REVIEW: Love, Naturally by Sophie Sullivan
Dear Sophie Sullivan,
Presley Ayers has been dating Emmett for months but things are not going well. In order to try and get things back on track and prove she can encourage him to do things he likes even if she doesn’t, she books a 10 day holiday to Get Lost Lodge on a small island in Lake Michigan. It’s all nature, hiking, fishing; things Emmett apparently likes (although Presley’s best friend Rylee notes she’s never see Emmett doing any of them) and which are not really in Presley’s wheelhouse. Her idea of sport is a long day battling other shoppers looking for a bargain in the Black Friday sales. But she’s a good girlfriend so she surprises him with the holiday he would want. And he does… except he doesn’t want to go on it with her. Emmett, as we can all tell very early on, is a jerk.
Presley breaks up with Emmett (go girl!) and goes on the holiday herself. She’s determined to try new things and have a great holiday without Emmett so there.
Presley works at a hotel in Great Falls, Michigan (which I think isn’t real and may be a stand-in for Grand Rapids but don’t quote me; I’m Australian) and has been trying to work her way up to Concierge. It seemed to me that she was doing all the work but not being compensated for it and her boss is a bit of a weasel – super demanding and severely lacking in appreciation for Presley. Presley also is something of a low-key (her description) social media influencer, with 50,000 followers on Instagram and a growing following on Tik Tok. Her specialty is helping people find luxury on a budget. She was able to get free airline tickets to the place she needed to get the ferry to the place she needed to get the boat to Get Lost Lodge. (Getting there was complicated.)
Beckett Keller is a Smile (the local town on the mainland) local (I’d guess Smile is not a real place either – when I Googled it it was a dental association). His brother, Greyson, recently divorced and in the settlement (due to, I expect, romance reasons) he ended up with the Get Lost Lodge. It’s run down and in need of quite a bit of TLC. As he had been working for his father-in-law, he’s basically got nothing but the lodge now so he’s determined to make a go of it. Beckett, together with their sister, Jill (and her 7-year-old, Olivia aka “Ollie”), are helping Grey with the lodge. The siblings have always been close and helping each other out is what they do. Beckett works in a sporting good store in Smile but is on vacation in order to help Grey as much as he can with the lodge. Beckett is also tossing up some further opportunities; his boss has offered him a role managing a second store. It includes a buy-in option but the downside would be he’d have to leave Smile and work further away from his family and friends. There’s something else Beckett is interested in though; he’s been keen to open a bike rental business in Smile. He’s been saving money and has applied for a business loan. The other option would be to give/loan Grey the money he’s put aside in order to assist Grey with the lodge and stay doing what he’s been doing. He’s torn and hasn’t said anything to the family because he wants to work out what he wants to do first. Also, he may be just a teensy bit scared of change but don’t tell Beckett I said that.
Presley and Beckett arrive at the lodge at the same time (although Beckett’s been there before of course). It’s Presley’s first time on a boat. She’s not a fan. Beckett notices her right away; she’s pretty and also obviously uncomfortable and scared but just as obviously trying not to show it.
The lodge is very much a family affair and the vibe there is welcoming and cosy, with all the Keller family bending over backwards to provide their guests with whatever they need. The main lodge has rooms and there are some cabins as well but they are in need of repair and so Grey and Beckett are using one each while they work on them and the others.
The AC is on the fritz in Presley’s room – it’s arctic in there – and all the other rooms in the lodge are either full or not ready for guests yet so Beckett offers up his cabin to her – he will sleep on the couch at Grey’s. Only, Presley is not an outdoors girl and she’s nervous being away from the main house so Beckett ends up sleeping on his own couch. I think we all see where this is going.
When I saw Love, Naturally on NetGalley I wondered if it might have the vibe of It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey; – someone wealthy and privileged, a bit (a lot) like Alexis Rose (Schitt’s Creek) is banished to a small town and falls in love with a bearded hottie who is a salt-of-the-earth grumpy type. (It’s one of my favourite books in recent years actually – super fun, charming and funny and my oh my the steam!). Love, Naturally is not very like It Happened One Summer in almost all the ways. Presley is not wealthy or privileged. Yes, she has little experience with the outdoors but this isn’t used for laughs. She tries fishing (she likes it), hiking (not a huge fan) and biking (better than hiking and fishing, not as good as bargain-hunting) while on her holiday and she never comes across as shallow. (Piper Bellinger – comes across as shallow; she is not.) Presley’s skills and experience are directly relevant to what’s needed at the Get Lost Lodge. She knows where to get hotel quality bedding at bargain prices, she knows about marketing and promotion, she has a following on Instagram and uses it to promote the lodge. She’s respectful about offering her expertise to the Kellers (who are grateful to receive it). Beckett is not grumpy. He’s friendly and open, a little shy even. When #HotMountainMan starts trending he’s embarrassed but not angry about it. The main similarity between the two books is the conflict – in both cases, the guy is certain the girl will not want to stay in their small town. That’s really about it.
I had initially tagged Love, Naturally “fish out of water” and I suppose the tag fits to a degree but really, Presley fits in so well at the lodge and in Smile and her own desires are are about belonging and family than bright lights and the big city so I didn’t really ever feel Presley didn’t belong or would be unhappy staying.
Perhaps because of a preconception about what the book might be like (and possibly wishful thinking, who can say) I was also expecting more steam. Love, Naturally is not steamy. There are some hot kisses but what happens after that stays off the page and is protected by a moat and portcullis. I read plenty and across the spectrum of steam levels. One of my favourite books from last year (I listened to it so it’s not in my top 10 here) was Hello Stranger by Katherine Center. Center writes a similar steam level to you and I barely noticed. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why I felt the lack of steam in this book but not others. I’m not sure I can articulate it but it just seemed to me like a book which should have had more heat and didn’t. I’m not sure if that makes sense.
Apart from Emmett, just about everybody in Love, Naturally is lovely – friendly, kind, generous and talented in one way or another. There is little by way of conflict. Presley fits in with the Kellers so well it’s not a surprise where things end up. Perhaps because of that and maybe that lack of heat, I found the book to be somewhat lacking in tension. I liked it but I didn’t find it compelling.
For readers looking for a low-conflict, fairly gentle story though it’s an enjoyably safe bet.