An unlikely match is made when a hard-to-crack firefighter and a whimsical cafe owner connect through mutual friends and family—a reminder that love is not just a personal matter, but a family affair.
Willow Dunaway, owner of a small-town health food cafe in Vermont, expects nothing but smooth sailing after returning from an extended stay in Florida. No longer haunted by memories of her past—a mother who abandoned her, an eating disorder—Willow is refreshed and carefree. That is, until Ethan Gallagher enters her life. During the studied introduction of Darling, Vermont, that opens the book—it sounds a bit like a pamphlet from a welcome center—Ethan and his two sons stumble onto the cafe’s stoop during a game of soccer. Ethan, overworked from a full-time job and single parenthood, immediately clashes with Willow, who has a more happy-go-lucky attitude. Although this story could have easily been told—badly—in the style of a Hallmark Channel original movie, the book has a surprisingly gritty voice in some places while tackling Willow’s dark past and painful memories. Still, it sometimes feels like Willow’s recurrent reflections on her past are less a plot device than a summary for readers new to Alward’s (Somebody Like You, 2017, etc.) Darling, Vermont series—information that could have been integrated more gracefully. Descriptions of Willow, a stereotypical enlightened hippie, are a bit too on-the-nose sometimes: “Bright July sunshine soaked through Willow Dunaway’s bamboo T-shirt as she took a bite of her veggie wrap.” It would perhaps, given her past, be more realistic for Willow’s character to be idealistic but careful.
A breezy romance that takes on some tough topics—with heart.