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REVIEW: Forever and a Day by Jill Shalvis

Dear Ms. Shalvis:

I think the first book of yours that I read was Instant Attraction, and I remember being so taken by the smart, capable heroine, the realistic relationship issues in the romance, and the interesting Sierra Nevada setting. It was small town Romance that didn’t read kitschy or cutesy to me, and I loved it. Over the years I have continued to read your single-title small town Romances, hoping for another shot of that “instant” magic. In that time, your books have become more of a comfort read than anything else, because I can count on a certain range of quirky, smart, often commitment phobic heroines, paired with hunky, popular, emotionally damaged heroes. The Lucky Harbor books – both series – are no exception. I have not hated any of these books, and most fall into the B-range. Forever And a Day is probably my least favorite, though, in part because I’m getting slightly bored with the expected, but mostly because I experienced too much dissonance between the light tone and the serious issues packed into the story.

Forever and a Day by Jill ShalvisGrace Brooks ended up in Lucky Harbor more or less by accident, having driven from New York to Seattle for a job interview, and from Seattle to Lucky Harbor on the only gas she could afford, with no job and a completely depleted savings. Her New York finance job had gone up in smoke with the economy, her engagement to a doctor her parents loved broke when he expected her to move to England for six years without asking her first, and instead of disappointing the high expectations of her adoptive parents, she had been trying to find her way alone. Once in Lucky Harbor, of course, she strikes up an immediate friendship with Mallory Quinn and Amy Michaels, all of whom make a chocolate and storm-fueled pact to step out of their comfort zones.  For Grace, that means learning how to be happy, instead of just seeking security and the approval of her parents. The problem is, she has much more experience with the latter than the former, and she doesn’t know how to go about achieving something that can’t be attained with a CPA and an outstanding resume.

Josh Scott doesn’t have any time to think about happiness. Besides working as a doctor at the local hospital and volunteering for Mallory’s community clinic, Josh continues to run his father’s medical practice, serves as guardian to his paralyzed and pissed off younger sister, Anna, and has full custody of his five-year-old son, Toby, whose mother left when Toby was still an infant. Soon after Toby was born, Josh and Anna’s parents were killed in a car accident, which has yielded five-plus years of 24/7 overwork and no play. And just recently, Anna gave Toby a pug puppy, Tank, who chews on everything, runs away any chance he gets, and is wholly unappreciative of the sacrifices Josh makes to his family and Lucky Harbor as a whole.

Both Josh and Grace are desperate. So when Josh accidentally calls Grace’s cell phone, believing he is calling a local dog walker, Grace accepts the job offer, figuring it can’t be too hard to walk a puppy. Had that walk occurred without incident, it is unlikely that Grace and Josh would ever actually meet, and while their meeting was hardly a stress-free meet-cute, it certainly establishes the attraction, and the initial pattern of their interaction, as Josh inexplicably gives Grace another chance to permanently lose walk Tank. Well, there is an explanation, one that relies on Josh’s desperation and Grace’s beauteous charms, which, in Lucky Harbor, seems to be enough to get you a house key, room and board (in a guesthouse), and an insanely overgenerous pile of cash.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little here, but not by much. In fact, it’s not too long before Josh has entrusted not only the puppy he doesn’t much care for to Grace, but also the son he very much loves and whose various nannies have quit and disappeared:

“I’m sorry, Josh,” she said with real regret. “But I think my replacement should be two nannies. And maybe an enforcer.”

Josh called Anna next. She didn’t pick up. Shock. He pictured Toby waiting at school with no one there and his stomach cramped. He sped up while mentally thumbing through the contacts on his phone, slowing at Grace’s name.

Stopping.

Moving on.

Backing up.

Don’t do it, man. She was smart as hell but she was also a really, really bad dog walker. No way should he burden her with his kid too. Except she’d already handled Toby yesterday for an hour, and everyone had lived to tell the tale.

She’d come through for him, twice now. Which really begged the question—exactly who was helping who here?

The truth was, she’d already proven more reliable than half the people in his life. And damn if there wasn’t something in her eyes that pulled him in like the tide, something extremely unforgettable. He knew she was a little lost, searching for something. He had no idea what but he wanted to help. Which was a very bad idea. He needed another person on his plate like he needed a hole in his head, but he couldn’t turn back now. He was drawn to her.

