BREATHE - Donna Alward
December 2011 (e-book: October 2010)
United States - Present Day
Jace Willows and Anna Morelli shared a special relationship when they were teens and even children, but after Anna married her father's first choice for a husband instead of Jace, they grew apart. Now Anna is a rich widow with two kids (Matteo and Aurelia), and Jace is the bachelor owner of a successful winery called Two Willows Winery. Anna needs some time to regroup away from her family's censure after her husband's death, but with no one else to go to, she is forced to turn to Jace and confront their painful history. Will the time she, Matteo, and Aurelia spend at Two Willows help her or hurt her—and can it possibly rekindle a relationship with Jace with so much hurt between them? Can they clear up all their previous misunderstandings, especially with Anna's two kids messing up Jace's bachelor pad?
One thing I find I really enjoy about Ms. Alward's novels is her ability to write real problems and conflicts that are well-written melodrama. However, instead of feeling like the characters are being cheesy and going over-board in their hurt, I find that I really enjoy how truthful and honest the characters are about how much hurt they suffered. In comparison to many other romance authors, Ms. Alward seems to be exaggerating the emotions in her story, but I find that she can really make it work. Ms. Alward writes some of the most human romances I've ever read, and I truly appreciate the realistic edge to her books dealing with love in life—instead of love in fantasy. For example, Anna Morelli has two kids with her deceased husband. In many novels the heroine somehow remains childless through her first marriage only to have oodles of kids with the hero at the end. I like that the author writes Anna with two kids from her first, loveless marriage, and that she loves them a lot. To me, that was important, unique, and gratifying; children don't just occur from love matches, but that doesn't mean you can't love them. Whether that was Ms. Alward's intended message or not, it definitely made this book even better.
I especially loved our hero, Jace Willows. A self-made man and confirmed bachelor, I love how completely unselfish he was. He was sweet, romantic, dark and soulful, but also very male in his insecurities and confusion. He loved Anna very much, which was clear from their first encounter outside his house, and despite all his male pride, he will do anything for her to show her he's worthy of her now. I enjoyed watching him and Anna fight, as an added layer of humor. I could see and understand where both of them were coming from in their disagreements—in essence I could understand their misunderstanding—and I enjoyed watching them struggle to 'get' the other person and their point of view. It was incredibly endearing how Anna couldn't possibly comprehend Jace feeling unworthy of her and how Jace couldn't comprehend Anna's need to work and contribute. For her part, Anna was also a beautifully crafted character, a meek, timid princess turned fierce mama-warrior for her kids. I liked watching her struggle, even as I felt immense empathy for her and her situation. What is it like, Ms. Alward asks her reader, to have everything you want in life except for the things you most crave…approval and love?
The dialogue felt a bit flat to me at times, as though I understood what Ms. Alward wanted to say but she didn't quite get it out. The prose was occasionally stilted and awkward, but most of the book flowed smoothly so it was pretty forgivable. I loved watching all the sadness and hurt that Jace and Anna carry around turn into love and healing together, though the process isn't all roses and sunshine. I liked the underlying theme of love vs. money that the author wrote—which is more important and what do you need to make a relationship thrive? It was an especially intriguing question when applied to Jace and Anna's relationship, I thought, and I liked the way she introduced it and worked through it to the conclusion. All in all, Ms. Alward has written a true winner that will pull on your heart-strings, curl your toes, wet your eyes, and remain in your memory for a long, long time.
Exquisite. Simply exquisite.