Audiobook Review: This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith

Title: This Close to Okay
Author: Leesa Cross-Smith
Narrators: Kamali Minter, Zeno Robinson
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: February 2, 2021
Print length: 311 pages
Audiobook length: 9 hours, 46 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

From the award-winning Southern writer who Roxane Gay calls “a consummate storyteller” comes a cathartic novel about the life-changing weekend shared between two strangers: a therapist and the man she prevents from ending his life.

On a rainy October night in Kentucky, recently divorced therapist Tallie Clark is on her way home from work when she spots a man precariously standing on the side of a bridge. Without a second thought, Tallie pulls over and jumps out of the car into the pouring rain. She convinces the man to join her for a cup of coffee, and he eventually agrees to come back to her house, where he finally shares his name: Emmett.

Over the course of the emotionally charged weekend that follows, Tallie makes it her mission to provide a safe space for Emmett, though she hesitates to confess that this is also her day job. But what she doesn’t realize is that he’s not the only one who needs healing — and she’s not the only one with secrets.

Alternating between Tallie and Emmett’s perspectives as they inch closer to the truth of what brought Emmett to the bridge’s edge — as well as the hard truths Tallie has been grappling with in her own life — This Close to Okay is a vibrant, powerful story of two strangers brought together by wild chance at the moment they needed each other most.

In this moving, surprising, dual-narrator novel, we meet two damaged souls who find solace and hope through their accidental meeting.

When Tallie sees a man poised to jump off a bridge, she immediately tries to intervene, gently using her words and music to encourage him back from the brink, then continuing to provide companionship and support in the hours and days that follow. She doesn’t approach Emmett as a therapist, although she is one — instead, she offers caring and compassion, as well as shelter and a safe space.

Over the course of their time together, each slowly opens up to the other, but at their own pace, and keeping secrets even while sharing hopes, fears, and past hurts. They each also cross boundaries, aware of infringing on the other’s privacy but somehow justifying this through good intentions.

The book shifts point-of-view between Tallie and Emmett, and through their alternating chapters, we learn about the events in their lives that brought them both to this particular moment. Each has been through hurts and suffering, and while Tallie shares the pain of her husband’s betrayal and subsequent divorce, Emmett keeps his past largely to himself, hiding the source of his desperation and suicidal impulses, and even hiding his true identity.

The beauty of This Close to Okay is in getting to know these complex characters and seeing how the different struggles in their lives have contributed to where they are as the story opens. It’s lovely to see their interactions and how they each affect the other in deep and meaningful ways. The story is not action-packed — it’s really about the characters and how they connect, and that’s probably why it resonates on such an emotional level.

Sure, there are some elements that I could quibble with. Tallie takes a huge risk by bringing Emmett into her life and into her home, and it’s hard to believe that a modern woman in this day and age would potentially compromise her own safety in such a dramatic way. Yes, Emmett is trustworthy and respectful and safe, but she really couldn’t have known that up front, could she? Likewise, I have a bone to pick with Tallie’s decision to not share with Emmett that she’s a therapist. She knows that her professional obligation toward an official client would be to refer him for treatment and report an attempted suicide, but she rationalizes that Emmett is not her client as part of her decision to just spend time with him and offer him a place to rest and regroup. She has compassionate impulses, and since this is a novel, it all works out, but looking in from the outside, this feels like a very risky and unprofessional path to take.

The audiobook made for a great listening experience. I appreciated the expressiveness of the two narrators and how they voiced the characters and the more interior moments. I did struggle a bit with the male narrator’s lower vocal register, which made it hard for me to catch all the words clearly, but that may be more about my own hearing than the actual narration!

Overall, I did love This Close to Okay. Despite my disagreement with some of the plot points, I was completely caught up in the story, and felt my heart break over and over again as more is revealed about Emmett’s painful past. I will say as well that I was pleasantly surprised that this book does not fall into the common romantic tropes that pop up so often in contemporary fiction. The characters’ development and well-being is the point, and the plot supports this very well without making romantic entanglement the dominant focus.

Side note: I always love when fictional characters are revealed to share some of my geeky loves… so when Tallie pulls her copy of Prisoner of Azkaban off the shelf to read to Emmett, I just about swooned!

This Close to Okay is a moving story about two sympathetic people, and I truly enjoyed getting to know each of them. By the end, I felt very invested in their lives, and loved how beautifully the author conveyed their journeys.

Highly recommended!

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Book Review: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

 

The author of The Wedding Date serves up a novel about what happens when a public proposal doesn’t turn into a happy ending, thanks to a woman who knows exactly how to make one on her own…

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn’t come as a surprise–or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part–they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans…

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He’s even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik’s social media blows up–in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can’t be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes…

Ah, another fluffy romance that worked perfectly for me! What a fun read.

In The Proposal, Nik and Carlos meet and connect on what could be the worst day of her life. Their easy banter makes them want to keep in touch, and occasional texts and quick bites to eat turn quickly into terrific sexual chemistry and a natural, enjoyable friendship. Or is it more? (Yes. It’s more.)

Both have baggage in their lives. Both think they’re just looking for casual hook-ups with someone they like spending time with. Neither is willing to even entertain the idea of a relationship or emotional involvement… but emotional involvement sneaks in anyway, and throws them both for a loop.

