REVIEW: The Marine by Cheryl Reavis
Newly widowed Grace James knows she’s at a crossroads. Raised by her aunt, she spent her life playing the role of the perpetual ‘good girl’–never rocking the boat, always fitting in. And where did that get her? She had an unhappy marriage, and now she’s singlehandedly raising two strong-willed teenaged daughters who have Trouble written all over them. Just once, Grace wished she had a different life. What would it feel like to be irresponsible, free . . . wild?
Then she meets two men who change everything.
Sergeant Josh Caven is a Marine, through and through. He’s also a single dad who’s going on deployment again–soon! He has to come up with a family care plan for his little girl, and he’s desperate. He tells himself that’s the only reason he shows up on Grace’s doorstep. Because maybe she could help–if she’s the mother who gave him up for adoption all those years ago . . .
Sergeant Joseph Kinlaw is also a Marine, though he’s retired now. But once a Marine, always a Marine. He put in his time overseas, and now he’s there for those that come home broken, mentally or physically. He’s a loner, his wounded warriors his only family. Until he meets Grace . . . and realizes she needs him as much as he needs her.
Dear Ms. Reavis,
I have a soft spot for your military stories and ones which feature older heroes and heroines. This one checked both boxes and added some long hidden secrets, family relationships, and three daughters who are not plot moppets.
Grace James doesn’t make waves. Orphaned as a child, she was taken in by an aunt and always felt the need to be especially good so there would be no danger (a worry that in reality was only in her mind) of going to foster care. As an adult, her marriage was happy but marred at the end by something and Grace never had the guts to confront her husband and ask “What?” Now a young Marine shows up on her doorstep claiming that she’s his mother. His … mother? Despite her denials, she knows he doesn’t believe her as he produced his (notarized by the state of North Carolina) birth certificate with her name on it.
Joshua Caven needs for Grace to be his mother if only for his own daughter. His marriage is over, he’s about to be redeployed, and he has to find someone he trusts (yes, he did do some investigation into Grace’s character) who might, if for only blood ties sake, actually care for Elizabeth while taking care of her. Grace is either the best liar he’s ever met or she’s telling the truth when she says she’s not his mother. But after he shows her the picture he thought was her, she realizes she might know who his mother really is.
Grace hadn’t counted on her daughters getting into the picture – one willfully and one reluctantly – but when Grace understands the position Josh is in, she calls a family meeting … which goes badly. It’s when she’s called by a friend of Josh’s to step in when he needs some backup that family opinion changes. He and Elizabeth move in with the James women who are soon caught up in his band of fellow Marines (both walking and walking wounded) which includes Joseph Kinlaw. Kinlaw takes care of the wounded and lost, too.
The Marine Corps doesn’t waste time and with Elizabeth’s custody squared away, Josh is soon on his way back to Afghanistan. But the events and familial tangles his search for his mother set in motion are getting even more complicated with old secrets being uncovered and old wounds being ripped apart.
There is a lot going on in this book. Yet despite the large number of characters, I felt each of them come alive as they stepped on the page. Some are more prominent than others but they were all described neatly and with care. The story starts gently, carefully and slowly builds. Layers are added and it felt as if events unfolded organically rather than being merely driven by the plot. There are messy emotions that are revealed but I didn’t feel manipulated as this was happening.
I’m not usually a fan of children in romance books as they tend to just be plot devices but here I was surrounded by three and I enjoyed them – fun, faults and all. Grace’s two daughters are in that stage of teen rebellion both with each other and against her. The problem of her marriage faltering affected them more than Grace realized and Allison’s plea for the truth at several points in the story rang true. Children do see and sense more than their parents might want and not being told what is going on only makes it worse. Some of Grace’s decisions, while understandable from her POV, hurt her family and this, in turn, made Grace a more well rounded character for me rather than the Goody-Two Shoes another character mocks her as being.
Josh’s relationship with his daughter is a joy to see. He’s trying his best, obviously loves Elizabeth (or Spike as he sometimes calls her), is attempting not to swear in her presence, and his buttoned down “Marine face” (as Grace calls it) usually hides his worries, though not always. I smiled through his interactions with Allison and Lisa and how he was mentally filing away emotions, sighs, and the facial expressions females aim at the males in their lives who are pissing them off. Elizabeth isn’t always going to be one year old and Josh knows she’s probably going to run him ragged in the future. A future he hopes he’ll have despite being in his third deployment.
One person Grace finds herself turning to and angry with at alternate times is former Marine Joseph Kinlaw who says it like it is and pulls no punches. But he’s also there for whoever needs him. Kinlaw is rock solid but remains more a mystery than the other characters. He’s also, in the words of another character, holding a torch for Grace. Their romance is quiet with riptides underneath that might either wash them safely ashore or pull them under. What happens in the book changes most everyone. People mature, face old problems, reassess what they thought, come to epiphanies, and finally vent some anger – in a few cases. Not everyone is always right, or wrong. But they feel real.
I would have graded this higher but for the fact that there are some issues unresolved which I hope will be addressed in the sequel. I also wanted to know more about Kinlaw. He tells Grace she can ask him questions but this never happens. When this book ends, things are in a good place and hopeful but not quite wrapped up. But this one drew me in, like walking along the shore in the shallow water that makes you want to go deeper, then finally dive in and ride the waves. B