Like most contemporaries, THEN CAME YOU is light on the plot and heavy on the characters and relationships, and Jill is a true master at creating characters that are incredibly well-developed and three-dimensional, and also perfect for each other. Los Angeles-raised veterinarian Emily Stevens is on a yearlong internship at Belle Haven in middle-of-nowhere Sunshine, Idaho as a requirement for her fellowship and can’t count the days until she’s back in L.A. living the life she thinks she’s always wanted fast enough. Having grown up fairly poor with a veterinarian father more fulfilled by pro-bono work than a paycheque and a go-with-the-flow sister, and emotionally ravaged by her mother’s hardship during a terminal illness, Emily clings to The Plan she’s come up with to map out her life for a much-needed sense of security. On The Plan: being a vet in a Hollywood clinic for financial stability, taking care of her absent-minded dad, and marrying John-the-college-study-partner-turned-lawyer-who-doesn’t-really-remember-she’s-alive. Not on The Plan: falling for a quirky small town in the middle of the Bitterroot mountains, working at a job that pays much less, or settling down with the sexy local vet dying to put down deep roots. Emily’s need for meticulous organization, planning, and risk aversion is understandable given her previous life experiences—though she has a bit of a narrow view of those experiences—and relatable (I can definitely see bits of myself in her), but I didn’t always fully “get” or agree with her choices, particularly her stubbornness in clinging to The Plan in the face of markedly changed circumstances. Her refusal to acknowledge her feelings for hero Wyatt Stone got a bit repetitive and made me want to smack her upside the head, but overall I rather liked and could relate to Emily. I especially enjoyed her adorable awkwardness, lack of filter around Wyatt, and inability to keep herself from jumping him despite her constant pledges to remain professional. Major props to Jill for making Emily step out of her comfort zone at a conference and engage in a hot one-night stand with a sexy vet whose surname she doesn’t know only to have said vet be her new supervisor during her yearlong exile in the boonies—their meet-cute at the back end of a birthing sheep when they realise who the other is is hilarious.
Jill generally does a great job writing adorably endearing heroines, but she truly excels with her swoon-worthy heroes with just the right touch of alpha. Wyatt spent his entire life being uprooted and dragged across the globe by his diplomat parents with no say whatsoever, so he is determined to finally remain in one place and put down roots in his grandparents’ home town. What he never expected was to have the hot, no-strings-attached one-night stand from that vet conference three months show up to be his intern for the next year—but when he lays eyes on Emily again and the unavoidable chemistry sparks between them, he’s good with a little no-strings fun. Between his upbringing and having been burnt by a woman who chose Doctors Without Borders over him, he’s sworn to never fall for a woman with one foot out the door again or to ‘force’ her to choose him by asking. Emily’s feet never left L.A. and he won’t take away her choice by asking her to stay, so he knows anything more than sexy fun will inevitably end in heartbreak… but he can’t help himself. Neither can Emily, but it’s hard not to: Wyatt is one of those all-around good guys you just want to take home and snuggle, from his love of—and obvious skill with—animals to his adorably nerdy vet T-shirts to his refreshingly realistic love-hate relationship with the difficult sisters he lives with (their interactions are both hilarious and spot-on for anyone who has siblings) to his determination to never impose his will on anyone the way his parents’ was imposed on him growing up. That determination, coupled with Emily’s need for him to ask her to stay in Sunshine, led to some frustrating moments where I just wanted to toss my Kindle, but it’s also the crux of the novel’s well-executed emotional tension. Jill does a great job getting the readers emotionally invested in Emily and Wyatt so that we can’t help but keep reading to see them get their HEA—even when we feel like smacking both of them upside the head for being idiots.
THEN CAME YOU is vintage Shalvis and another great addition to the Animal Magnetism series. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, feel-good read with plenty of heat and witty banter that feels like coming home—but Karen White’s narration elevates it to the next level of enjoyment. Ms. White narrates two of my favourite contemporary authors’ series—Julie James’s FBI/US Attorney and Jill’s Animal Magnetism—so I’m a big fan, but she does an excellent job every time. She has a great range of tones and timbre so her male characters have deeper voices that are masculine without being caricatural and can be easily distinguished from each another. She voices Wyatt with a great combination of smoothness and rasp that perfectly complements his laid-back-with-a-core-of-steel-and-a-touch-of-alpha essence and that really brings the delightful banter and scorching sexytimes to life. Emily’s somewhat breathy voice took me a little bit to get into, but it really worked once I got to know her character better—especially in the hilariously embarrassing, throw-herself-at-Wyatt scenes. As with the male voices, Ms. White does a great job giving the various female characters voices that are distinctive and well suited to the characters without being annoying. One of Ms. White’s greatest strengths as an audiobook narrator is her neutral ‘narrator’ voice: in typical audiobook fashion, it’s slower and more enunciative than regular speech, but it’s not so overdone as to be jarring and is infused with the same liveliness and emotion as the dialogue. Another highlight of Ms. White’s Animal Magnetism narrations is her take on the many animals that populate the pages: she gives each the same consideration and treatment as the human characters rather than having them be an afterthought, which is important since the animals play such a crucial role in the series. Even after several books, I still crack up every time Peanut the parrot says “Boner!” in that perfect tone. Karen White is one of my auto-buy narrators, and I hope the Shalvis-White partnership continues for future instalments of this series!
**ARC provided by Tantor**
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