As in the author’s previous book, The Wedding Date, the cast of characters in The Proposal is nicely diverse, and features strong friendships that give a well-rounded sense of balance to the story. It’s not just about two hot people meeting and having hot sex (although that happens) — it’s about two adults, both professional, who’ve been through some tough times, take their family and friends seriously, and think deeply about what they do and what they want.

The Proposal is quite a romp, with great dynamics between Nik and Carlos, plus lots of fun details like cupcakes, home-made enchiladas, a trip to a bookstore, and an amazing women’s gym with a terrific self-defense program. (If it existed in real life within driving distance of my house, I’d be there in a heartbeat!)

This really was a great choice for me this week, providing a much needed break from some heavier reads. I read it all in one day, which gives you some idea of how engaging the story is and how smoothy it just flows. This isn’t exactly a deep or serious read, but it does make some great points about women in relationships and the importance of having a circle of supportive friends. Nik and Carlos are both the kind of people who just sound great to be around, so it was a very cheery and upbeat experience reading a book that’s basically all about the two of them figuring out for themselves that they’re right for one another, long after everyone else in their lives knows it. If you enjoy contemporary romance, check it out!

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The details:

Title: The Proposal
Author: Jasmine Guillory
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: October 30, 2018
Length: 327 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction/romance
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: Next Year, For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

next-year-for-sure

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

In this moving and enormously entertaining debut novel, longtime romantic partners Kathryn and Chris experiment with an open relationship and reconsider everything they thought they knew about love.

After nine years together, Kathryn and Chris have the sort of relationship most would envy. They speak in the shorthand they have invented, complete one another’s sentences, and help each other through every daily and existential dilemma. But, as content as they are together, an enduring loneliness continues to haunt the dark corners of their relationship. When Chris tells Kathryn about his feelings for Emily, a vivacious young woman he sees often at the Laundromat, Kathryn encourages her boyfriend to pursue this other woman—certain that her bond with Chris is strong enough to weather a little side dalliance.

Next Year, For Sure tracks the tumultuous, revelatory, and often very funny year that follows. When Chris’s romance with Emily evolves beyond what anyone anticipated, both Chris and Kathryn are invited into Emily’s communal home, where Kathryn will discover new possibilities of her own. In the confusions, passions, and upheavals of their new lives, both Kathryn and Chris are forced to reconsider their past and what they thought they knew about love.

Offering a luminous portrait of a relationship from two perspectives, Zoey Leigh Peterson has written an empathic, beautiful, and tremendously honest novel about a great love pushed to the edge. Deeply poignant and hugely entertaining, Next Year, For Sure shows us what lies at the mysterious heart of relationships, and what true openness and transformation require.

My Thoughts:

Interesting. One of the blurbs for this book mentions polyamory, and I’m not sure I’d have described the relationships in this book using quite that term… but for lack of anything better, sure, why not? If anything, I’d say it’s about how relationships don’t have to follow the one-on-one traditional format, and how different people may need different things at different times in their lives.

Chris and Kathryn, at the outset, seem to have a perfect relationship, utterly secure and utterly devoted. And if they seem a little light on passion, well, it’s been nine years, and they have such a deep soul-to-soul connection that the sex part seems not such a big deal. There’s a loneliness in their lives, though — their best friends and next door neighbors have moved away, and Chris and Kathryn as a unit of two and only two seem a bit insular and cut off from the rest of the world.

They also share every single thought and feeling they have, including their random crushes on other people. This time, though, Kathryn encourages Chris to actually do something about it. Maybe she’s hoping that he will just work it out of his system, but instead, his connection with Emily deepens from a crush to love, and Kathryn has to figure out a response. (And we know this story will go down some unexpected paths when, for example, Emily invites Kathryn to come to dinner along with Chris and Emily on their first date).

The three navigate their unusual relationship, with plenty of ups and downs. For Kathryn, it’s an introduction into a life that includes more people, more challenges, more ways of interacting with the world. For Chris, it’s a constant tug-of-war between wanting a safe, stay-at-home life with the woman (or women) he loves, versus needing to be “on” in order to keep up with Emily’s boundless energy and even Kathryn’s newer need for interaction with others.

We alternate between Chris and Kathryn’s points of view over the course of the year when their lives and relationship changes for good. While it’s hard for me to relate to Kathryn’s attitudes at time, as she both encourages and resents Chris’s growing involvement with Emily, I did ultimately come to understand why their new lives made sense for these two people. (I was also surprisingly charmed by the love and friendship that develops between Emily and Kathryn.)

The writing in Next Year, For Sure is fresh, insightful, and often funny, and I zipped through this book in about a day and a half. It might be flashier to say that this is a book about polyamory, but what I really think is at the heart of it all is a story of lonely people finding connection and belonging. I didn’t always understand the characters’ actions and feelings, but I enjoyed reading about them and considering their motivations, experiences, and outcomes.

Next Year, For Sure is certainly an unusual book with an unusual view of relationships, but I quite enjoyed reading it.

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The details:

Title: Next Year, For Sure
Author: Zoey Leigh Peterson
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: March 7, 2017
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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