by Dana Mentink
Series: Love By Design, Book 2, Harlequin Heartwarming
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Piper Brindle has spent her entire adult life trying to live down the stigma of her family’s checkered history. The one bright spot was Cy Franco, the talented California designer with the surfer-boy looks. She ended up only breaking his heart. Now an acting gig on the historic River King reunites her with the guy she pushed away. She knows she doesn’t deserve him, but how can she pretend she’s immune to Cy’s charms? As her past explodes into her present, Piper knows they can never have a future together. But with their irresistible chemistry drawing them even closer than before, how will she be able to walk away a second time?
The old riverboat rocked gently under Cy Franco’s feet, and he wished they were bare instead of pinched inside shoes so ridiculously shiny they dazzled the eye.
Oh no! It’s another Harlequin Romance Novel! No doubt about it, I did not at first expect that Sailing in Style would be my style. This was my second Harlequin novel. The first one I tried, Gone Missing earned a 2.5 rating from me, meaning it fell right in between the scale of me thinking it was just okay and sincerely liking it. It fell just barely short of earning a permanent spot on my bookshelf, as I only keep the 3-star books and above. I was expecting a similar result with Sailing in Style.
In all honesty, I was all too happy at the thought of not enjoying this book, simply because I’ve read so many great books back to back that deserve 4 and 5-star reviews lately that I don’t want people to think I’m just handing out good reviews like candy. I don’t want my readers to get the idea that I’m too easily impressed.
I found however that almost immediately after I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down. I stayed up well past my normal bedtime reading it and finished it in less than a day. I couldn’t bring myself to put it down. To finish a book in a day is a super rare occurrence for me these days with my schedule of chaos, but I was willing to sacrifice sleep for this one. Well, damn. Let me get out my candy jar because this one gets 5-stars.
I got a few pages into this and couldn’t help but burst out in laughter as the lead male character, Cy told his Aunt Bitsy, “You see? Marriage is better than any drug the doctor can prescribe.” I thought to myself, Wow! This is going to be one of those sickening romance novels that glorifies marriage as all one needs to be happy in life.
But I had already forgotten in that instant that on the first two pages, Cy had a much different sentiment towards weddings and marriages, due to the way his relationship with the female lead character, Piper ended. His cheesy and unrealistic quote was one of denial, a denial that clouded him coming to grips with the fact that his father was suffering from dementia.
So on one end, you have Cy, an overly optimistic guy who possesses the adorable innocence and warm heart of a teddy bear (though he is a bit thick-headed), which is almost unheard of in the real world that I know. His personality is, at any rate, my own ideal of the perfect guy— minus the flaw that goes with that personality type that I will mention next— so I had no problem attaching myself to his character. His biggest flaw is his optimism, which often blinds him to the darker sides of people and the harsh realities of life. He doesn’t like dealing with the bad that comes with the good, so he either avoids them or outright denies them. That character flaw is fitting to his personality, and one that irritates the crap out of me when I see it in real life.
On the other end, you have Piper, an aspiring actress with daddy abandonment issues who happens to have a thieving uncle as a father figure and a mother incarcerated on burglary charges. She isn’t as optimistic as Cy, but has a warm and well-intentioned heart. She has issues with a low sense of self-worth and feels that making it big as an actress is the only way she can prove herself and escape the stigma of her shady family. On a personal level, I related to Piper much more than I would have liked to, and I won’t say why, but there were instances where I felt like I was reading about myself, which at times I should have found creepy.
Piper is obsessed with pursuing her dream of making it to the big leagues of acting and Cy is following his dream of owning his own interior design business. Cy is a small town homebody while Piper has her eyes set on making it big in New York City. Two very different people, yet they fall in love and spend a short six months living in romantic bliss before things go sour and Piper breaks Cy’s heart, which brings us to the beginning of the novel— two ex-lovers who cross paths again a year or so and end up in situations that force them to put up with each other.
They both still have feelings for each other, but neither of them will admit it. The stubbornness, thick-headedness, and denial that plays into the chemistry that these two share is so cute and yet frustrating all at the same time. I enjoyed the fact that the author decided to go back and forth between their viewpoints, giving us an in-depth feel for the inner conflicts that both of them where going through, rather than making it one-sided.
I found a majority of the characters charming in their own unique ways and it was easy for me to get attached to most of them. Most of them had a solid backstory and the only characters that seemed to fall flat where the characters that were only meant to be in a scene or two, to begin with.
