Solid three-stars, all mostly earned by the first 20% of the book which, ironically enough, kept me more interested than the present portion of the story; and because, as always, Nora's writing is amazing no matter the story.
Before reading I had already seen some reviews complaining about how much of the book it took to establish Naomi's background, and I was already groaning internally because I just wanted to dive into the present story. Shockingly enough though, I very much enjoyed reading about Naomi's childhood and her family, it was more engaging, had more suspense, more action, than the present story, which was very slow-paced...excruciatingly so. It was mostly the story of Naomi fixing up her new house and getting acquainted with the people in town and her new dog.
I had a hard time with the romance as well. As someone else said, it was insta-lust, which is something I can get over pretty easily, but Xander just rubbed me the wrong way. The way he hit on Naomi within the very first five minutes after meeting her? Calling this stranger a "serious looker" a "Killer blonde"? I wouldn't have found that flattering when I'm trying to change a tire in a dark road, I would've been creeped out. Shortly after, he made it his personal challenge to get her in bed and was very cocky about it.
Ew. Ew. No.
Then Nora probably realized how Xander was coming off as and tried to balance it out some by going out of her way, in a very cheesy scene, to make it clear that he would never force himself on Naomi. Which okay, good for him, but it wasn't very comforting after he had behaved like pushy, arrogant creep.
Xander also felt like too much as a character alone. Mechanic, band leader, co-owner of the local bar, town stud, alpha-male, bookworm?
He made no sense in my head, not that romance heroes need to be super realistic (Hello, Roarke) or not that I think there aren't men like him out there. I just wasn't buying this one, he was a lot to take, and he irked me too much to be swooned by the fact that he loved books.
And Xander, seriously, not Alexander but Xander, just like that? It reminds me too much of that annoying guy in Buffy. Even before I read the book I was cringing at the fact that I had to read about a hero with that name. Nora, I'm sure there are a lot of nice male names out there you probably haven't used yet.
Also, what's with some author's obsession (ha!) with calloused hands? I have nothing against hard-working hands but to have it pointed out to me that someone's hands are calloused every chance they get is actually a turn-off. I don't think, wow-manly, mmm... how I wish I was being touched by rough, bumpy hands...mmm yeah. No, what I think is: that probably doesn't feel all that pleasant on soft skin. So, point it out once if you must and be done with it. Men's hands don't have to be calloused to be sexy or manly or whatever, this trope needs to die. Yes, it made sense what with his line of work and all, but I don't need it to be highlighted more than once for whatever reason.
I liked Naomi just fine. She wasn't a favorite or anything, she was not an outstanding character among other NR characters, really, but I admired the way she handled herself without being one of those NR's"strong but bitchy" heroines. Sure, she had her moment, but it was over pretty fast and I was grateful for that.
I did find it a little bit odd that Naomi was instantly liked by the townspeople though (not counting Marla), and that she got so many opportunities to sell her photos and trade stuff for them. Man, it came off as really easy to make a life out of professional photography.
The dog was adorable, and a nice and cute addition to the cast of characters. I like reading about him and seeing Naomi fall for him.
I ABSOLUTELY LOVED MASON, JENNY AND KEVIN (AND THE UNCLES OF COURSE). Man, I wish I had been able to read more about them. I would totally buy a book about Jenny and Kevin. KEVIN made for a more compelling hero than Xander did, no doubt about that, and Mason... Mason just killed every other character in this book when it came to being interesting & charming. It was a shame we got so little of him and I'm pretty sure Nora won't be picking up his character again for another novel so... goobye, Mason. You had all the potential to be a main character, even more so than your sister.
I think the story was, all in all, very well told, but too slow. The book comprised too much talk about photography, landscaping, furniture, decoration, food and just trying to restore an old house. I think we could've saved ourselves 150-200 pages easily if the talk about the house had been somewhat reduced.
Another ending that feels rushed as well, the last portion of the book was pretty much: meet killer, have killer make dumb mistakes, heroine confronts killer, hey look, beloved characters are back, now say goodbye, here's your HEA, and that's a wrap.