The problems with the novel really start here. Josh has a twenty-one year old paralyzed sister who appears to have no life plan and a really bad attitude, as well as a son who years for the mother who will never return and who spends much of the book barking like a dog to his father instead of speaking. To say that his life is complicated is an understatement. But it’s more than that; the people who depend on him have issues, and he does not have time to address them. And in the midst of all that chaos, he hires a woman he barely knows, in part (large part, I feel) because he’s so attracted to her. So not only is he handing his family over to a woman he barely knows, he’s also doing that instead of simplifying his own life so he could attend to the people who need him the most. The set up is just so problematic for me that I’m on edge before Josh and Grace’s relationship really gets going.

Unfortunately, once it does get going, the conflict between the whole ‘search for happiness’ subtext and the neglect I feel Anna and Toby are getting from Josh’s life choices is just too powerful. In fact, at one point Grace even scolds Josh for not being there for Toby when he lost his tooth. And yet Grace’s appeal to Josh is part of the reason for Josh’s lack of attention, even as she has taken on some of Josh’s responsibilities as father and brother, becoming a mother and sister figure for Toby and Anna. It’s a dynamic that works only as long as you view Josh as selfless, instead of as selfish. Which, for me, meant ignoring a great deal of the book.

For example, the night Josh makes a critical decision, he comes home from his medical practice and finds Grace in the pool. Soon they are enmeshed on a lounge chair, Anna likely on a date with her no-good boyfriend, and Toby at a sleepover. Hot and heavy on the chair, Grace and Josh are interrupted by Anna, who rolls her wheelchair outside to inform Josh that Toby had been “demon-dialing [him] for half an hour.” It’s not only a reminder to Josh and Grace that there are other people who depend on them, but it’s a reminder to the reader, as well, and one that I found much more important than the relationship between Josh and Grace.

However, the set up of the book intertwines the two in such a way as to make Grace’s transition into the family seem natural and inevitable. Which, while perhaps satisfying some Romance devices, was troubling for me, because she so often substitutes for Josh, and I just cannot see her as pre-destined mommy/sister without viewing the difficulties as unrealistic. Because if I am supposed to treat them as realistic, I am going to be worried about much more than Josh and Grace’s interrupted poolside sex; I’m going to worry about the fact that Toby has had a revolving door of nannies before age six; that nanny number whatever (Grace) is getting involved with his father, that Anna’s anger over her paralysis and the loss of her parents is not being addressed, and that her boyfriend, who Josh believes is only after the settlement money Anna soon has coming to her, is a jerk who wants to take Anna’s virginity, whether she’s ready or not. None of these things makes me comfortable with the relationship between Grace and Josh, even though (and perhaps especially because) the relationship also seems to drive all these things. Consequently, I am left believing that Toby is going to be one screwed-up adult, that Anna is going to need years of therapy, and that Josh and Grace have ultimately placed their own needs above those of others, which is, I’m quite sure, the exact opposite of what I’m supposed to get from the novel.

Taking a minute to look back at the three-book series, I think the second book, At Last, is my favorite of the series (a solid B), because the one relatively serious subplot involving a runaway girl is used as a mirror for the heroine, not completely intertwined in Amy’s romantic journey. It’s a relatively obvious mirror, but still one that doesn’t interfere with the romantic trajectory of Amy and Matt’s relationship. The first book, Lucky In Love keeps most of the drama between the hero and heroine, and while the book felt a little clichéd, with the good-girl heroine and the wounded alpha male hero, the writing was competent and the formula worked for me (B-). Forever and A Day is also competently written, and it has some of the fun girl-humor I enjoy in Shalvis’s books, but I felt that the central conflict in the book (responsibility v. happiness) was just too serious for its handling, belittling the very problems the book relies on to facilitate the love match. So despite the enjoyable moments, it’s ultimately a C- read for me.

~ Janet

 

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isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

18 Comments

  1. Janine
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 12:40:54

    I haven’t read this author before, and your intro makes me want to give Instant Attraction a try. But I think the problems you describe would bother me as well if I were to read this book. It sounds like Josh’s whole family (including Josh himself) needed therapy which makes me wonder if Grace ends up being thrown into the problem solver/therapist role? I can think of books that have done that and I know it’s a fantasy that works for some — and may have even worked for me at some times in the past — but much of the time it falls flat for me because I feel professional help, nor romance, is needed.

