Wednesday, 1 July 2020

#CBR12 Books 29-31: The "Chance of a Lifetime" trilogy by Kate Clayborn

A group of three close-knit friends buy a lottery ticket together one night and end up winning a considerable amount of money. Not enough to never have to worry about money again, but certainly enough that they can fulfill some life-long dreams and still live comfortably afterwards.

Beginner's Luck
Page count: 246 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Ekaterina "Kit" Averin is if possible the least risk-averse person there is. She's very happy working as a research assistant at a university, co-writing the occasional article and generally happily hiding her technical brilliance in order not to attract undue notice. She doesn't want fame, she wants stability. When she and her friends win the lottery, she buys herself a house, her first proper home. The house needs a lot of work, which she can thankfully also afford. She isn't expecting the person to help her out the most is also the person who's trying to tempt her away from her safe, comfortable university job.

Ben Tucker is back in his hometown because his father had a bad accident on his salvage yard and needs some help until he recovers from the injuries. Rather than take over the family business, Ben has moved out of state and works as tech industry recruiters for Beaumont Materials. He agrees to try to smooth-talk one K. Averin into joining his company but is surprised to discover that the brilliant tech mind is a beautiful woman, and one who is completely unimpressed with Ben's tempting offers and handsome face. Ben's bosses really want Kit recruited, however, and keep badgering him to persuade her. Initially, he's determined to succeed, but as he gets to know her, since she's a frequent visitor to his father's salvage yard, trying to find pieces to help her refurbish her house, he realises that he may be willing to sacrifice his own career dreams rather than persuade Kit into a job she's not interested in.

Kit's dad was an addict and from she was fairly little, Kit was basically raised by her older brother Alex, as the family moved to a new place every year or so. She's never known safety and stability until she herself became an adult. She's very uncomfortable being in the spotlight and remains a research assistant at the university despite having more knowledge and experience than many of the grad students she helps. She keeps co-writing scientific articles with her mentor, who is getting increasingly more insistent that her name should be the main one featured since it's her work that's being written about and lauded. It's thanks to some of those articles that Ben is sent by Beaumont Materials in Texas to recruit her. Taking the job would mean a lot more money, both for Kit and her mentor at the university (they're willing to pay a lot to sweeten the deal). Nevertheless, moving to yet another new place, away from her dream house and her best friends is a terrifying and unthinkable prospect for Kit.

Ben grew up in the little town that Kit has fallen for and wants to live in permanently. He had quite the reputation as a wild child and didn't like the negative attention he was attracting, so moved away as soon as he was able. He clearly loves his dad, and worries about the hard work of running the salvage yard. There's also some guilt there for not leaving his dad with anyone to take over the family business. So when his dad gets injured, he arranges for leave from his recruiter job to go home and take care of his father. Meeting and fairly quickly falling for Kit Averin is obviously not part of his plans. He does seem to find any excuse to help her around her fixer-upper of a house, though, and tries not to think too much about how his and her dreams about the future seem to be mutually exclusive.

As well as Kit and Ben, we get to know the supporting characters of  Zoe and Greer, Kit's best friends (and fellow lottery winners). There's also Ben's dad, and the surly teenager he hires to help out around the yard after the kid tries to vandalise some stuff (without much success). Finally, there's Alex, Kit's older brother, who travels the world as a photographer. Having spent much of his childhood and adolescence basically raising his younger sister, Alex now seems allergic to staying in one place for too long. One of the subplots of the book is the disagreement they have when she wants to share her lottery winnings with him and he flatly refuses to even consider it.

Despite Kit and Ben's seemingly incompatible visions of the future, this was a cozy and comfortable romance without too much drama. Kit's childhood was clearly utterly awful, so the found family she created in her friends and the security she looked for made perfect sense to me.

Luck of the Draw
Page count: 300 pages
Rating: 4 stars

When she unexpectedly won the lottery along with her two best friends, cutthroat corporate attorney Zoe Ferris quits her job, having long been uncomfortable with the sort of things she has to spend her days doing. Of the three women, Zoe is by far the one most comfortable financially, and despite her grand promises to herself about travelling the world or making a distance, Zoe doesn't really do a lot once she quits her job. Eventually, she realises that the only way she's ever going to feel better about herself is if she makes amends for a lot of the bad behaviour she exibited in her past life as a high-powered lawyer. She makes a "guilt jar" with the names of everyone she feels she's wronged in some way, and determines to try to apologise and make peace with each and every person whose name is on the little slips of paper, from her harried former personal assistant, to the barista she frequently yelled at and so forth.

The slip of paper she draws out first is that of the O'Leary family, however. A family Zoe dreads facing because of the horrible way her company handled the case of their son's wrongful death. She remembers both the wife and husband crying at the negotiation table. She goes to see them, only to discover that they've moved to Florida, and their remaining son, Aiden O'Leary is living in their house. He's not interested in her apology, but since she's so hell-bent on doing anything to gain some measure of forgiveness, he asks her to pose as his fake fiancee over the next couple of months instead. Aidan wants to buy the campground he and his brother used to spend their summers at and turn it into a rehab retreat in his dead brother's memory. Yet the couple who still own and run it are very conservative and all the other potential purchasers are married couples with solid families. As a single man, Aidan's certain he won't stand a chance. So he gets Zoe to agree to help him. Of course, he wasn't expecting to fall for the beautiful, intelligent woman who he was determined never to forgive.