I loved this book in that it wasn’t all about Cy and Piper’s romantic feelings for each other. Call me crazy, but I tend to assume before I even pick up a romance novel that it’s going to be nothing else but the love, romance, seduction and lust elements— sort of like a porno is nothing but raunchy sex with a half-ass plot setup that sometimes throws in unbearable music.
Sailing in Style is not like that at all. There is more than enough plot to take in as each character is introduced and even an added bonus element of mystery and possible paranormal activity. It has everything that a story is supposed to have. Even in metaphor and symbolism, this book manages to take the craziest scenarios (i.e. a dog falling madly in love with a canary) and liken it to the bigger situation at hand. And it comes together so well and makes sense!
It’s a clean and wholesome romance. It’s innocent puppy love type, not the lustful seduction that most modern romances like to exploit. I love that! I love the innocence more than I can express! I never felt that I was exposed to that kind of romance back in my dating days, and novels like these allow me to experience what I missed out on— and sometimes I get really sad and bitter about it, but I was able to control that this time around.
One of Piper’s philosophies that becomes a reoccurring argument throughout the story is that “You can’t fix things once they’re broken.” this pops up again and again as Cy and his friends give all they have in bringing back to life the reception room of a riverboat, a boat that is so old and broken down that it’s unlikely it will ever set sail again. And the reader can’t help but think of that philosophy when Cy is trying so hard to “fix” his father’s dementia, or when Piper’s Uncle is accused of stealing from the guests on the riverboat because he was a thief in his past. Keeping Piper’s philosophy in mind, I believe Cy summed it all up so beautifully in the ending: “You said you can’t fix things once they’re broken. That’s true sometimes, but it doesn’t mean the broken things aren’t still good.”
The Ending (Spoiler Warning):
I normally try not to give away too much of the story, but I need to explain why I gave this 5 stars rather than just 4. The ending. The ending conveyed a message that brought tears to my eyes. Yes, Cy and Piper finally admit that they are still in love with each other and share a kiss and all that sappy stuff, but something happens that I did not see coming.
Piper is set to go to LA to start a new job the next day and work on continuing the pursuit of her dream. Now, you would think by romantic story default that the typical happy ending would entail Piper deciding not to go to LA after all once she and Cy share their little moment— just stay in that small little town with Cy the rest of her life, marry him and have a bunch of babies, living in Cy’s shadow— because her love for Cy is greater than any old dream, passion or sense of identity… right? WRONG! And that is why I typically HATE romance stories! And yes, it strikes a bitter chord with me on a personal level.
Call me a fem-nazi if you will, but while I believe that sacrifice and compromise is vital to a healthy relationship, I do not for one second believe that a person should give up everything about themselves to be up under their lover’s ass 24/7 and make them happy. That to me is not what love is supposed to be like at all. It’s foolishness and later down the road leads to nothing but regret and resentment.
Piper is still going to LA, because just like Cy, she still wants to pursue her dream, and though Cy is sad, he sees that she cannot throw away everything else that defines her just to stay with him and tells her that it will not change his love for her. She comes to a compromise that she will come back and visit as often as she can and consider him her home to come back to so that they can learn to work on building a future life together. He loved her enough to set her free to live her one given life to its fullest, knowing that she would always return to him. He didn’t need to keep her chained to him. If a couple cannot handle allowing that freedom and have the trust that they are exclusive despite the distance or time spent apart, then that isn’t love. It’s a co-dependency. What Cy and Piper accomplished, despite the fact that they had to rebuild their relationship, that is true selfless love, and it is something that sadly isn’t easy to find.
Funny how flinging an engagement ring into the ocean could take away his enthusiasm for all things matrimonial.
He needed to grow up and see the truth about life. It was hard. It was unfair. It was no place for innocents.
“It’s sad. All these memories, rotting away.”
Was that what memories did? Decayed and rumbled into nothing when there was no one left to bring them to the surface? Or no one willing to live through the pain of remembering?
“Your loved ones have done what they’ve done and they’ll do what they’ll do, and you’re not going to change that.”
“Then what do I do?”
Bitsy took hold of Piper’s free hand. “You love them and you live your life. Yours. The life you were meant to have.”
“All I want is to be judged by my present instead of my past.”
Piper was amazed at the gullibility of men. A little stroking and they’d believe anything.”
We don’t all get the happily-ever-after, Cy.
“You said you can’t fix things once they’re broken. That’s true sometimes, but it doesn’t mean the broken things aren’t still good.”
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars