Dr. Hayden Lushcombe is a dedicated pediatrician, a loving (albeit preoccupied) husband, and he certainly knows how to handle his wood! For…woodworking…that is. Sorry, was that not clear?
What’s it About?
Hayden Luschcombe is a brilliant paediatrician living in Adelaide with his wife Bernadette, an ambitious event planner. His life consists of soul-wrenching days at the hospital and tedious evenings attending the lavish parties organized by Bernadette. When an act of betrayal coincides with a traumatic confrontation, Hayden flees Adelaide, his life in ruins. His destination is Walhalla, nestled in Australia’s southern mountains, where he finds his childhood home falling apart. With nothing to return to, he stays, and begins to pick up the pieces of his life by fixing up the house his parents left behind.
A chance encounter with a precocious and deaf young girl introduces Hayden to Isabelle Sampi, a struggling artisan baker. While single-handedly raising her daughter, and trying to resurrect a bakery, Isabelle has no time for matters of the heart. Yet the presence of the handsome doctor challenges her resolve. Likewise, Hayden, protective of his own fractured heart, finds something in Isabelle that awakens dormant feelings of his own. As their attraction grows, and the past threatens their chance at happiness, both Hayden and Isabelle will have to confront long-buried truths if they are ever to embrace a future.
For the first few chapters, it was kind of hard to connect with the story as we witness the disintegration of a marriage. It makes it difficult to want to pick it up and read when you know the inevitable split is just around the corner! In the end though, it was definitely a necessary introduction, as all of the seemingly inconspicuous details of the beginning come back full circle in the end. The story truly comes alive though once Hayden travels to his childhood country home in Walhalla. It might be a small town, but it’s brimming with personality and memories from Hayden’s past, both good and tragic. It’s the one place he can escape to, and ultimately he is re-enveloped in its charm.
While the town of Walhalla was charming, it’s residents were a pure delight. This is one of those small towns where everybody knows everybody, which also means that it doesn’t take long before they all know Hayden’s business. But rather than sit back and judge, or gossip away in the shadows (which can be common of small town novels), instead we see an incredibly supportive group of townsfolk. I wouldn’t necessarily say they pity him, but rather they are saddened that something traumatic has impacted one of their own. Especially considering they all know about the sad fate which befell his parents, whom they all knew and loved.
Mothers and Fathers
Apart from the romantic aspect of the novel, we see that parental relationships are another key feature of the story. Hayden had always been close with his mother, but when he couldn’t make it home in time to say goodbye before she died of cancer, it ultimately strained his relationship with his father. Just three years later his father died of a broken heart. Hayden has been able to push aside the tragic details of his parent’s deaths by hiding away in Adelaide with his wife. However, upon his return to Walhalla he discovers he must inevitably confront the past, and try to remedy his relationship with his father even though he’s passed away. It’s a sad, yet touching exploration of the last few years between a father and son. Hayden doesn’t come to the eventual realization on his own though that his father loved him until the end. Isabelle and the other townsfolk help him realize it as well.
The other unique parental interactions we’re presented with in this book revolve around Isabelle and her daughter Genevieve. Whenever we have a romance where one of the lead characters has a kid, I get slightly nervous since the tendency is often to push them to the background. What I loved about this read though was that Genevieve was incorporated perfectly front and center. She’s an adorably curious child who manages to stay upbeat in spite of being deaf. Her mother was her savior, as they escaped from an abusive situation with Isabelle’s husband. They fled to the small town of Walhalla where they were greeted with open arms by the townsfolk who have become their family. When Hayden rolls into town he is wary at first of the headstrong lass playing with stuffed bears in his tool shed, but he eventually takes her under his wing. The fact his own mother was deaf means he is well versed in Auslan, and doesn’t shy away from actually speaking with Genevieve. In a way he becomes a pseudo father figure, which draws him and Isabelle together even more.
What’s clearly evident in this read is that every detail serves a purpose to the story, and we’re presented with an extremely well thought-out sequence of events. We start with the end of a marriage, then see Hayden become reacquainted with his home town, followed by a romance with Isabelle, a suspenseful encounter with her ex-husband Mitchell, and finally the drama with his wife comes back full circle. There’s a little bit of everything! When the shady characters of Isabelle and Hayden’s pasts come to town, we question if these outside forces will succeed in breaking apart this new family we’ve come to love.
I will say the culmination of events at the end was slightly predictable, but I appreciated that the suspense was drawn out over a few intense chapters rather than having a quick, two-page glimpse of drama at the end. What’s truly commendable though is that we once again see this community rally together to safeguard one of their own. Rather than it feeling contrived or cheesy, their instinct to protect felt completely natural. As an adult I’ve always striven to live in a big city with a lot of people, but this was definitely the idyllic representation of a small town I’d love to live in!
*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*
Series: A fantastic stand-alone!
Final Impression: The novel had a bit of a rocky start as Hayden’s relationship with his wife Bernadette slowly dissolved before ending in a fiery crash and burn situation. Once he escapes to his hometown though this is when the novel truly comes alive and becomes something special. It’s a great read, with a perfect combination of romance, suspense, and starting life over after hitting rock bottom. We see this for both Hayden and Isabelle, and what makes them such strong and lovable characters was their ability to bounce back and rise up in the face of adversity. They’re admirable individuals, but as a family unit with Isabelle’s daughter, Genevieve, they are unbreakable. A great beach read for sure once you push through the somewhat depressing start.
Smut Level: The great thing about a supportive small town? Babysitters at the ready who are willing to keep Genevieve over for a sleepover so that Hayden and Isabelle can have some more intimate time together. Nothing too graphic, but we do get the delectable detail of Isabelle drawing Hayden’s boxers down with her toe. That’s talent right there.
Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $6.99 Kindle Price. Central Avenue Publishing. 384 Pages.