Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
In this clearly Gothic novel-inspired contemporary romance, unemployed and down on her luck Annie Hewitt has to spend the next sixty days in a small cottage on a remote island on the coast of Maine, because of complicated arrangement in her recently deceased mother's will. Her closest neighbour just so happens to be Theo Harp, famous horror writer and her stepbrother for a time when they were teens. As a teenager, Annie had a big crush on Theo, but he was unpredictable and at turns kind and cruel, eventually turning her crush to terror. Now he's a widower, alone in the house up the road, trying to write his next novel. Has he changed, or is he still as scary as he was as a teen?
Annie's vow to stay as far away from Theo as possible is complicated by the fact that his housekeeper is her old friend Jaycee has injured her leg and is afraid she'll get fired if she's unable to keep up her duties while Theo is writing. So Annie steps in to help her, slowly befriending Livia, Jaycee's little girl, rendered mute after the traumatic incident where her father died. Having made a living as a ventriloquist, making educational puppet shows for children, Annie is able to use her puppets to gain the trust of the child.
Annie hasn't been long on the island before all sorts of creepy shit starts happening. She's initially convinced that Theo is to blame, but has her theories disproved rather quickly. Someone is threatening her, and trying to drive her off the island, but it's not Theo, who she finds even more attractive as a grown man than she ever did as a teenager. Is Theo the tragic romantic hero Annie has been waiting for her entire life, or is he the villain she believed him to be when they were teens together?
The first third of this book would have had me throwing the book against the wall if I owned it in a physical copy. Not willing to damage my precious e-reader, no matter how frustrating a book gets, I persevered, based mainly on Mrs. Julien's assurances that the book was enjoyable. Having read my fair share of Gothic novels, I also had strong suspicions of where the plot was going to go very early on, so be prepared for the fact that the plot isn't exactly surprising, if you, like me, used to inhale Gothic fiction as entertainment as a teen.
Annie, who was extremely slappable and twee as heck in the first part of the book, with her internal conversations with her own ventriloquist's puppets (which were almost deal-breakers in themselves, oh my God, puppets are creepy) got better as the plot developed, and it was clear that her mother did quite a number on her and her back story with Theo was explored, showing how right she was to be rather wary of him.
Theo wasn't exactly doing himself any favours in the hero department either. He first appears dressed in period costume, caressing a duelling pistol and acting sketchy as all get-out. He also doesn't really work very hard to dispel Annie's fears that he actually was a teenage psychopath (SPOILER! She may have been wrong about that). They're stuck on a tiny, snow-covered island, and neither has any real alternatives in the romance department. Of course they end up together.
As any Gothic hero worth his salt, Theo has a number of issues from his past bothering him. He doesn't have a crazy wife in the attic (although there are revealing secrets up there), and he's probably not as volatile and psycho as Annie initially believed, but both he and Annie could clearly benefit from quite a bit of counselling.
While the plot was fairly predictable, and I really disliked the first third, the book got a lot better in the second half because Theo and Annie decided to work together to figure out who's trying to drive her off the island, and Annie really does have a very nice character development over the course of the book. Her interactions with Livia were especially good and as plot moppets go, the child really was quite engaging. If you like Gothic novels, pretty much all the tropes are here and gently tweaked. There's a nice local community and the plot resolves in a very sweet way - but I wish it could have been achieved without the help of ventriloquist's puppets.