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  2. Dabney
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 12:56:53

    This was my least favorite in the series as well. Grace never made much sense to me and I too worried about her instant insertion into Josh’s troubled family. Additionally, I was amazed at the amount of money Josh was throwing at Grace. It almost made her care for his family a little sleazy.

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  3. Joanne
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 13:15:13

    Yeah, this was my least favorite of the series too. It felt sort of thrown together just to bring the series to a conclusion so I heartily agree with your rating.

    I will say that I only found Jill Shalvis after one of her books was a $1 or $2 ‘deal’ at Amazon and I bought all of her books.

    For lazy, no angst, easy summer reading the whole group worked well for me and I’ll be keeping her in mind when I want another effortless read.

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  4. Robin/Janet
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 13:20:51

    @Janine: I am generally okay if I feel the match is a good one, even if it’s not a life I would even remotely want for myself. However, in this case I felt like the match was part of the problem, precisely because they should have needed much more than a young woman who figures out what everyone needs and provides it.

    @Dabney: Not to mention the fact that he was throwing that money at her with, like NO screening. I get the fantasy world vibe of Lucky Harbor, but it still made Josh seem desperate and lazy rather than blessed by Lucky Harbor’s good luck. ;D

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  5. Robin/Janet
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 13:22:27

    @Joanne: I think I enjoyed the first three books in the Lucky Harbor series more, overall, but my favorites are still the Instant books.

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  6. Brie
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 13:22:45

    I agree with all you said. I thought that Josh needed to get his priorities straight because he was neglecting and hurting his family. I understand that letting go of his father’s practice was a huge deal, but his family should come first and his inability to see and accept it was distracting and annoying. In theory it was an interesting conflict, but I don’t think it was handled right.

    Book 2 was also my favorite (of the new trilogy), but I think after six books this series is losing steam and I wonder if it’s time to move on.

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  7. Dabney
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 13:35:33

    I am still excited about book three in the Animal Magnetism series. Adam’s story comes out in November!

    And I just saw on her website she’s not done with Lucky Harbor. She has two more books planned; the next is Mia’s story which will be released in December.

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  8. MrsJoseph
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 13:58:45

    I had a rather big issue with Instant Attraction. I was bored out of my mind. I think you’ve let me know that Jill Shavis isn’t for me.

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  9. Robin/Janet
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 14:13:44

    @Brie: Why couldn’t she have had Josh make that decision earlier on and then come back into his family and tried to get a handle on things? I think that would have created an even more interesting conflict, because he would have been the absentee father/brother who is now trying to reclaim a position he never really had. The way it was set up, though, kept me totally focused on how badly he was letting everyone down. And the scene where Grace gives it to him for not being home when Toby lost a tooth felt so ironic, given the fact that she was facilitating his absence.

    @Dabney: Which reminds me, I had similar problems with Animal Attraction. Jade had supposedly serious issues with being attacked, but she and Dell use his self-defense training as foreplay of sorts. It always felt squicky rather than sexy to me. I realize that just because a male character assumes position of “hero,” doesn’t mean I am willing to trust from from page 1.

    @MrsJoseph: Well, then some of her other books might work for you. She has definitely moved into the realm of kooky, quirky, romantic comedy, IMO, and I really like some aspects of that (and some of the books), but when it comes to dealing with serious issues, I find it doesn’t always work for me. IMO the Instant books are much more earnest and not so much of the quirky rom-com.

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  10. Dabney
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 15:04:40

    @Robin/Janet: I can see that. I think for me there was enough of Dell’s viewpoint that I did trust him.

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  11. Robin/Janet
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 17:00:37

    @Dabney: But IMO a guy who was supposed to be that tuned into her trauma shouldn’t even have been playing that little game with her. And she should have been a little more freaked, IMO, given the level of her PTSD as it later plays out. It just seemed like a belittling of the very thing that’s driving the seriousness of her story, similar to what I had issues with in FAAD. And it frustrated me especially in Jade’s story, because I liked her so much and was reaaaallly looking forward to her book. I also had issues in that book with the way Dell’s Native American ancestry was portrayed, which probably didn’t help.