Luck of the Draw has a bit of an enemies to lovers feel, as Aiden is certainly very antagonistic towards Zoe, to begin with. Initially, the couple only spends time together on the weekends they're going up to the campground where they pretend to be a couple and listen to the various other buyers' pitches for the future of the property. Once Zoe has decided to be a fake fiancee, she's certainly going to be the best and most supportive one she can be. While Aidan is reluctant to listen to her, at first, she makes a lot of good suggestions for how he should pitch his idea to the current owners. She also uses all of her considerable people skills to charm and socialise with the current owners and other guests up at the campground.

Zoe's best friends are not exactly enthusiastic about how she's chosen to spend her weekends, but remain supportive because they respect her wishes. Aiden's closest co-workers in the EMT services also think the fake fiancee plan is a bad idea. Things certainly don't get any easier once Zoe and Aidan start falling for one another. Zoe hates having to lie to the very nice couple that own the campground, Aidan hates keeping things from his parents. He doesn't think they'd react well to knowing that the unfeeling harpy who outlined their dead son's legal settlement is now someone their remaining son is falling for.

Since quitting her job and winning the lottery, Zoe has been aimless and without purpose. Once she starts opening herself up a bit more when away with Aiden, she begins to have ideas about how she can best help others going forward. She figures out what she'd like to work with and how to continue making amends, in some ways, to the society at large.

Aidan has obviously in no way fully processed his grief about losing his twin. The fact that his brother was a drug addict, so the decline was gradual and there were many instances where Aidan feels he maybe could have stepped in and made his brother stop, but didn't, certainly doesn't make it better. He comes to realise that a lot of the hostility he feels towards Zoe is obviously because of the guilt he feels about his own inability to do something for his brother while he was still alive. It also becomes clear that he believes buying the campground and turning it into a rehab facility is the only way he can really atone, whether he's actually the best person to be developing such a place or not.

Both the protagonists in this book have a lot of unresolved issues and need to work through a lot of pain over the course of the story. Their happy ending felt all the more deserved once they got that far. 

Best of Luck
Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

When Greer Hawthorne wins the lottery with her two best friends, not only does she get the opportunity to pay off a lot of her family's debts, but she can finally complete her college education. With her dream job secured after she graduates, Greer is devastated to realise that because she's missing one arts credit, she may not be allowed to complete her education after all. Her only chance is a photo course offered by one of the department chairs, or she won't be graduating.

Alexander "Alex" Averin was only really planning on staying in town a couple of days for his sister's wedding, but when he has a panic attack during the rehearsal dinner and Greer helps him work through it, suggesting he see a therapist she can recommend, he decides to stick around for a little while. When it also turns out that to get into the photography class that can give her that coveted arts credit needed to graduate, Greer may need some help from a world-famous photojournalist, there's all the more reason for him not to go away on new adventures. He's very much trying not to notice how attractive his sister's best friend is, but the more time they spend together, the more difficult it gets.

Greer struggles with a chronic illness and an over-protective family who have had to sacrifice a lot for her health. That's one of the reasons why she's so determined to pay her parents back and help her siblings when she wins the lottery. She's also determined to get a degree, secure herself a good job and find a place of her own to live, since living with her sister still feels a lot like being checked up on all the time. Discovering that all of her dreams may be ruined by one missing course, shortly before graduation is gutting to her. She doesn't really want to use her friendship with Alex to convince the department chair to accept her, but she's run out of other options.

Alex spent much of his childhood raising his younger sister Kit. Now he travels the globe taking pictures in some pretty dangerous areas. While he's been trying to ignore it, he's been struggling with his mental health for a long time, and the panic attack just before Kit's wedding just makes it impossible for him to ignore any longer. He understands that unless he can get the anxiety and panic attacks under control, he's unlikely to be able to continue his career as he used to. Having always been deeply self-sufficient and independent, it's difficult for Alex to admit to vulnerability and accept help, but for some reason, when Greer offers it, he doesn't see it as pity and listens to her advice.

I'm not a huge fan of sibling's best friend/best friend's sibling romances, of which this is clearly one. I thought Greer and Alex in many ways were more interesting as separate people than as a couple, but the book was really interesting when it dealt with both Greer's quest for independence and Alex' struggles to improve his mental health. I'm always a big fan of people addressing their mental health in a serious manner instead of just brooding about their secret pain. Therapy should be normalised and feature much more in both romantic and other contemporary fiction.

Judging the books by their covers: The cover designers have been pretty good about finding cover models that more or less match the protagonists of each book. Each of the women being placed in front of a wall of some sort is a nice common motif and each of the women's body language also says quite a bit about their attitudes and confidence, especially at the start of the books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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