REVIEW: At Last by Jill Shalvis
Dear Ms. Shalvis,
At Last is the fifth book you’ve written set in the small Washington State coastal town of Lucky Harbor. I’ve read all five and, as I began this one, I wondered if the charms of that happy hamlet might finally begin to pale for me. They did not. In fact, in At Last, Lucky Harbor is an extraordinary place to live—everyone there seems to have enough money to live safely, health care is available to all, and, even though there are only two places to go out to eat, the Love Shack bar and grill and the Eat Me diner, both are always full of droll, satisfied, convivial customers. There’s no racial tension (or, for that matter, real diversity), law enforcement is wonderfully tolerant of petty crimes, and everyone, whether they ask for it or not, becomes part of a caring, connected community.
Although At Last is the fifth book set in Lucky Harbor, it’s the second in a trilogy about three women—Mallory, Amy, and Grace, self-dubbed the Chocoholics—who bonded in the first book, Lucky in Love. Both At Last and Lucky in Love feature ex-military hunks with the bodies of gods and aversions to commitment. The hero of this book, Matt, might be the biggest catch on the planet—so much so that I had a bit of hard time believing he was single… or real. He’s gorgeous, generous, great in bed and, in every way, one of the good guys. Matt—or Ranger Hot Buns as he is known on Lucky Harbor’s infamous Facebook page—been lusting after Amy for six months, ever since the day she rolled into town.
Amy has rolled in and out of many towns since she ran away from home—escaping a lecherous step-father—when she was sixteen. She came to Lucky Harbor deliberately.
Nearly five decades ago now, her grandma had spent a summer in Lucky Harbor, the small Washington coastal town Amy could catch glimpses of from some of the switchbacks on the trail. Rose’s summer adventure had been Amy’s bedtime stories growing up, the only bright spot in an otherwise shitty childhood.
No w Amy was grown up— relatively speaking— and looking for what her grandma had claimed to find all those years ago— hope, peace, heart. It seemed silly and elusive, but the truth was sitting in her gut— Amy wanted those things, needed them so desperately it hurt.
Amy’s created a nice life for herself in Lucky Harbor. She’s a waitress at the Eat Me diner, has two true friends, lives in a tiny but safe apartment, and has plenty of time to pursue her true passion: drawing. She doesn’t have a man in her life, but that’s fine by her—her past experiences with that sex have left her skittish and uninterested in romantic or sexual entanglements. Uninterested, that is, in all men but Matt Bowers.
There was a sort of . . . crackling in the air between them, and it wasn’t a bird or insect or frigging elk call either.
It was sexual tension. It’d been a long time, a real long time, since she’d allowed herself to acknowledge such a thing, and it surprised the hell out of her. She knew men, all of them. She’d been there, done that, bought and returned the t-shirt. She knew that beneath a guy’s chosen veneer, whatever that may be— nice guy, funny guy, sexy guy, whatever— lay their true colors, just lying in wait.
But she’d been watching Matt for months now, and he was always . . . Matt. Amused, tense, tired, it didn’t seem to matter, he remained his cool, calm, even-keeled self. Nothing got to him. She had to admit, that confused her. He confused her.
Amy’s kept Matt at arm’s length and he, sure she’d shut him down and out if he made a move, has let her do so. But then, one day, Amy gets lost in Matt’s territory—she, using her grandmother’s fifty year old journal, is trying to retrace the journey her grandmother made all those years ago. As night closes in, Amy calls Mallory for help and Mallory calls Matt who is more than willing to go after Amy. The two end up spending the night together, eating beef jerky and marshmallows, talking about their pasts, and sharing one combustible kiss. That night changes things between them and slowly, slowly, Amy begins to let Matt into her life.
At Last is one of my favorite of Ms. Shalvis’s books. Like the vast majority of her work, the sex scenes are delicious; the banter, clever; and the secondary characters, engagingly diverting. This book, though, offers additional pleasures.
