Bastone is as much at the top of her romance-game in Can’t Help Falling as she was in Just a Heartbeat Away. I may have enjoyed the latter a smidgen more than the former, but it doesn’t stop Can’t Help Falling from being one of the best romances I’ve read this year.
Falling picks up where Heartbeat leaves off and includes lovely cameos from the first romance’s hero and heroine, hero’s son and pooch, Seb, Via, Matty, and Crabby. While Heartbeat tells Seb and Via’s romance, Falling is about the road to love and commitment for Seb’s and Via’s best friends, Tyler Leshuski and Serafine “Fin” St. Romain:
Serafine St. Romain doesn’t need her psychic powers to know she’s no longer in Tyler Leshuski’s good graces. True, she did tear him to pieces when he asked her out, accusing him of being shallow and selfish. Despite the energy crackling between them, the gorgeous sports writer is a no-strings, no-kids kind of guy. And Serafine, raised in the foster system, intends to be a foster parent herself. She won’t compromise that dream, even for a man as annoyingly appealing as Tyler.
In a simpler world, Tyler would already have gotten Serafine out of his system. For him, women equal fun. Not this kind of bone-deep, disconcerting desire. Life gets even more complicated when he becomes the guardian of his much younger sister. Suddenly, he’s way out of his depth. Serafine’s the only person who can connect with Kylie. He can’t jeopardize that for a fling. But maybe…just maybe…he’s finally ready to risk everything on forever.
The blurb, however, makes the romance more lighthearted than it is. While Bastone can write great comic scenes and with great wit, neither Tyler, nor Fin start the narrative in a particularly good place and they experience anguish, doubt, and heartache.
First, there is Fin’s rejection of Tyler, with, as he put, “quite the tonguelashing.” Fin’s lacing-into Tyler is unjust because Tyler is a mild-mannered, gentle giant. But Fin is, if not an angry heroine, definitely one who has the makings of a feral spinster. She has reason to be angry: given her great beauty, more curse than gift, Fin is right about the world, especially a world that catcalls, whistles, and comes on to a woman when she’s not interested, going about her business, etc. But Tyler retreats, is downright scared when Fin is around from that moment on. Which is what makes Bastone such a refreshing, interesting romance writer. Because she manages to stay true to the genre and yet breaks stereotypes. Case in point, late in the novel, when Tyler confesses to best friend Seb that he and Fin are together (hey, it’s a romance, not a spoiler, you know they’re together): “Tyler suddenly found himself the recipient of a disgustingly sweaty hug from his best friend [they’ve been playing basketball with Matty]. “Dude. Space.” He shoved away and then got a look at Seb’s face. ‘Are you crying?’ ‘It’s just cool is all,’ Seb said, brushing a tear or two off his face with the inside of his elbow.” I love that Bastone portrays the guy-friendship beautifully and never resorts to alpha-posturing with her heroes. I also love that friendship is as important to her characters as the relationship they share with their beloved.
To return to the novel’s opening, when Fin eviscerates Tyler and leaves him gasping, she does so thanks to her weaknesses and vulnerabilities, as we and she figure out in the narrative’s course. Tyler is a hurt-puppy who has clung to the only meaningful relationship he’s had — with Seb and Matty, especially because we learn he left his work and life in California to return to Brooklyn to help Seb raise Matty (when Seb’s wife was killed in a car crash). You’d think this kind of love and sacrifice would be enough for Fin, who is a psychic, to realize this is a good man. Nope. She hits him where it hurts the most, in this new dislocated emotional universe where Seb and Matty are forming a family with Via. As lovely and inclusive as they are, Tyler feels he’s being left behind, a visitor to their family circle when he was once the circle. It’s a hurtful, unbecoming thing Fin does. But she too is starting from a, if not dislocated, disappointed, heartbroken place and while it doesn’t excuse, it does endow her with a sympathy-inducing quality for the reader to be able to like her: her umpteenth attempt to become a foster parent has been rejected yet again.
So two not-quite easy in their lives people are thrown together when Kylie, Tyler’s fourteen-year-old niece, enters the picture. And a wonderful portrayal of a difficult, close-mouthed, hurt teen she is too. I loved her and her eventual relationship with Tyler, who gains custody when Kylie’s mother abandons her. No matter how Tyler, with humour, thinks of his “status” with his two women, Kylie and Fin, who get along like a house on fire, or as he calls them, “his skeptical sister and his biggest hater,” he would never push away any opportunity to make Kylie more comfortable in her new home, deprive her of someone to talk to no matter how much he wants that someone to be him. Because he’s selfless, loving, caring, funny, and goofy, Fin comes to see how wrong she was about him. Because he is those things and more, unable not to forgive when someone is both contrite and affectionate, what was a reluctant relationship for Kylie’s sake becomes a friendship, blossoms into love, inflames into “in love,” admits desire and culminates in Bastone’s remarkable love scenes, always positioned near the romance’s end when the emotional connection sees both hero and heroine are “goners” for the other. Lest my review makes Falling sound too sombre, let me regale you with one snippet of how very much Tyler wants Fin and how funny and lovable he is even when she chastises via text: “He glared at his phone, feeling like he’d just been slapped across the hand by a nun with a ruler. He pictured Fin in a nun’s outfit and absently wondered if she was wearing her fur bikini under there.”
You’re likely thinking, “MissB., this sounds great. What niggling detail saw you enjoy Falling ‘a smidgen less than’ Heartbeat?” It was Fin’s woo-woo. I didn’t mind her sharp tongue, not when she saw the error of her ways and made sure Tyler knew it. I didn’t mind her feral-spinster-in-the-making personality either, au contraire I enjoyed it. But the woo-woo, the crystals, auras, and herb teas, I have a skeptical reaction to that stuff and don’t enjoy reading about it, especially when it defines one of the two protagonists. But that’s my personal ugh and doesn’t deter from the quality of Bastone’s romance. It’s fun, fresh, funny, centred on the opening of the heart, and wonderfully written, witty, heartwarming, with lovely turns of phrase and a penchant for unusual, original metaphor. With Miss Austen, we agree Can’t Help Falling offers “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Cara Bastone’s Can’t Help Falling is published by HQN. It was released in August 2020 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from HQN, via Netgally.