man who needs to keep secrets--the ghosts of his biker past have teeth and AK47's, and after ten years he is still looking over his shoulder.

This is a beautifully written novel about two people who, in their own way, must find a new path in life. They are each on a journey of discovery yet they must shoulder the baggage of the past. For Lucky he is, in many ways, still on the run. He is a successful businessman, yet he is at a loss how to be a father to the young son he didn't know he had. Tessa is worried that he life can never again be really productive or bear any semblance of normality. While their affair brings connection and comfort into their lives, it doesn't solve some of the core issues for either one of them. This story is dealing with issues that are not too far removed from circumstances and situations that are probably far more common than most of us could imagine. Yet the choices that are made in early adulthood can follow us relentlessly. So it was with Lucky, and his leaving Destiny 15 years earlier without a word to his family--a silence that was never broken over those long years--can be rooted in deeper wounds.

Toni Blake has crafted a story that brings the reader into these two lives with expertise. One is almost unaware of the extent of the pain and confusion until the reader is sitting right on top of it. It is not a simple story--many layers that add to the complexity and which demand that the reader make a conscious decision to keep on, whether to turn the next page, read the next chapter, all in the hope of finding the "happily ever after." There was one point when I wasn't sure that these two characters were going to be able to find their way out of the maze. But there is something to be said for faith, hope, and the healing power of true friendship and acceptance. Families do keep on surprising their members, and there is often a new direction that becomes apparent when the reader least expects it. So it is in this novel. Redemption, forgiveness, restoration, renewal, discovering inner resources one either ignored are which were undiscovered--all these make themselves known in varied ways and in varying degrees in this story.

Ms Blake is well-known as a literary craftsman and she has not disappointed here. She is a very good storyteller. Romance fiction fans will find this to be a compelling story that holds one's interest from beginning to end. I really enjoyed reading it, and think serious lovers of romance fiction will find it a worthy investment of time and effort. I give this novel a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

This novel was released for publication in December, 2010 by Harper Collins Publishers under their Avon Books imprint.

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