Previous book here. NOW THIS IS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT.
Dear Sarina Bowen: should, god forbid, you do Google Alerts and read this review, THIS is the kind of thing you're good at. You don't need to write love stories about perfectly nice people without huge amounts of issues. You need conflict like THIS. You need to write stuff where you've got a whopping conflict and drama to figure out and work around. THIS IS YOUR JAM.
Jude Nickel is a car mechanic by trade who got hooked on prescription drugs in high school. He also got hooked on police chief's daughter/singer/"good girl" Sophie Haines, and they had a super passionate relationship even as he was getting more and more into drugs while she was at college. Three and a half years ago or so(?) Jude and Sophie's brother Gavin got into a car accident while high and Gavin died, and Jude did three years in prison for manslaughter and took up heroin while he was in there. After a stint in rehab, he got a job for a few months at the Shipley Farm, but now that that's run out, Jude is forced to move back to his shitty hometown with cops that hate him because working in his alcoholic dad's garage is the only way he can get a job. Plus he's trying to maintain sobriety while mostly alone. However, he makes friends with a priest at the same location where the NA meetings are being held, and it turns out that Sophie's a volunteer at the weekly dinners that are held that same night.
Sophie's been managing, but she hasn't been living the life Jude imagined for her. She gave up on the idea of professional singing, she's moved home to take care of her catatonic mother while finishing her college degree, and she's got a temporary part-time job as a hospital social worker in Montpelier. Basically her problem is her family--her mom used to be a dynamo but is now a walking zombie all the time. Her father was an asshole growing up and he still is one now. And frankly, Sophie doesn't seem to have any love lost for her dead brother, who was a jerk just like her father was. But she still loves the shit out of Jude and once they're in the same vicinity for very long, they're on each other like white on rice--and having to hide it from a town full of cops loyal to her dad. I probably would have figured their getting together again would have been more conflicted and rocky--but no, the author makes it work that the love didn't die even if someone else died and drugs were involved. Jude is holding on as best he can in a bad situation that's still better than what he was in before, and he does have his reservations about how he can manage to have a life with Sophie in the future. But Sophie's willing to give it a shot. You can definitely buy that this relationship can work out as long as Sophie eventually gets away from her family--this wouldn't have worked if she was close to those people. But that's hard to do when your dad makes it clear every day that the wrong kid died.
And then Sophie's dad introduces her to a young cop on his force that he's trying to fix her up with. This turns out to be a bad idea for dad, because Sophie befriends the cop (Rob Nelligan) and gets him to help her look at the police report of the incident--and a cop's daughter is gonna notice some whopping inconsistencies and missing information in that report. Sophie starts to think maybe Jude wasn't the driver that night, but finding out that information's going to put some lives at risk...During this whole story I kept thinking, "You guys have got to get out of town if you keep going down this hole!" I did feel sorry for the ah...collateral damage that happened to a few folks in this story. Between that and the sketchy guys who keep breaking into Jude's place to look for drugs, there's still a case going on and things have to get resolved somehow, though.
The book also uses friends very well. We've already got the Shipleys from the previous book helping to care for Jude (and Griffin does great backup at one point), but the priest character Father Peters is a total sweetie. And Denny, Sophie's coworker friend, is used really well. He starts out as Hopeless Crush Guy (a plot point that made me wince, but the book gets over that FAST, thank goodness), but he is a good friend to Sophie and is even very kind to Jude when Jude needs assistance--and let's just say the guy went above and beyond in a surprising way. This book kind of made me think that if she wants to continue the series past three books (or if the publisher lets her), she could bring back Rob Nelligan or even Denny as a lead, in addition to Zara.
Anyway, this book was amazeballs. I have certain standards for hugely epic that this book is a tiny bit short on given the subject matter, but it's close. And I'm saying this as someone who isn't particularly into drug plots--I ate this up like candy. So, four and a half stars. Blew me away.