About Close to You (from the back cover): A disgraced scholar running from her past and an entrepreneur chasing his future find themselves thrown together—and fall in love—on a Tolkien tour of New Zealand.
Allison Shire (yes, like where the Hobbits live) is a disgraced academic who is done with love. Her belief in “happily ever after” ended the day she discovered her husband was still married to a wife she knew nothing about. She finally finds a use for her English degree by guiding tours through the famous sites featured in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. By living life on the road and traveling New Zealand as a luxury tour guide, Allison manages to outrun the pain of her past she can’t face.
Jackson Gregory was on the cusp of making it big. Then suddenly his girlfriend left him—for his biggest business competitor—and took his most guarded commercial secrets with her. To make matters worse, the Iowa farm that has been in his family for generations is facing foreclosure. Determined to save his parents from financial ruin, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince his wealthy great-uncle to invest in his next scheme, which means accompanying him to the bottom of the world to spend three weeks pretending to be a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, even though he knows nothing about the stories. The one thing that stands between him and his goal is a know-it-all tour guide who can’t stand him and pegged him as a fake the moment he walked off the plane.
When Allison leads the group through the famous sites of the Tolkien movies, she and Jackson start to see each other differently, and as they keep getting thrown together on the tour, they find themselves drawn to each other. Neither expected to fall in love again, but can they find a way beyond their regrets to take a chance on the one thing they’re not looking for?
On a scale from Allison to Jackson of my knowledge on all things Tolkien, I’m far closer to Jackson.
Translation: Tolkien + Megan = I know there was a ring and some big, hairy feet involved…
However, my lack of familiarity never stopped my desire to read Kara Isaac’s debut. Close to You seemed to be something different, very intriguing, and the fact that the cover was eye catching helped some too. And since I’m still smiling over the growth of the characters, I think it’s safe to say: I REALLY LIKED THIS BOOK.
And since I’m still smiling over the growth of the characters, I think it’s safe to say: I REALLY LIKED THIS BOOK.
If you ever need a Tolkien for dummies guidebook, just pick up this story. Never once did I feel lost in a Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings reference. Because one, Jackson had to learn right along with me, and two, because Ms. Isaac wrote in such a way for me to catch on and yet not overburden those who actually knew what an Uruk-hai was. But I must warn you. You may want to read in the safety of your home, unless of course you are prepared to laugh out loud in public. Seriously. Kara Isaac did romantic comedy correctly. You have been warned.
But I must warn you. You may want to read in the safety of your home, unless of course you are prepared to laugh out loud in public. Seriously. Kara Isaac did romantic comedy correctly. You have been warned.
Both of Allie and Jackson’s pasts were things that I haven’t seen a lot of, especially Allie’s situation. And it worked! The romance built well based on chemistry and a love/hate type relationship. They seemed to bring out the best in one another, making the pairing realistic, humorous, and cheer worthy. Supporting characters held engaging and distinctive characteristics that added depth to the couple’s storyline.
Close to You + Readers = “My Precious”
The spiritual thread may have been lighter in the beginning, but grew to something solid and meaningful by the end, not just something thrown in randomly to be able to slap an inspirational label on the story. (Quote from Close to You: “You can’t mess up God’s plan. He’s a whole lot bigger than that.”)
Even though I didn’t totally understand the need for the time gap near the end. I mean, sure, I could wrap my head around it from the plot point of view, and it made for a more theatrical ending, but since that’s my only complaint…then there’s really nothing to complain about. Especially when the happily-ever-after has so (sooo!) many sigh worthy words in there that I wanted to quote for you pretty much the whole entire last chapter…and I’d imagine that would be frowned upon. So instead, I highly suggest you read Close to You for yourself, so we can discuss all the awesomeness after. 🙂
Close to You + Readers = “My Precious”
The Hobbit is my grandfather’s favourite book of all time, but in spite of my many attempts to read it over the years, I’m not such a big fan. My failed efforts to appreciate Tolkein’s writing almost caused me to miss out on watching the films, although my husband thankfully insisted that I watch them last year. I’m glad I finally gave them a shot as the story was amazing, even if I’m not usually a fantasy lover. I’m not about to go out and learn Elvish or even read the original books (that might sound like heresy from someone who runs a book review website, but have you seen the length of my to-read list?), but I did get totally wrapped up in the adventure and wonderful depiction of friendship and bravery in the movies. That’s about the only requirement you need in order to enjoy Close to You. This is not a niche novel for die-hard fans. As long as you have a vague understanding of Lord of the Rings, and a love for great romantic stories, you’re good to go.
