Review Summary: If you like romances where most of the book is about kids’ play dates and meals, then you will absolutely love Sand and Water. I wanted more romance between John and Bryan.
Widower John McConnell gets along fine raising his daughter on Georgia’s Tybee Island, though he wouldn’t exactly say he’s happy. Haunted by the memory of his dead wife, John hasn’t considered dating again until he meets Bryan Simmons in the park. It isn’t long before John realizes that what he feels for Bryan could be something real, but how will he know he’s ready to move on?
As John soon discovers, Bryan carries some heavy emotional baggage of his own. With John’s help, Bryan starts to put his demons to rest, and together they lay the foundation for a relationship. It looks like they might finally leave their tragedies behind them—until John takes a misstep that could turn a magical night together into their last.
These would have been my closing comments in this review but I was so disappointed with this book that I decided to start with the negatives. I was really looking forward to reading this story, but it soon became clear that it was not going to live up to my expectations. As a matter of fact I almost didn’t finish it because the prose and dialogue were so painfully repetitious.
In my opinion about one third of Sand and Water could have been deleted or edited down significantly, without losing anything that was important or relevant to the romance or John’s relationship with his daughter. There was so much mundane information in almost every chapter about “Bethy’s” daily routine and what she ate at every meal (seriously), what she did every day at the beach, her bath, or shows she watched on television, her movies, being put to bed with her favourite stuffed toy etc. that my eyes glazed over. To add to my WTF moments, there was almost as much information about John’s daily routine, which increased the level and amount of irrelevant data that seemed to be filler. Was this to increase the page count? I have no idea. However, not only was I was getting indigestion from the information overload about Beth’s activities and meals, at times I wondered whether I was reading a romance or a children’s book. I had other issues with the story, but I’ll get to those later.
John’s wife died 5 years ago and he was raising his daughter on Tybee Island with the help of his aunt Meghan who was more like his sister because she was only a few years older. Although John had been a widower for a long time, he couldn’t get over his wife Liz’s death in childbirth and he still dreamed about her all the time. The light of his life is Beth and everything revolves around her. He moved from Atlanta to Tybee Island so he could work at home and take care of his little girl 24/7; he prepares her meals, provides all the usual parental support and supervises her activities. However, the information about Beth’s daily activities is repeated throughout the book ad nauseum. Did I want to know that she ate sandwiches, carrot sticks and milk at almost every meal except for when she had macaroni and cheese? Not really!
John met Bryan and his nephew at the same park where Beth played every day. So now two kids are the focus of the story – overactive Jeremy and pampered Beth. John is attracted to Bryan but feels guilty even though Liz has been dead for such a long time; he still misses her every day but despite that, manages to fall in love with Bryan in the space of one week. I’m not sure if he was in love with the person or Bryan’s looks, because his thoughts are all about how beautiful Bryan is. Eventually the romance gets underway and there’s a first kiss 55% into the story, by which time I was wondering if I was reading a vintage Harlequin romance where the female protagonist is kissed at the end of the book. Personally I’m not a fan of M/M romances that are all sex and no story, but in Sand and Water the prose is about almost everything but the romance, from Bryan and John watching Braves’ baseball games on television (I’m an avid baseball fan but this was too much baseball even for me), to detailed descriptions of Bryan’s clothing, to phrases such as “paper napkins printed with the restaurant’s logo,” to Bryan talking about certain colours being flattering against John’s skin. Huh?
There was no tension in the relationship as both Bryan and John were very careful about each other’s feelings and personal issues, which might have been a good thing since both of them had had tragedies in their lives, but I wished that the book had accelerated rather than continued along its slow moving pace. There were really no challenges or conflicts other than John always being concerned about the reactions of others. He was so concerned he discussed with his pastor whether the church and congregation would reject him should he enter into a relationship with Bryan, even before he told Bryan he loved him. John’s religion, values, and rituals were very much a part of his character.
There was one external conflict in the book between John and his mother who made her disapproval clear about his potential relationship with Bryan, but other than that it was the same old, same old every day. There was no growth in the characters and not a lot of depth to their personalities but Bryan was more fully fleshed out. I also thought that the dialogue and prose were stilted and trite and the story needed a major infusion of excitement. However, not everything was a downer and the few positives included Meghan, John’s aunt, who was fun, as well as Bryan’s ex Eddie who had been permanently handicapped as a result of a beating a few months before but was rising above his disability. The way Bryan dealt with Eddie’s new reality was one of the high points for me.
Sand and Water didn’t exactly thrill me for the reasons outlined, but everyone’s taste is different and if you have small children or like romances that feature kids in at least 50% of the book you will love this story. While I don’t mind kids in romances, when they take over the story I lose interest, consequently I can’t recommend this book. On a more positive note, the cover is great!