Paradise Cove is Holiday’s second Matchmaker Bay romance, after Mermaid Inn, and, on some level, it may be even better, its theme more complex, though its romance, weaker. As far as tropish goodness is concerned, Holiday moves from reunited-high-school-sweethearts to friends-with-benefits and what makes for Paradise Cove‘s strength, the “friendship” component, weakens the romance. Even the protagonists agree, early on, and maintain the agreement that romance doesn’t enter their relationship. This, for me, skirts women’s fic territory and that’s one country I don’t enjoy visiting. Nevertheless, there is much to love about Paradise Cove. The synopsis-blurb doesn’t give much of the novel’s essence, but it’s a good starting point to learn about Jake Ramsey and Dr. Nora Walsh:
Dr. Nora Walsh has just been dumped in spectacular fashion, making it the perfect time for a major life change. She figures taking over the medical practice in tiny Matchmaker Bay for a couple of years will help her get over her broken heart, and then she can head back to the big city. But when the first man she sees looks like a superhero god, she wonders if maybe there’s something to small-town living after all.
Jake Ramsey also has a broken heart — one he never expects to heal. He doesn’t need people anyway and is content hiding out in his secluded cottage on the beach. But after helping Nora with a medical emergency, he finds himself opening up to the witty, warmhearted doctor. Soon the local matchmakers are working overtime to pair them off, and Jake begins to wonder if his campaign to get Nora to stay is for the town or because he can’t bear the thought of her leaving.
This romance novel’s uniqueness lies in the source of Jake’s “broken heart”; while Nora’s is your standard a-hole, cheating, selfish BF, fellow-doctor, Rufus (I wonder if this is a nod to Rufus Sewell’s a-hole character in The Holiday?), Jake’s is viscerally difficult to read about, his baby son’s death, of the flu, at nine months. (Let this also serve as a CW.)
Despite Jake’s emotionally heavy backstory, Paradise Cove is not without humour, to witness, its opening-scene meet-cute. Nora, pixie-doctor of the silver-y hair and grey eyes walks into Moonflower Bay’s Curl Up and Dye for a root touch-up and encounters a “man-god” with long hair and green eyes, unbearably lookish, “like Jason Momoa’s paler twin … Aquaman … some kind of sea god or something? They were on a Great Lake.” Holiday has a great way with turns of phrase and I loved how she described the moment when one character falls in love with another, even though it takes them pages and pages to consciously admit it: “He transferred his attention from his reflection to Nora, and as their eyes met in the mirror, there was a record scratch in Nora’s brain. It was like there was the normal, unremarkable, white-noise soundtrack of life unspooling as it always did, and then it just stopped.” Herein lies Holiday’s greatest strength as a romance writer: even with an emotionally low-key romance, and emotionally high-stakes for the individual hero and heroine, especially the hero in this case, Holiday surprises and delights by virtue of her prose.
Jake and Nora hit it off right away and it’s easy to see why: Holiday has created a hero, once he deals with his grief and guilt, who is made to be a husband and father. He’s a care-taker, is our Jake. Nora, in turn, is a healer: she knows what to say and what to do to take care of others. But there’s nothing maudlin about the characters. There couldn’t be, given Jake’s backstory, baby Jude’s loss is enough to send any reader into ugly-cry mode. It certainly did me. I loved Jake and I loved Nora and I loved them together. They talked and became best friends over the narrative course, truly, by temperament, emotional resonance, and compatibility. And it’s obvious to everyone, small-town denizens, Jake’s buddies, romance heroes past and to come, town chief of police Sawyer and bar-owner Law, and their heroine counterparts, Eve and Maya respectively, who become Nora’s friends. Oh, there is drama and an emotional betrayal scene, made up for by a magnificent proposal scene, but overall, Nora and Jake LIKE each other and fall in love because they like each other. It works.
What doesn’t work? In and of itself, Paradise Cove is lovely and any contemporary romance reader, once the CW is taken into account, would enjoy it. Rather, it’s a hunch, on my part, that Holiday is a much edgier romance writer than the small-town feel-good setting allows her to be. If she, like some other faves, Sarah Morgan, Molly O’Keefe, and now Maisey Yates, is heading into WF, then, we’d have to add my broken heart to Nora’s and Jake’s. 😉 But I hope not. With Miss Austen, we say Paradise Cove offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Jenny Holiday’s Paradise Cove is published by Forever. It was released in July 2020 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley, from Forever, via Netgalley.