Heat Factor: Think “roaring fire in a simple wood cabin” and you’ll have it
Character Chemistry: It’s like a healthy dose of sexual healing along with some blustery island magic
Plot: Two emotionally immobilized people find themselves on a misty Scottish island filled with birds and combust, and aren’t ever the same again.
Overall: This book just completely blew up my week because it was so incredibly good and I have not been okay since.
How to even start–this book is one of THOSE BOOKS, where you’ll find yourself mentally reaching for that really awesome, comfortable feeling you just had (Did I just eat a good snack? Was it those fuzzy socks I just took off? What was I doing that felt so good??) only to realize it was the book you just closed and now you just want to start it over again so you can feel that way again, only you can’t un-read what you already read, and so you’re bereft. It’s that kind of book.
Rachel finds herself in need of an escape–so when her friend suggests she take a temporary position at a blustery Scottish island helping host birders and scientists, she says yes. Rachel. I have never in my life read a character who hits anxiety and shame-spiraling this clearly and perfectly in my life. She gets these little intrusive self-cutting thoughts flitting through her brain; she’s crippled with fear by her past mistakes and is vigilantly on the lookout for her future ones. When she arrives, she’s constantly surprised by her appetite because she’s been so tense for so long. While any impartial observer can see that she’s thoughtful and smart, kind and brave, she sees only her failures and humiliations, and she can’t cope. It doesn’t matter that the things that happened weren’t all her fault and that in a lot of ways she’s been wrung out by careless assholes–she’s just stuck in this fog of shame.
Fraser is also kind of stuck in the fog. He’s caretaker on this Island of Must, and he’s thus managed to avoid any sort of deep emotional connection simply by avoiding extensive human contact. He found himself here a few years after the death of his young sister, and he’s super messed up. However; he’s also capable and thoughtful, caring, nurturing. He wants to be grumpy and ruthless, but that’s not him. So he’s stuck in this state of helplessness between rage and shame and sadness and he can’t really get out.
So that’s the set up–two really good people, frozen by trauma, on a blustery, run down little island in a lighthouse with birders popping in occasionally. PLUS, I can’t ruin it but there’s a little thread of intrigue as well as a power-flexing and out-of-touch manager, etc. And the whole relationship and plot is squeezed by the knowledge that Rachel’s time there is temporary, and that their life is so different there, so safe, that leaving the island almost feels…wrong. What are they going to do? And how are they going to do it together?
This is the thing that startled me a little–Fraser and Rachel are real and imperfect. Rachel’s got stretch marks and talks nervously. Fraser barely talks, and he’s like this massive, hairy bear. But he cooks her amazing food every night, and they drink nightcaps and gently prod each other’s emotional wounds, and then they kind of just…combust? You’re so aware that they’re just these normal humans that the combustion is kind of a sneaky thing. The things that make them fall in love with each other are in their daily interactions, so it’s oddly surprising when their escalation is so sensual–at one point they’re getting intimate in a mildewy room with a comforter from the 80’s and she strokes his rounded tummy after running her fingers through the hair on his shoulders and chest. It’s not an idealized sex scene between two idealized people–it’s kind of a raw and gentle unwinding of two people who finally feel seen.
The scenery is visually so arresting that you feel like you’re wrapped up in a blanket in a lighthouse, too. So closing the book to discover you need to go to Target and pick up more dish soap is kind of jarring, if I’m honest. I’m still recovering. And I want a paper copy so I can hold it in my hands and pretend I’m away on an island covered in birds and someone is cooking soup to go with my cheese scones, and there’s a big shaggy dog in the corner, and…
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
Buy Now: Amazon