Title: Where Love Grows
Author: Jay Northcote
Publisher: Jaybird Press
Release Date: September 26, 2019
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance
Page Count: 70,000 words
Reviewed by: ParisDude
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 4.9 stars out of 5
When two broken men look to each other for help, an unexpected romance blooms.
Stephen’s home, deep in the heart of the Welsh valleys, suits his reclusive nature. However, as he recovers from illness, he’s struggling to manage alone. As nature reclaims the land he’s poured his heart into cultivating, he becomes increasingly unhappy. His only outlet is his blog, where he documents the decline of the garden that had been his pride and joy.
Luke is more used to a concrete jungle. He was a high-flyer, living and working in London, until addiction sent him into free fall. Now on the road to recovery, he still wants to make some changes, but he’s unsure where to find the purpose and fulfilment he craves.
A mutual acquaintance suggests Luke visits Stephen to help him out for a while, and a seed of hope is planted. From prickly beginnings, shoots of friendship emerge, blossoming into a deeper connection when they act on their mutual attraction.
This was only ever supposed to be a temporary arrangement, and soon Stephen will be able to manage on his own again. But both men need each other in ways they’re afraid to admit. If their love is going to last for more than one season, they’ll need to find the courage to be honest.
This is the second Northcote-novel I read and the second Northcote-novel I couldn’t seem to put down until I had reached the last full stop. There’s something with the author’s unpretentious, solid, well-paced writing, his thoughtful choice of topic, his pitch-perfect creation of believable and likeable main characters that stroke a bell with me—again. The basic idea is simple, though. No far-fetched, fancy storyline here. Just lock up two guys with serious issues in an old house, add an alluring environment—the main location of the plot being a lonesome, sun-kissed and verdant spot in Wales—, reduce the secondary characters to the bare essentials (i.e. no more than two of them throughout the whole novel), and make the MCs find their bumpy way through to their HEA. That’s, in a nutshell, what this book is about. Sounds easy-peasy to write, but with most things seemingly easy-peasy, to pull it through (and masterfully so) and make it work is one of the hardest things on earth.
On one hand, there’s Luke. Successful self-made businessman, he’s young, he’s handsome, he’s rich, he’s a city-boy through and through. And yet, his personal history makes him unable to resist the artificial lure of drugs—even if he, of all people, should know better, his mother having died from an overdose. At one moment, things get out of hand, and Luke, prone to severe depression, has a nervous breakdown. He tries to recover from it and steer clear of his former addiction, but golly, it’s so hard! On the other hand, there’s Stephen, a brilliant mind, who has had a perfectly happy childhood in the Welsh countryside. After his mothers’ death from cancer and his father’s subsequent suicide, he returns to his native county and settles in his childhood home, doing the odd job as a gardener until gardening becomes his main source of income. Then, he is struck by the vicious, unforeseeable Guillain-Barré-Syndrome. With proper medication, he starts to slowly recover, but his illness was too much for his boyfriend, who has left him all alone in his remote house, embittered, insecure, sad, deeply unhappy.
A common friend of both, Will, comes up with the idea of bringing them together. He succeeds in convincing Luke and Stephen that they could both help each other with their recovery, and that’s why, one day, Luke drives up to Wales for a probation period of one week to assist Stephen with household chores and bringing his luscious garden back to shape. Both are wary at the beginning, but soon, a nice and friendly bond starts to bloom and become stronger and stronger, drawing them together with an inexorable force of attraction that none has anticipated and none is really willing to acknowledge. That leads, of course, to several twists and turns, and it takes loads of work, moments of introspection, much talking, much suffering, until love is allowed to shine as brightly as we, the readers, are gagging to see right from the first page.
Northcote created his characters with good psychological insight. Maybe Luke is more endearing throughout the book because he’s less oyster-like and readier to accept his budding feelings, but I “got” both MCs. Stephen is just very insecure, focussing way too much on what is “wrong” with him (understandably so, I have to add), overestimating his weaknesses while underestimating his strong points. He’s almost constantly in pain, too (horrible side-effect of that ghastly syndrome he’s suffering from), so it’s no wonder he often has rash and rude reactions. Luke is more considerate, but easily destabilized as well. Everything in both Luke’s and Stephen’s actions, reactions, and thoughts added up for me. There was no unnecessary, unexplained, self-induced drama, no far-fetched recoiling from what, at one point, is obvious to anyone but them two, but a cautious step-by-step awareness process that I could easily relate to. They should have been more open, but I do get it that we sometimes might have limitations as to what we want to share with someone else. Of course, I knew from the start how the story would end—don’t we all read romance because we want to see a happy ending? But it’s not the goal that counts; it’s the progression leading up to it. And Jay Northcote does a wonderful job here. He knows how to dose dramatic moments, when to tune down the drama, when to throw in moments of calm, or bliss, or the odd shag. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and sighed with contentment at the end. And, for the record, decided I had to visit Wales one of these days.
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