I did not expect to fall head over heels in love with this novel. First and most obviously, I’m not obsessed with all things Tolkein. Second, smarmy businessmen don’t usually do it for me in romance novels—I’m far more of a Beta hero kind of girl. While this book sounded like a quirky, fun read, it didn’t immediately look like my ideal match, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Close to You far exceeded my expectations! From the moment that Allie called Jackson out for his poor coffee taste and ordered him a flat white (my drink of choice—why hasn’t it become more popular in the US? You guys are missing out!) I knew that I was going to like this book. I love contemporary romances, but even I will admit that sometimes the plots feel a little recycled, especially in the Christian market. Kara Isaac’s voice is a wonderfully refreshing addition to the genre, and while the trope of the rich guy whose girlfriend ran off with his money/business ideas has been done before, having the heroine dressed as a Hobbit tour guide for most of the novel definitely mixed things up a little.
From the moment that Allie called Jackson out for his poor coffee taste and ordered him a flat white, I knew that I was going to like this book.
I will fully admit that Jackson did not impress me to begin with, which fits perfectly given that Allie is equally underwhelmed by him. I probably warmed up to Jackson at exactly the same rate that Allie did, which is definitely the sign of a well-written romance novel. Normally I fall for the hero much earlier than the heroine, and spend chapters wishing she’d change her tune, but Jackson was perfectly flawed enough that he annoyed me for just as long as he did Allie. While Jackson initially appears to be a smug, manipulative man who only cares about his business enterprises, it gradually becomes apparent that he has deeper motivations that explain his somewhat ethically dubious actions. By the end of the book I really hurt for Jackson, and empathised with his desire to help his family, and the regrets about his past that weighed upon him. He ended up being a wonderfully well-rounded hero that I could root for.
By the end of the book I really hurt for Jackson, and empathised with his desire to help his family, and the regrets about his past that weighed upon him.
Allie has a lot more baggage than Jackson, but in spite of this, I felt like she was a much stronger character than Jackson, at least initially. I admire any woman who can feel confident while wearing Hobbit feet, especially if she can manage a crew of demanding Tolkein fans for three weeks. Allie’s job is about as stressful as her relationship baggage, and I was a fan of her as soon as she shot down Jackson’s taste in coffee. While she initially amused me, she quickly felt like a close friend, and I genuinely hurt for her as she dealt with the drama surrounding her marriage to Derek and her feelings towards Jackson. The situation with Derek isn’t one I’ve previously come across in a romance novel, but I felt like it was dealt with delicately and realistically. I did get a bit fed up with Allie’s martyrish behaviour towards the end of the novel, but that situation worked out believably, and didn’t drag on too long.
I had a few ideas about how Jackson and Allie’s personal conflicts would resolve themselves, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong on all accounts. As nice as it is when a hero or heroine can solve each other’s problems, it’s actually even more refreshing when they can figure things out on their own, while still managing to make things work out between them. Neither Allie or Jackson needed the other to rescue them, but their time spent together did help them to come to some great realisations about their own personal issues. The conclusion to the novel had the perfect balance of self-actualization for both of the characters, and a wonderfully swoon-worthy declaration of love.
As nice as it is when a hero or heroine can solve each other’s problems, it’s actually even more refreshing when they can figure things out on their own, while still managing to make things work out between them.
There are so many others things I loved about this novel—the wisdom that Jackson’s uncle bestows upon both of the protagonists, the ridiculous antics of the other members of the tour group, the way that the author gently weaves Tolkein facts throughout the story without overwhelming the reader, Allie’s best friend Kat who doesn’t shy away from telling Allie exactly how she feels, Jackson’s awkward attempts to convince everyone that he’s really a giant Tolkein fan, the gently woven but terribly authentic spiritual thread—but I would definitely go over my word limit. I’ll admit, I usually go over my word limit, but this time I would really be pushing it. So I’ll just tell you that if anything about this book intrigues you in the slightest, you should probably read it. It’s an honest, refreshing romance between two incredibly flawed, broken people, and I simply loved it. I hope you do too.