Miss Bates loves Wendy’s TBR challenge, even though it reminds her of dreaded school deadlines. Nevertheless, it pushes her to re-visit the TBR, cull, read, review, and re-discover the myriad titles she’s e-piled. One of those was Beth Kery’s Liam’s Perfect Woman, second in the Home to Harbor Town series, a perfect fit to this month’s theme, “Series Catch-Up.” Miss Bates read the first, The Hometown Hero Returns, three years ago and liked it very much. She acquired the second, third, and fourth in the series and, to date, hadn’t read any, even though she meant to, though she knew she’d enjoy them. THIS is why Wendy’s initiative rocks … MissB. is harvesting the TBR and reading, in this case, a good romance. Kery’s premise for the series is what initially drew Miss Bates to it: three families, one town, one terrible accident and its repercussions on the families’ lives. Fifteen years ago, an intoxicated Derry Kavanaugh got into a car and killed a married couple, Kassim and Shada Itani, and another woman, Miriam Reyes. Liam’s Perfect Woman is about the sole survivor of the accident, Miriam’s daughter Nathalie, injured and bearing physical scars, and Derry’s youngest son, soon-to-be-police-chief of Harbor Town, Liam Kavanaugh. And what is Miss Bates’s verdict? Despite several elements that had Miss Bates cringing, she was moved by this novel and she felt for, and liked, the leads, especially the hero.
Kery has a beautifully atmospheric opening to Liam’s Perfect Woman; it functions as a nifty frame to the novel as well. Evidence of what a master Kery is at romance narrative. Newly-arrived in Harbor Town to take up the police-chief post, Liam Kavanaugh wends his way to the shore one evening. He finds a woman dancing on the sand. She is beautiful and real, fleshy, desirable, and passionate. He is mesmerized. The next day, Liam meets with a mysterious woman, one whose office is shrouded, dim, a sole lamp providing light. The woman is Nathalie Reyes and she has a proposition for him: to hire him to probe into the accident that killed her mother and scarred Nathalie. She wants him to investigate his father.
Again, in the office scene, Kery builds a great one: film-noirish and moody. We are as intrigued as Liam about the woman in the darkened room. A flick of the light and all is brought home to us and Liam. She is the dancer on the dunes. But through the magical atmosphere, a question niggles. Whoa, Miss Bates thought, hire a man to investigate his father’s possibly criminal accident? Is impartiality possible? A weird premise of dubious ethical foundations and yet … Kery’s writing, her character development and the angsty-sexiness of her narrative got to Miss Bates; a heart-breaking and compelling love story, she kinda loved this mess, even when she wasn’t totally comfortable with the anti-meet-cute of the primary relationship. Intrigued by the woman, convinced by her arguments that he needs to know what happened the night of the accident as much as she does, driven to put ghosts and questions to rest, Liam takes the job.
Miss Bates had trouble with Nathalie’s characterization. When Nathalie was the dancing woman on the dunes, her passionate nature and desire for self-expression were appealing. When Liam agrees to take her “job” offer, he says, “She was either the ballsiest woman he’d ever run into, the craziest or the meanest. Quite possibly all three.” Yeah, thought Miss Bates, I like her. But Nathalie is also a woman in hiding, a recluse, an introvert, a cowering presence in a corner. She defines herself by her scarring and yet her passionate nature breaks out; thank goodness, because quailing Nathalie wears the nerves. Liam’s attraction and liking are obvious and yet she doubts and doubts and doubts him. Her denials and self-deprecating ways irk: “Undoubtedly, he was already regretting that kiss” and “Liam Kavanaugh. Wanted her. Awkward, self-conscious, inexperienced, scarred Nathalie” and “Why should he care one way or another how I feel in a public place?” Cringe. No matter what he says: loving, sexy things; no matter what he does, attraction and desire and dinner and lunch and really sweet stuff, she remains unmoved and unbelieving and pulls a pathetic scene near the end that truly grated. Miss Bates liked Nathalie as the woman on the sand dunes, had compassion for her … she just wished Kery had given her more spine, more personality.
Liam, on the other hand, is a lovely hero: honest, loving, sexy, no push-over. He has a lot of difficulty with the investigation, but he sees it through. Makes good on it. And when things look badly for his family, he doesn’t back down from the truth. He is admirable. Liam’s feelings for Nathalie, some might argue, are too instantaneous, but his awe at the woman on the dunes goes a long way to validating them. The way he handles Nathalie’s scarring makes him a true and loving knight, “It wasn’t seeing her scars that made him feel guilty, it was her palpable vulnerability … It saddened him, that scar.” One of the best things about Liam is how well he understands Nathalie: to him, she is beautiful, but he wants her to see herself as such. He lets her make her way there without ever letting go. He also takes her to lunch and dinner; he makes her dinner. Miss Bates mentions this because she’s noted that hero and heroine in contemporary romance don’t often take part in this most fundamental aspect of the courtship ritual.
In the end, there are many strengths to this novel: the lovely courtship and the hero and heroine seeking for the truth, looking to understand the past, to come to terms with it. They are good people, our Nathalie and Liam, and they never lose sight of how their quest may hurt another. Miss Bates loved those moments when Nathalie wants to renege on their investigation so that Liam won’t be hurt. Yet, he persists, for her, for himself too, still loving, gentle, sexy, and humorous. Miss Bates loved this line when Liam and Nathalie hold each other in understanding, solicitude, and tenderness, “It was a hug of compassion, an acknowledgement of their shared suffering.” From thereon, they can make a life, a good one. (Miss Bates appreciated that, in keeping with the novel’s premise, the drunk driving incident, no one ever takes a drink in this novel. It’s iced tea, water, and coffee all the way.)
Miss Bates would say that the first novel in the series is stronger, more convincing, more cohesive, but this second one will still move you. Herein is “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Miss Bates enjoyed Kery’s series and she’ll try not to take another three years to read the next one! Do you have favourite series? Do you drag them out, reading one book every few years, or do you devour the latest in a sitting or two?