Thursday, July 19, 2012

Within Reach by Sarah Mayberry

Why I read it: I'm a fan of Sarah Mayberry and snatched it up when I saw it at NetGalley.  Release date: August 7 2012.

What it's about:  (from Goodreads) Being a single dad was never on Michael Young's agenda. Yet with the sudden loss of his wife, that's exactly the role he has. On his best days, he thinks he can handle it. On his worst… Luckily, family friend Angie Bartlett has his back, easily stepping in to help out.

Lately, though, something has changed.

Michael is noticing exactly how gorgeous Angie is, and how single she is. She's constantly in his thoughts and he feels an attraction he never expected. Does he dare disrupt the very good thing they have going? If they have a fling that goes nowhere, he stands to lose everything—including her. But if they make it work, he stands to gain everything!

What worked for me (and what didn't): The prologue begins showing Billie celebrating her 32nd birthday with her husband Michael and their 2 children (Eva and Charlie) and her BFF, Angie as well as various other family/friends.  The set up succinctly displays a happily married couple and two very close friends who are more like sisters.  When Billie dies of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect, both Allie and Michael (as well as the children of course) are devastated.  And actually, so was I.  I was only on page 17 and I was already crying.    Which tells me that in a few short words, I cared enough about the characters that their journey was going to be important to me.   So, with a sigh of relief and a box of tissues I settled in for a good read.

Angie is godmother to Michael and Billie's kids and had been Billie's close friend since they met at boarding school.  But there was never anything between Michael and Angie  - no unrequited lusting or jealousy, etc, which I was very glad about.  Their relationship had been based around Billie.  A relationship entirely familiar to me.
Michael may have been married to Billie for six years, and Angie may have seen him once a week on average during that time, but their friendship had always been grounded in their mutual connection with Billie. Not that Angie didn’t like him in his own right—she did, a lot—but in her mind he was Billie’s husband first and foremost, and then Michael.  Just as she suspected she was Billie’s friend first  to him, and then herself.
But around about a year after Billie's death, shortly after the book picks up in Chapter 1 Angie starts to notice Michael in new ways. 
He preceded her up the hall and her gaze traveled across his shoulders before dropping to his muscular backside. Billie had often waxed poetic about Michael’s body, but Angie had always made a point of not noticing— she didn’t want to know that kind of stuff. Now, as he stopped at the kitchen counter, she was forcibly reminded of the fact that he was a very attractive man. For a moment she didn’t quite know where to look.
and Michael starts to notice her too.
He had no business noticing her ass. She was Billie’s best friend. Better yet, she was his friend. The shape and size of her ass was utterly irrelevant. Certainly it was of no interest to him.
No interest whatsoever.
Even if it was a very fine, very firm-looking ass.
Both Michael and Angie resist their attraction, feeling it would be a betrayal of Billie.  Added to that, Angie knows how deeply Michael loves (present tense) Billie and believes (not unreasonably, in the circumstances) that Michael will remain emotionally unavailable to any other non-Billie woman.  After it becomes obvious that resistance is useless, they embark upon what both think is a "friends with benefits" type affair, believing (!) they will be able to go back to their previous good friendship when it's over.

After Angie realises that she has fallen in love with Michael, she breaks things off.  Of course, it is impossible for them to go back and that leads to the finale where Michael realises his love for her two and they plan to live HEA.

The to-ing and fro-ing of the "I find you irresistibly attractive and want to jump your bones" and "I can't feel this way, you're my best friend's husband/my wife's best friend" could have gotten tired (and I can see that for some that will be the case) but for me, it was written so well and believably that I was caught up in the pair's dilemma and it had me in tears well into the book.  Michael's journey in particular, as he wakes up from being almost completely numb for the first 10 or 11 months after Billie's death, how he comes to grips with desiring another woman (no matter who it is) and his feeling that he is betraying his wife was very moving.  Perhaps, because Billie had been a real character to me at the start of the book, I was able to sympathise with both characters and not think "oh, just get over it already.".  And maybe because of that same understanding of Billie, brief though it was, I never thought that she would disapprove of the pairing.  It wasn't icky - Billie had been gone for over a year before anything happened romantically between them.  In fact, I thought Billie would be delighted that the pair had found happiness together and that her children would be so well loved and cared for.