Amy is a compelling heroine. She’s kick-ass in a way that is true to herself. She’s learned not to depend on anyone and she, with the exception of the friendships she’s forged with Mallory and Grace, doesn’t. Amy is strong and works every day to be stronger and better. She pushes herself even when it feels risky to her. As she settles into life in Lucky Harbor, she realizes being on one’s own has, for her, made her more alone than she wants to be. She begins to reach out, not only to Matt, but to her mother—the two have been estranged since the step-father incident–, and to a young runaway named Riley. None of these relationships evolves smoothly or without pain; still, Amy keeps trying to deepen these connections.
The male friendships in this novel are so well done, they steal the show from the friendships of the Chocoholics. (Those relationships were showcased in Lucky in Love.) The camaraderie Matt and his two closest friends, Ty (Mallory’s man) and Josh, share is fabulously done. Their conversations seem ineluctably male and hilariously real. They do guy stuff together—Matt and Ty box, Matt and Josh rock climb—, and give each other constant crap. Their interactions are a blast to read.
The next day, Matt was hanging off the North Rim, forty feet above ground, holding onto the granite with only his fingers and toes.
Josh was at his right and a foot or so below him. It was a race to the top, with the loser buying dinner. Josh had bought the past four meals in a row, which he’d bitched about like a little girl, claiming that the finishes had been far too close to call.
Bullshit. Matt had won fair and square, though granted he’d only done so by an inch or two. But a win was a win.
“Move your ladylike fingers,” Josh groused when Matt reached out far to his right for a good finger-hold. “You’re in my way.”
Matt didn’t move. The sun was beating down on his back, and he felt sweat drip down the side of his jaw. “Hey, Josh?”
“Which ladylike finger am I holding up now?”
Josh took in Matt’s flipping him the bird and tsked. “Rude.”
“You want rude? I’m having everything on the menu at Eat Me tonight, on your dime.”
“Fuck you,” Josh said. “I’m not buying you everything on the menu.”
“Is that what you say to the ladies?”
“The ladies,” Josh said with a grunt as he pulled himself up another few feet, “can have anything they want.”
I also liked the story of Riley, the runaway teen. Her life, of course, mirrors that of Amy’s youth and both Matt and Amy are determined to save her. Riley, though, is routinely a pain in the ass and makes choices that put Amy at risk. I liked how flawed Riley is—she’s worlds away from the fake teens so often found as character props in contemporary romance.
And, although it is very sentimental, I loved Amy’s quest to trace her grandmother’s path. Her grandmother’s story is indisputably sad one and its resolution made me cry.
At Last is an effortlessly enjoyable contemporary romance. The romance between Amy and Matt is believable, sweet and very very sexy—it’s easy to see them having a healthy, happy future together. The extra storylines of Riley and Amy’s grandmother add depth to the tale. And, all those lucky enough to live in Lucky Harbor are still, even after five books, interesting and amusing.
I give it a B+.
I’ve never read Shalvis. Is this a good place to start?
As much as I love the “Lucky Harbor” series. I’d start with the “Animal Attraction” series. There are two books out in that series and they are both wonderful.
@Dabney: Great, thanks. Now to see if I’m allowed to buy them in the UK…
Huh. I thought I commented on this last night. I thought this was the best Lucky Harbor book in the series and that the oft used Shalvis conflict of commitment shy people falling in love. I did think that the runaway and grandmother story lines were too obvious. If this was an enhanced ebook, a bell would have rung every time the runaway entered stage left to declare symbolism ahoy.
@Jane: It might be the best book in the series. I like Tara’s story too.
I can see your point about overly obvious, but for some reason that didn’t bug me in this book. I guess it’s because Riley wasn’t all sweetness and light. As far as the grandmother line, like I said, I could see the sentimentality, but, again, it worked for me. I liked the cycle of grief and healing.
Just ordered today and have read the other 4 (I started with book 4).
Tho I enjoyed them all, so far The Sweetest Thing (Tara’s book) was my fave.