Sunday 10 September 2023

CBR15 Book 42: "It Happened One Summer" by Tessa Bailey

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars

CBR15 Bingo: Relation"ship" (A book about sisterly love, romantic love and featuring large fishing boats)

Apparently, our heroine, Piper Bellinger, is strongly inspired by Alexis Rose in Schitt's Creek, Tessa Bailey wanted her to have her own happy ending. First of all, I'm not really sure I think Alexis was too badly off at the end of the show, just because she wasn't shacked up with a man. Her ending seemed perfectly happy to me - not all HEAs need to involve a romantic partner. No matter what provided the initial inspiration, I'm glad Tessa Bailey wrote this book. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it's a really fun read. 

The Piper we meet at the start of the book really hasn't ever had to face any kind of financial hardship, but she also doesn't really have anyone she's close to, except her sister Hannah. The men she dates see her as a vacuous bimbo and she's never really had a romantic relationship last very long. Apart from her sister, she doesn't really have anyone to talk to or confide in, and she seems to move from party to party, with her rich stepfather's money bailing her out of any problem she might encounter. She documents her rather empty life on social media, being very conscious of her public image, and when her latest boyfriend dumps her, she wants to feel relevant, breaks into a hotel's rooftop pool (where she is joined by hundreds of people) and causes a scandal big enough that her stepfather might actually end up losing backers on his current project. He decides that enough is enough, she needs to learn how to live in the real world.

Piper's real dad was a fisherman from the Pacific Northwest, who drowned in a storm when she was only a toddler and her sister was a baby. Their mother has never really told them much about that time, as the memories are very painful to her. It turns out that their dad, as well as being a fisherman, owned a bar in his hometown, and Piper's stepdad is sending her there for three months to see if she can survive in the real world, with a limited budget, having to do her own cooking, cleaning and chores. Hannah, who actually has a job and mostly stays out of the limelight, refuses to let her sister be sent into exile by herself, and insists on coming with her.

The two women are woefully unprepared for what they find in the small town of Westport, Washington. Their father's bar turns out to be more of a shack, where the locals hang out and get drunk between fishing trips. The tiny apartment at the top where they're supposed to live is utterly filthy, full of dust, dirt, and vermin and there isn't even a separate bedroom, just a bunk bed in a corner of the main space. 

Brendan Taggert is a successful crab fisherman in Westport. His wife died seven years ago, but he still wears his wedding ring, as he feels her memory deserves it. Like the other locals, he's absolutely baffled when he sees the Bellinger sisters arrive, especially Piper, in her couture outfits, looking as out of place as a peacock would in a muddy field. Initially, Brendan underestimates Piper and her sister, not believing for a second that they'll be able to survive in the rough quarters available to them, and an incident where Piper causes a fire on one of her first nights, trying to cook for Hannah, seems to prove him right. 

Piper and Hannah are determined to prove their stepfather wrong, however, and since they're stuck in Westport, they do their best to make their run-down apartment cozy and livable. They also emerge on a project to turn the run-down shack into an actual bar, in part to prove to their stepdad that they can achieve something concrete, but later as a way to make a proper memorial for their dad. In Westport, they meet their grandmother for the first time, and their openness and kindness make them a lot of unlikely friends. Before he knows it, Brendan is completely smitten with Piper, who clearly returns his attraction. However, Piper isn't really intending to stay in Westport any longer than the three months her stepdad has demanded and is also very aware of her mother's warnings about falling for fishermen. Their mother never got over the heartbreak of losing their father and admonished her daughters before they left that fishermen are frequently very handsome and charismatic, but live very dangerous lives and might have much shorter life expectancies than other men. 

It won't surprise anyone that obviously Piper and Brendan find a way to make their relationship work, but the road there is paved with storms, misunderstandings, ultimatums, and some pretty spectacular "take me back" groveling. It also has a section that brought to mind one of my favourite articles from the much-missed The Toast ever: Things I've Learned About Heterosexual Female Desire from Decades of Reading. Brendan isn't stupid, and he doesn't quite build Piper a bed of oak and devotion, but he certainly takes on a major construction project for her, showing off his impressive muscles while building. 

There's clearly a follow-up romance teased between Hannah, Piper's music-loving sister, and Fox, Brendan's first mate, who clearly sleeps around a lot but I have no doubt will become staunchly monogamous if Hannah just gets over her very unrequited crush on the film director she works for (who is deeply unworthy of her, obviously). Based on this book, I'm already looking forward to the sequel. 

Judging a book by its cover: Another animated cover, but at least the little drawn people look mostly like the characters they're supposed to be. Romantic heroes with beards exist in romance, but seem to be few and far between, and you certainly don't see their beards frequently on the covers. So kudos for that, I guess. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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