It wasn't all angst and tears though.  Ms. Mayberry has a lovely turn of phrase which made me chuckle and occasionally snort as I was reading. Like here for example, when Michael is being hit on by a member of the local mother's group
“That’s very kind of you,” Michael said.
It was, too—if only they weren’t both looking at him as though he was the last chopper out of Saigon.
There is also some hot (and sometimes tender) sex, including a blowjob scene where Angie tells Michael to "shut up and take it like a man" which made me laugh. 

The connection and affection between Michael and Angie was obvious, as was their mutual devotion and connection to the 2 children - who, thankfully were not plot moppets.  What concerned me (and perhaps I am just projecting here) is that it seemed to me that Angie thought of herself as the "consolation prize".  It was reiterated a number of times in the book that if Billie had been alive, neither Michael nor Angie would even have looked at each other with intent.  Michael would have happily stayed married to Billie for the rest of his life.  It struck me that would be hard to live up to as wife number 2.    Toward the end of the book, and to Michael's great appreciation, Angie makes it clear that she does not want to forget Billie and she knows Michael will always love her and she doesn't want the children to ever forget her (although Charlie was only 1 when she died so good luck with that) but it seemed to me that she was by her words consigning herself forever to second place.  I understood the sentiment - of course Billie should be remembered. Of course a part of Michael would always love Billie.  But what I wanted as a reader was some assurance that Michael didn't see Angie as the consolation prize and that he convinced (or at least intended to) Angie of it.  Now, I'm not a writer and I haven't given this hours of thought so it's not like I have any suggestions of how to do that, but I would dearly have liked it to be there.  Because as it was, I felt that eventually Angie would be crushed by it. 

That meant that the book had a bittersweet kind of ending for me.  I loved the couple together and believed in their love for each other.  I even thought that friends and family would probably accept them as a couple fairly easily*, but I worried for Angie that she would always feel second best and I thought she deserved better than that.

Now, the thing is, I spent some time last night (by the time I was about halfway through the book it was too late and I just had to go to sleep) worrying about it and when it wasn't even touched on really in the book in any overt way at least, my worries weren't assuaged and I didn't know how to process that.  But, there I was worrying about the characters. So, on the one hand, there was something that dissatisfied but on the other, the main reason for that dissatisfaction was that I felt so strongly about the characters in the first place.  So that's kind of a plus and a minus and it means that the grade is a high B rather than an A.

*Possibly because of word count restrictions, there weren't a lot of other people populating the book.  There was a vague mention of other friends of Angie's but basically none for Michael.  It seemed that he had been all but alone for that year since Billie did, except for Angie - and that kind of struck me as odd.  It also seemed a little unhealthy for Michael to rely so much on Angie and it would have been nice for there to be a slightly wider circle for Michael to depend upon for support (apart from the practical help he occasionally got from his neighbour).  It didn't detract in a major way from the book and like I say, I think there were reasons for it, but I did notice it when I thought about it later.

I did like how Angie's jewellery design business was integrated into the story - enough detail to feel realistic but not too much to intrude.  And, with Michael being an architect, it provided another point of compatibility for them as a couple.

My thoughts overall:  great book, a real tearjerker - can I have a Christmas short or follow up story where I can see how Angie and Michael deal with the "consolation prize" thing?

What else? Good Lord that's a boring cover.  Really, the book deserves much better.

Grade:  B+


Lori said...

Fantastic review, Kaetrin. I can see where your worry for Angie comes from. I imagine that's a real fear for anyone in the position of loving simeone whose spouse has died.

I cannot believe I am so behind on my Mayberry books. Must catch up, and now. She's an amazing author.

Kaetrin said...

Thx Lori :) I'm behind on my Mayberry's too actually, but I decided to read this one first anyway.

And yes, she is :)