    I’m at a point with Shalvis’s books where I think they just need to stick the lighter rom com elements, or they need to be pushed to another level where they tackle those more serious issues without being undermined by the lighter (often cliched) elements. One book I did like that had a more serious side was Chloe’s book (Head Over Heels); I thought Shalvis did a great job of integrating Chloe’s asthma into the romantic relationship and never felt it was trivialized or used as a gimmick.

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  12. Kaetrin
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 22:45:29

    Yes, there were definitely problems with this one. I agree with you about Josh but funnily enough my first take away from the book was that I was all “where does Grace get off telling him how to run his family/raise his child?”. I guess it is at least in part because I’m a hero-centric reader so I tend to cut them some more slack. Grace had no experience with pets, children or siblings so I found it difficult to see how she could be the “expert” here. Even though she was mostly right in her advice and Josh was being a pretty ordinary dad.

    Josh put his family last for 5 years but seems to have been treated like the town hero for it (“struggling single dad”). Toby seemed really well adjusted to me, despite the 5 years of (emotional) neglect. Even when Josh started putting things right he really annoyed me. After he finally frees up some time, the first thing he does is agree to a regular basketball game with some friends. Argh!

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  13. Robin/Janet
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 23:15:20

    @Kaetrin: I agree with you about Grace not being an expert but more of an upstart, but I blame Josh for putting her in that position, more than I blame Grace for trying to deal with it all. That she turns out to be okay seemed to confirm more than a few stereotypes, too, making the whole thing kind of a hot mess for me. I even had mixed feelings about the fact that she was being pushed into being a town accountant rather than taking a more ambitious, corporate job. NOT that I think the career is the right choice for every heroine (and we know Grace is always trying to please her parents, rather than herself), but I still felt like Grace was being horned in to a stereotypical heroine role, rather than really and truly figuring herself out.

    Also agree with you re. the town’s adoration of Josh, which may be another reason I wasn’t willing to cut him as much slack. Kind of irritated me that someone didn’t step in earlier and say, ‘hey, pal what the hell are you doing?,’ since Lucky Harbor had no shortage of people who were happy to butt into anyone else’s personal business, lol.

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  14. HellyBelly
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 05:41:37

    I have been on the fence with this one, I liked the first three books in the Lucky Harbour series well enough – the second one being my favourite, but I have not felt that the books about these three chocolate loving friends (the references to chocolate gets a bit too much) have been quite up to par.

    I agree with @Joanne that Shalvis’s books are perfect for lazy summer reading, but Instant Attraction is a DNF for me – I just could not deal with the whiny attitude of the male protagonist.

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  15. Jane Lovering
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 07:15:38

    Re the “struggling single Dad” thing. Would Lucky Harbour have cut him so much slack about his parenting if he’d been a single mum? Or would the townsfolk have berated him for how much time he spent away from his son? Sorry, but there seems to be so many ‘double standards’ around single parenting.

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  16. Kaetrin
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 19:59:11

    @Jane Lovering: My impression was no, if he’d have been female, I think it would have been different.

    On the other hand, what I did like about this aspect of the story was that even guys “can’t have it all”. Usually that’s a female storyline.

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  17. Jane
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 20:24:10

    @Jane Lovering – Agreed. josh gets a pass for being a man but he is selfish and myopic. He thought throwing money at something absolved himself of the guilt he should feel at failing his family.

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  18. Robin/Janet
    Aug 15, 2012 @ 00:02:54

    @HellyBelly: I liked the premise of the three sisters in the initial Lucky Harbor trilogy, and I think the relationships among those three women were stronger and more complex, which for me added another layer of interest to the books. With this series, I had almost no sense of who Grace was until this book, and then she still seemed to be more of a means to an end than a fully developed character.

    @Jane Lovering: I agree with @Kaetrin that it was interesting to see a father who had to make the decision of family v. career, but I also agree with you that the town would not have lionized a single mother in the same way. Also, I think the fact that he was a doctor made a difference, too, not so much as a class issue, but in terms of the handsome rescuer fantasy. Although the fact that he had money probably made a difference, too.

    @Jane: I thought it was bizarre that Mallory never called Josh out for that, especially since she seemed so concerned about how he had treated Grace.

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