Folks, it’s Saturday night . . . and long-term readers of Shiny Book Review know exactly what that means.
Yes, it’s time — and past time — for a romance. Which is why I turned to Aaron Paul Lazar’s THE SEACREST, a sensual contemporary romance with a rather interesting hook. THE SEACREST features Finn McGraw, an artist-turned-handyman, and Libby Vanderhorn, a wealthy horsewoman whose family he works for . . . who also happens to be his first love, who spurned Finn years earlier, reasons unknown.
At the beginning of THE SEACREST, Finn’s working at Libby’s family’s horse ranch, The Seacrest. He’s flat broke, tired, has no time for his art work, and his marriage to Cora seems a bit off . . . then he gets shocking news: his wife has been found dead, and his estranged brother Jaxson with her — the two being passengers in Jaxson’s car at the time it went over a cliff. Jaxson was drunk at the time, so their deaths are quickly ruled “death by misadventure.”
Finn, of course, is absolutely devastated. He and Cora weren’t really getting along, no, but she was his wife and he sincerely loved her, even though it wasn’t the passionate love he’d felt years earlier with Libby. And the circumstances of her death make no sense to him; as far as he knew, Cora and Jaxson didn’t even know each other, so what were they doing together?
Then, Finn finds out that despite being estranged from Jaxson, Finn is Jaxson’s sole heir — the rest of their family having died in a house fire years ago. (It’s because of that house fire that neither brother has spoken to one another for years, as Finn believes that Jaxson had something to do with it.) And Jaxson was extremely well-off due to a number of investments, to the point that Jaxson has restored the old family home (yes, the same one that had been damaged in the house fire) to its previous dimensions.
Finn debates a little, but decides he’s going to accept Jaxson’s inheritance. (This makes sense considering how angry Finn is with Jaxson, who was having an affair with Finn’s wife.) But because Libby and her family still need help at The Seacrest, he continues to help them while slowly adjusting to his new life — and his twin losses.
But that’s not all that’s going on here, as Libby’s soldier husband has been missing in action and presumed dead for three years in the Middle East for over three years. But “presumed dead” is not nearly the same thing as actually dead . . . so what happens after Libby’s husband shows back up again?
I’ll stop there with the plot summary, as I really don’t want to spoil your reading. (Granted, I’ve gone a bit further than most reviewers as it is.)
So there’s plenty here to keep you riveted, if you’re a romance reader. There’s Finn, a deeply honorable man who never, but never, cheated on his wife, finding out that his wife was not as faithful as he by a mile. There’s Libby, who’s been mistaken for years about Finn and Finn’s motivations, which is why she spurned him in the first place. And there’s all the stuff going on about their families — Libby’s is enormously wealthy, and that’s one reason Finn wasn’t immediately welcomed as a sixteen-year-old suitor, while Finn’s is deceased in the present day, but vitally alive in the many flashback chapters.
Speaking of that, the dual setup of “present day/past actions” works nicely in THE SEACREST, to the point that I didn’t skip any of the sections — not even once, which is quite rare in my experience as I usually am quite impatient with numerous flashback sequences.
You see, the reason I didn’t skip anything — and the reason I didn’t even want to skip over anything — is because of Aaron Paul Lazar’s effortless prose. I cared about Finn from the very first chapter, you see. I cared about him in the present, wounded heart and all . . . and I cared about him in the past when he was a virginal, lovestruck teen.
More to the point, there wasn’t a character here I wasn’t interested in reading about — not the odious Jaxson, nor the rather shallow and spoiled Cora, nor complex and tormented Libby, and not even Libby’s nasty husband, Ian. Because all of them worked in the context of this novel, and all of them held my interest.
That, my friends, is the power of a truly great romance writer. Which is what Aaron Paul Lazar is — this being his first-ever romance novel notwithstanding. (Mind, he’s written many, many other books, almost all of them mysteries of one description or other, which is one reason his characterization and plot are so assured.)
Now, as far as what I thought of the plot? It’s what you’d expect, really, of a good-to-better sensual contemporary romance. You have two lovers, Finn and Libby, who’ve been parted for far too long with reasons that don’t stand up under the weight of adult examination — and when they try to get back together, all sorts of adult obligations get in the way. But the power of love has the ability to conquer all obstacles if you let it . . . which means that if you give THE SEACREST time to work its magic, you’ll almost assuredly enjoy it as much as I did.
The only minor drawback is this — the ending wrapped up a little too quickly and a little too neatly for my liking. (Then again, romance readers want a HEA — happily ever after — and Lazar delivered, so that’s why it’s a minor issue.) I would’ve liked to see another ten pages to fully flesh out the last plot complication, and I definitely would’ve liked to see these two actually marrying. (Which really shouldn‘t be considered a spoiler — it’s how they get there that I tried hard not to spoil!)
Bottom line? THE SEACREST is a winning romance full of heart and soul. I enjoyed it immensely, and hope it won’t be Lazar’s last foray into the romance genre.
— reviewed by Barb