One Last Stop (CBR13 #26 – Half Cannonball!)

One Last Stop

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Early last year I read and loved Casey McQuiston’s debut Red, White, & Royal Blue like many a Cannonballer before me. Upon its completion I knew McQuiston was an author to add to my must reads list – they were writing the kind of queer romance I was looking for in the world. Once announced I put One Last Stop on my to read list having faith in the author, if not exactly the premise.

One Last Stop is the story of August and Jane. August, a young recent NYC transplant with a complicated history, falls head over heels for a woman she keeps running into on the Q train, Jane. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her.

So much of the story is about the fear of letting someone love you, of being brave enough to think you won’t let them down. August and Jane spend time circling around the growing love between them, afraid of what it means. August uses her focus on solving the mystery of Jane to hide behind and it takes her entire found family unit to help build the confidence she needs to step out from behind that. But it happens multiple places along the narrative, Wes (honestly my favorite character by a long, long measure) is also running from how he feels about Isaiah and accepting the love being freely offered to him, exactly as and who he is.

Beyond the main romance plot focusing on Jane and August this book is about found family, and the way we create our identity by the community we make around ourselves, especially in our twenties (although I did it again in my thirties). The characters are infused with hope and joy, even when battling depression and anxiety, which I appreciate from deep within my soul. McQuiston writes like a motherfucker. Even when I was bored (which happened at about the one third mark) I was enthralled by the writing. McQuiston created a world that is fully fleshed out with a variety of people and is explicitly queer. MCQuiston did their research and it shows, both in Jane’s past and August’s present.

This book is a four-star read for me; at times it was three, and times it was four, but it never reached a point where I thought it was a five-star read. I struggled to get myself into the book and read an entire other book (the very good People We Meet on Vacation) before picking this one back up. The problem was relatively simple upon reflection – the pacing was uneven and at times the plot stalled. But once it got going again, I was in, but it still sometimes felt like work, and that makes me a little sad. McQuiston has said their next book is going to be a YA ensemble piece about coming out in the religious South and I am still on board for whatever book they want to write.

“… thinking of Wes and how determined he is not to let Isaiah hand him his heart, of Myla holding Niko’s hand while he talks to things she can’t see, of her mom and a whole life searching, of herself, of Jane, of hours on the train – all the things they put themselves through for love. Okay, I get it.”

People We Meet on Vacation (CBR13 #25)

People We Meet on Vacation

One of the reading groups I am part of chose People We Meet on Vacation for our August read. I quickly poked around my library catalog and saw that it had a stunning number of holds and put in my request immediately, expecting it to take a month or so for a copy to make its way to me. Surprise, surprise, I somehow got a copy in a week (I think I managed to get lucky with my local branch). I grabbed it as I took my first flight in 18 months this past weekend and was immediately pulled into this opposites attract/ friends to lovers/ second chance romance.

People We Meet on Vacation is the story of Poppy and Alex. The pair make for seemingly unlikely best friends, he’s reserved and she’s a bit reckless; he likes their hometowns, she’s intent on never returning. But following an initial meeting where they didn’t hit it off the pair drive home together after their freshman year of college (a great homage to When Harry Met Sally) and with their need to impress each other gone, they begin the sort of friendship where each side is truly seen by the other and appreciated for exactly who they are. They strike a bargain that first summer home, that Alex will accompany Poppy on a trip each summer which becomes the core of their relationship.

They keep the tradition up for a decade of friendship, until two years ago, when they ruined everything. In the same time Poppy has achieved professional success and is living the life she always wanted but she feels like she’s stuck in a rut. When asked when she was last truly happy, she knows it was on that ill-fated, final trip with Alex. She asks him to accompany her on one more vacation together where she plans to fix everything and get her happiness back. What ends up happening though is something much deeper, poking at the unspoken part of their friendship, the part that wants to be more than friends.

This is a story built around the mortifying ordeal of being known. I felt like Poppy and Alex knew and understood each other so intimately. This book was full of mutual pining, inside jokes and amazing chemistry, both in the present timeline and the flashbacks, and it all felt earned. Often characters have entire histories we the reader don’t get to see, or don’t get to see a lot of, instead picking it up based on what we’re shown in the book’s present but People We Meet on Vacation’s flashbacks gave us more time in the development of their friendship (Italy and Sanibel in particular). The structure, flashing from present back to different years mostly in reverse chronological order reminds me of another book, but I cannot put my finger on which, but either way, it worked both in setting tension and in providing beautiful context.

There’s a bit of mystery about what happened between Poppy and Alex and why they were no longer on speaking terms, but the reveal perhaps comes too late in the narrative. I’ve rated these one four stars, and this is definitely part of why, but the other thing affecting my overall rating is that the two years ago reveal was too close to the third act break up, which in this novel felt so unnecessary. I’m really getting tired of unneeded third act break-up arcs – not all romances need it, but I can’t tell you the last time I managed to read one without. I appreciate the content of the split, these two characters needed to work on some things, but I wished that it wasn’t under the gun of a pair who had finally gotten honest about the depths of their real emotions, the unspoken of 5-15%, possibly never speaking again.

