In the Clear by Tamara Morgan

In The ClearWhy I read it:  I received a review copy from the author via NetGalley.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Fletcher Owens is full of secrets.

Few people know he spends his nights volunteering for a Search and Rescue team, saving lives while risking his own. Even fewer know he’s in love with his best friend’s sister. And since he’s not willing to give up their friendship for a chance at something more, that’s exactly how things will stay.

Lexie Sinclair has nothing to hide.

The zany daughter, the wacky sister, the quirky fundraiser for a children’s charity — Lexie couldn’t hide her true self even if she wanted to. So when her brother’s best friend is revealed to be a local hero, she’s determined to stand up and prove she’s ready to be more than just friends.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  This novella was a lot of fun. It is also a good example of self publishing done well.  The cover looks professional, the formatting and editing was good – tick, tick, tick.

Lexie Sinclair is a vivacious, enthusiastic young woman who is also a bit of a klutz. Her twin brother Sean makes fun of her pretty much all the time and even though she’s accomplished in her job (as a fund-raiser for a children’s charity), he’s not alone in doing so.  Lexie is treated by most everyone as someone whose heart is in the right place but who screws up all the time.  While it’s sort of true, it’s also unfair.  She has landed in a role which is perfect for her. She can charm and manipulate money out of rich people like nobody’s business and her friendliness is genuine, which makes the wallet-loosening easier to bear.

Fletcher Owens is Sean’s best friend and has been part of Lexie’s life since they were children. He is a dear friend and she’s a little jealous that Sean seems to get most of his attention.  Fletcher sees Lexie in a different way to her brother and her co-workers.  He doesn’t see her as a screw-up in need of a keeper.  He’s in love with her but he’s too afraid that doing anything about it will mean he won’t even have her as friend, so he says nothing.

Fletcher is an interesting romance hero.  He’s a used car salesman (and he’s not smarmy) for one thing.  He’s also often afraid.  Much of his life is lived within a rigid order because of that fear and confessing his feelings to Lexie is not the only thing he has denied himself out of it.  He is an honourable and loyal man and the kind of quiet hero who gets things done and doesn’t ask for or expect any accolades for doing so.  He has been working as a volunteer for Spokane Search and Rescue for six years and keeping this side of himself hidden because… well, I thought his reasons were more to serve the plot actually, but I was prepared to go with it because the writing was so much fun.

When Fletcher is “outed” by a reporter and when Lexie asks him to be her plus one for the annual Christmas charity luncheon, Fletcher and Lexie begin to connect in a different way.  Fletcher is called out on a rescue and Lexie tags along.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Lexie finds out how Fletcher feels and, given that it’s a romance with a happy ending, we know that Lexie loves him too.  I did think her realisation of her feelings was a little abrupt.  There were some parts of the story from Fletcher’s POV where Lexie starts to speak about her feelings, Fletcher interrupts her and interprets what she’s started to say in negative ways.  I wasn’t 100% sure what Lexie was going to say and I was kind of curious about that.  It may say something about my nature but I wanted to know! (I also wanted to know what Mr. Barnes was going to donate).  Fletcher is a great guy – the kind of keeper a real life woman would want in many cases – this is an alphahole free zone.  It wasn’t a wonder that Lexie would love him but her path to getting to that realisation was a little murky for me.

I can’t quite believe I’m saying this but the sex at the end of the story was almost unnecessary.  Maybe it’s just that it was right at the end that it felt a little out of sync for me.  But it couldn’t have happened any earlier as it wouldn’t have made sense in the story.  I was just a titch disappointed that there was no condomage – I get that it was all sudden and sexy but… unsafe is not great IMO.

Sean annoyed me – I think I was supposed to see a more balanced relationship between he and Lexie and to see a lot of his comments as fondly teasing.  But he came across to me as overly critical and sometimes downright mean.  The glimpse we had of Lexie’s parents near the end of the book made me think that they might have realised that Lexie and Fletcher belonged together much earlier than the pair in question, but I may have been over-reading.

Lexie was a hoot.  And the breezy style of the writing, particularly when the story was being told from Lexie’s POV was very entertaining. I chuckled quite a few times throughout the tale.

“I’m going to tell you something, but you have to promise not to freak out.”
Lexie looked up from her bowl of cereal and scowled at her brother. “I don’t freak out.”
“You do. Whenever you hear about something exciting, you squeal and hop and make all sorts of noises that shouldn’t exist before ten o’clock in the morning.”

The narration from Lexie’s perspective softened the screwball nature of many of her antics and made them funny and kind of charming rather than stinging rebukes.

Had she asked him out and not realized it? She’d done that once before, to a gorgeously handsome man and the gorgeously beautiful wife standing next to him. The outcome had not been so gorgeous.

I liked Lexie a lot.  As a more hero-centric reader, I particularly notice when a heroine takes centre stage for me.  And, as much as I liked Fletcher too, I think Lexie was the real star here.   They do make a great couple.  Lexie will loosen Fletcher up a little and cheer him on and Fletcher will ground Lexie in all the good ways while being not at all intimidated by her vivacity and enthusiasm for life.

“Does everyone get a nickname?” Lexie asked. “What’s yours, Fletcher?”
“We call him Cucumber,” Lisa said, casting a quick look over her shoulder.
“You do?” Lexie’s eyes grew wide, and she couldn’t help peeking at Fletcher to see if it was true. Quietly bringing up the rear, never more than a foot behind her, his mouth was set in a firm line. And, Lord help her, she might have snuck a look at his groin. It wasn’t like she could see anything through his snowpants, but what other part of a man resembled a long, crisp treat?
“As in cool as a,” Lisa added with a laugh.
Oh. That made sense, too.

What else? Even though I liked Lexie best in the story, I think it was Fletcher who had the largest character growth.  In the course of the novella, he released “the Beast” (yes, in that way too) – he began to fight for what he wanted and not to be scared of failing or of loss.  I could relate to a lot of what Fletcher was thinking actually.  It’s not quite a story of opposites attracting.  Lexie can be impulsive but as she says, that doesn’t equal thoughtlessness.  And Lexie is not unkind in it or even terribly selfish.  Fletcher sees Lexie – something she has longed for and she already knows what a wonderful friend he is.  I like friends to lovers stories – I married a man who was first my best friend so I can relate to that also.

I’ll definitely be watching out for more from this author.  I enjoyed the humour and the style. In the Clear was a lot of fun.

Grade: B+



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