When I picked up this book, I was excited to return to Sweetwater Springs and learn about a new couple in the town. Annie Rains never fails to delight, and I knew from the summary that this book would capture my heart immediately. The two characters, moving from friends to lovers, with a fake relationship thrown in the mix - it never fails to make me laugh and keep me engaged from start to finish. Although the cover lends itself towards the bright and cheerful, there was definitely a good deal of sadness in this book as well. We have topics like cancer and drug addiction that are quire prevalent, with alcoholism being a big focus given that our hero is a recovering alcoholic. I was drawn to the realism of it all, how people move through life battling their personal demons, and each person must find their own path towards survival and healing.
Jack Hershey has loved Emma St. James since they were teenagers, until he ruined it all on the night of her senior prom. Despite that dark spot in their history, they have remained friends, and he frequently reminds her of his affection through visits to her cafe and little gifts of Hershey's kisses to cheer her up. Emma's heart always skips a beat when Jack is near, but she can't trust him enough to give him her heart again. Besides, she has more things to worry about, like the fact that she is now 30, the same age her mother was when she passed away from breast cancer. Feeling like the end is near, Emma is avoiding her wellness checkup, terrified that she will find out she is going to die soon too. After discovering her mother's unfinished Life List, a bucket list of sorts, Emma decides she's going to finish it for her mother. First step - organize a 5k. And with Jack needing Emma to play fake girlfriend for the summer, to make his sister believe he's happy and settled, she makes a deal with him. She'll be his fake girlfriend if he'll help her with her 5k. Soon they're thrown together, and undeniable sparks begin to fly.
I felt deeply for Emma, especially as breast cancer has come up in my family, and I can only imagine how devastating it would be to lose a parent to the disease. She has so many unresolved issues that this book was really a huge journey for her, and while Jack was on it with her, he was mostly there for emotional support. He had largely overcome his own demons, being sober for over a decade, and his only unfinished business was finding his way back into Emma's good graces. Even though her mother died many years ago, she had never forgiven her father for marrying her mother's hospice nurse just two years after her death (and really, I can completely understand her feelings). Her inner childhood trauma came out several times in the story, but that allowed for so much character growth as she realized she needed to forgive her father and stepmother. She also needed to recognize the good she could do in her mother's honor, through not only completing the Life List but recognizing her own health is all part of it. She and Jack fell back in love completely unexpectedly, but it felt natural. She needed him, and he had needed her for a very long time.
The next couple awaits, and I can't wait to dive in! I always leave Annie Rains' books with a smile on my face.
**I received a free copy via NetGalley and this is my honest review.**