by Stef Ann Holm, contemporary (2009)
HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77403-6
All That You Are is a pleasant no-nonsense contemporary romance that is an endangered species nowadays - it's a small town romance that is all about the romance with nary a bomb, secret agent, serial killer, or secret baby in sight. While the story is pretty familiar if you have read enough small town romances, the whole thing comes together very nicely.
Mark Moretti is burned out at 40. His father passed away recently, and now our hero is forced to evaluate his life. All his life he had striven to please his father, and now, he realizes that he may not want to continue down the path he has set for himself - to become a corporate suit in his family's multi-million dollar construction business. So he takes off to Alaska to fish and discover himself. I tell you, we should all be so lucky as to be burned out like Mark.
In Ketchikan, our good-natured Boise hero meets Danalee Jackson, a single mother who owns the local jazz bar, the Blue Note. Danalee has the obligatory money problems, naturally. With the economic downturn and the need to make some repairs that she can't afford, Danalee walks around with a perpetual frown on her face until the carpenter millionaire from Idaho drops by into her life and fixes it up.
I have no idea what Mark sees in Danalee, honestly, apart from his attraction to her "exotic" half-Chinese features and great body. Danalee is so uptight, she doesn't have anything nice to say to him even after he's done a lot of things to help her. Sure, her relationship with the father of her son didn't work out, but he's helping her raise the kid and doing a good job at it. Her staff members adore her and I'm pretty sure they'd keep working out of loyalty even if she can't pay them because they're that kind of secondary characters. Her mother is on good terms with her, her son isn't a rebellious tyke, and men keep asking Danalee out. But instead of realizing that she is actually in a quite comfortable place where her life is concerned, she spends the whole book frowning, acting like her beauty is a curse, insisting that she can't let Mark come close to her because she'll never have a one night stand, trying to micromanage her five-year old boy's life to the nth degree, and, oh yes, not even enjoying an ice-cream. Danalee is such a determined killjoy.
Still, Mark is persistent enough to linger around and wear down her defenses. And that's where Ms Holm works her magic trick. I find Danalee's determination to be a killjoy rather contrived and silly, but when Mark eventually gets to her, she and Mark have some pretty decent chemistry going. Meanwhile, the secondary characters do their thing, the kid is surprisingly adorable and cute, and love at the end of the day is just beautiful.
By the way, the scenery in this book is fantastic. The author clearly loves the whole place, because she has taken the pains to create such lovely panoramic landscapes here that I find myself wanting to visit Ketchikan myself. Burger Queen sounds like a great place to dine!
There is nothing unexpected here, but reading this book is like wearing a pair of warm and comfortable woolen socks in the cold. All That You Are is almost quaint in how unabashedly old school it is. Uncomplicated by unnecessary explosions and dead bodies, this one has the magic, the old-school blues, and, of course, the romance.
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