That quibble aside, Henry writes beautifully. The way this book talks about loneliness and never really feeling like you belong were so strong, so heartfelt, so honest that there was a point where I had to put the book down and take a breather. This was really gripping, I read it in three long drinks. I loved the humor, the banter, the angst, all of it – which has me looking back at Henry’s last book Beach Read whose reviews I had clocked last year, but my COVID reading slump just didn’t leave room for.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown (CBR13 #24)

Act Your Age, Eve Brown (The Brown Sisters, #3)

I absolutely adored Act Your Age, Eve Brown. I *think* Take a Hint, Dani Brown is my favorite of the Brown sisters series, but this one certainly gave it a run for its money.

In similar fashion to Get a Life, Chloe Brown we are in an enemies to lovers romance (which has grown on me considerably over the past few years) but in Hibbert’s hands its really much closer “you annoy me but once I actually get to know you I’m enamored of you” zone, but Eve and Jacob definitely have a rough, ROUGH meet cute in which Jacob ends up hit by the car Eve is driving and breaking hist wrist, bruising his tailbone, and getting a concussion.

But let’s back up a second. When the book opens Eve has successfully planned her friend’s wedding, but a small (okay, maybe large) incident of freeing some doves, and the emotional fall out of the bride being livid, not to mention the dove handler, Eve does what she does – cut and run. This proves the final straw for her parents since Eve at 26 has never held down a job for a year. They freeze her access to her trust fund so that she will have to act her age and be “serious”. As they don’t trust her to be able to do it herself, they each have lined up a job for her at their respective respectable jobs. Eve doesn’t fit into that mold, she’s often the odd one out amongst her family, and takes off for parts unknown to clear her head and come up with her own plan.

What she stumbles across is Jacob Wayne, his B&B, and a job interview for the position as the cook. It all goes terribly – see previous list of Jacob’s injuries – but it also goes well enough that Eve takes on the job and promises to stay until Jacob is well again and has a chance to find a legitimate replacement. Instead, as is the way of Romance novels, these two seeming opposites find a balance between them and a deep and growing affection and attraction.

What I love most about Act Your Age is that as a book, it is kind. All the books in this series are kind, they are kind to the reader and to the characters. Kindness is like catnip for me, especially now. Jacob and Eve are so unfailingly generous with each other even when they are convinced they don’t actually like each other (which doesn’t last long). There’s a line in the book that might be the most romantic thing I think I’ve ever seen a protagonist say that doesn’t initially appear romantic. Eve has built her modus operandi under the understanding that she is going to fail at things, all the things, all the time. Jacob however sees that is not true, but even if it is he just needs her to try. Reader, I cried.

Neurodivergence is the text, not the subtext, of this novel. Jacob is on the autism spectrum, we as the reader are given that information right at the beginning as well as how Jacob views the world and his way through it. We also are given hints along the way that Eve is also on the spectrum (something she comes to later, having never been diagnosed formally in her younger years, which is incredibly common for women and people of color). All the idiosyncrasies that Eve exhibited in the previous books are building here, and it’s a very nuanced approach. I especially appreciated how Jacob doesn’t ever correct Eve’s malapropisms (she often can’t find the exact word she wants and ends up using something similar but not quite right), he fills in if she gets stuck or asks, but if she uses one he just mentally makes the change to what he knows she means and keeps going. Its so affirming for Eve, and something that no one else in her life has done for her. Kindness!  

Also, as someone who is neurodivergent the ways that Eve has built in her coping mechanisms without quite realizing why rang true for me. Hibbert continues to deliver diversity that makes me feel seen. These characters have deep interior lives and Hibbert handles their emotions beautifully. Eve receives a crash course in running the B&B through Jacob’s big pile of employee handbooks (that he only ever intended for himself) and comes to understand how important order, a clear system, and predictability is for Jacob. She appreciates his neurodiversity; she recognizes it and makes room for it in her approach. Jacob, similarly, sees the places where Eve excels (especially when she doesn’t) and puts value and gives reassurance that skills and aptitudes that are not generally viewed as important by the larger society are in fact just that if they matter to how we treat others, and reinforces that again and again.

My only drawback is that I don’t think the book needed its third act break-up. There had been enough starts (the duck pond scene is EVERYTHING) and stops along the path to the relationship where I wasn’t expecting it, and it felt oddly overdramatic. Not that I’m ever going to be sad for an excuse to see the couples from the previous books, but I would have loved to see the version without the blow-up and instead focus on the slow and steady building of trust that had been the backbone of the story to that point.

All that said, this is still a 4.5 rounded up because Hibbert delivered a nearly flawless emotionally enriching novel that I am going to purchase for myself after I return the library copy currently sitting on my coffee table mocking me for taking four days to write this review.

(It should be noted that this book comes with a content warning for anti-autism ableism and childhood neglect).