Why I read it: One of my fellow reviewers at AudioGals recommended this one so I bought it.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) The top-selling, beloved indie author of Ten Tiny Breaths returns with a new romance about a young woman who loses her memory—and the man who knows that the only way to protect her is to stay away.
Left for dead in the fields of rural Oregon, a young woman defies all odds and survives—but she awakens with no idea who she is, or what happened to her. Refusing to answer to “Jane Doe” for another day, the woman renames herself “Water” for the tiny, hidden marking on her body—the only clue to her past. Taken in by old Ginny Fitzgerald, a crotchety but kind lady living on a nearby horse farm, Water slowly begins building a new life. But as she attempts to piece together the fleeting slivers of her memory, more questions emerge: Who is the next-door neighbor, quietly toiling under the hood of his Barracuda? Why won’t Ginny let him step foot on her property? And why does Water feel she recognizes him?
Twenty-four-year-old Jesse Welles doesn’t know how long it will be before Water gets her memory back. For her sake, Jesse hopes the answer is never. He knows that she’ll stay so much safer—and happier—that way. And that’s why, as hard as it is, he needs to keep his distance. Because getting too close could flood her with realities better left buried.
The trouble is, water always seems to find its way to the surface.
Warning: Ahoy! Thar be spoilers.
Trigger Warning: Domestic violence, rape.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I started this book but I didn’t think it was going to be an adultery book. I probably should have realised that. My bad. I’m not big on the adultery trope. I had mixed feelings about it here. Alexandria Petrova is married to Victor Petrova a Russian mob type 20 years her senior. While she married him willingly, I’m sure he did take advantage of her youth and circumstances (she was poor and only had her mother for family) in getting her consent to marriage. Victor is rich and he left her presents and dazzled her with the promise of plenty. I gather that the marriage wasn’t entirely awful at the start, but gradually Victor becomes more and more controlling and physically violent with her.
Jesse Welles is a mechanic and lives with his friend, Boone, a nephew of the owner of the autoshop where they both work. That uncle is associated with Victor, and Jesse meets Alex at a club one night. It turns out her had helped her out before when her car had a flat tyre. She had kissed him but they didn’t exchange names or numbers then. I thought the kiss was a bit odd at the time. I suppose it was a romance code that they were meant to be together or something but it didn’t feel like something a real person would do – or at least, if it was, there wasn’t enough in the story to make it feel real to me.
Victor wants Jesse to restore the engine of a vintage Aston Martin he owns and Jesse works out of Victor’s home garage where he has the opportunity for lots of conversation with Alex. While it is always clear that Victor is a jackass douchebag abuser who should be in jail, when Alex explains (the first time) why she feels she can’t leave Victor it isn’t because she’s scared of him (or, at least, she doesn’t say it’s because she’s scared of him). It’s because she has no money or resources and is scared of being poor. Now, I get that (well not completely because I’ve never been that poor) but I can see why a woman might stay in an unhappy marriage for financial reasons. But, it felt less of a compelling reason for her to sleep with Jesse. (I’ll come back to this*.)
If she had’ve said, “I can’t leave him, he’ll kill me” (something which was certainly plausible), I could have come at the adultery a little better – but then the author would possibly have struggled to make it appear that Alex wasn’t taking advantage of Jesse and trying to somehow manipulate him to help her. That wasn’t the story at all and I’m glad it didn’t go there. So, like I said: mixed feelings. Certainly, there was nothing in Victor’s behaviour that warranted any loyalty or fidelity (but plenty which warranted a long term jail cell).
*When Alex does decide she has to leave Victor, and she and Jesse make a plan to do so, she tells Jesse she has been saving the wads of cash Victor gives her and, if she is careful, she can live on that for at least two years. Which made me question her financial reason for her not leaving Victor before. If she wanted to leave and disappear, she had access to money to do so. So the financial reason doesn’t really hold up. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Alex was giving Jesse an excuse at the time and money wasn’t the reason at all – it’s just that I didn’t find evidence for that in the narrative. So those aspects jarred a little bit for me.
The story is told from alternating first person points of view. Jesse tells the “then” story which gradually catches up to the “now” story Alex (aka Water) tells. Because of the structure, it takes a long time to work out what actually happened. Some will appreciate this style more than I did. It’s not my favourite. That said, I basically guessed where it was going anyway so it wasn’t that frustrating.
It was the “then” story which was the most compelling for me and I enjoyed Josh Goodman’s narration better than Elizabeth Louise’s also. Mr. Goodman didn’t really do a female character voice. He softens his tone very subtly but basically there wasn’t much to differentiate the characters. I didn’t like this aspect of his narration but did enjoy all of the rest, including the pacing and delivery. Ms. Louise’s narration was okay but it didn’t wow me. Her male character voices weren’t terribly strong but I did like how she depicted Ginny Fitzgerald. Alex sounded extremely young and innocent – part of this was surely the text but I found myself occasionally feeling the coating of too much sugar in my throat as I listened. There were some aspects of the story and characterisation which were too saccharine and trite for me.
I can’t know of course but it felt to me like this was a book which was designed to manipulate my emotions. On general principles I tend to resist that. I want to feel emotions in my reading but I want that from caring about the characters rather than from the obvious workings of the authorial hand. There were terrible things which happened to Alex which felt a little underdeveloped and those places were probably where, for this listener at least, the real emotion of the story could have been found.
What else? In some ways this is a Cinderella story. Except that in this book, Cinderella is raped and disfigured and beaten to within a millimetre of her life by the villain and Prince Charming is not rich. But it does share a certain fairy tale quality and the ending was too perfect. I’m a girl who likes things tied up in neat bows at the end of a book but here it just felt so perfect as to be unrealistic.
I didn’t feel like I knew Jesse or Alex all that well by the end of the book and I’m not 100% sure that they knew each other very well either. Their “courtship” was conducted in secret and was very limited in terms of time and proximity. I wondered if they’d get sick of each other or find that they just didn’t like each other that much after a while.
I’m usually a complete sucker for a rescue trope but I wasn’t totally sold on this story. I did finish the book and I didn’t hate it. It was just okay for me.