Part two of a planned three-part series from author Ashley Herring Blake, Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail shines in the same areas as its predecessor, Delilah Green Doesn’t Care, while not quite capturing the same level of readability. It’s charming with a terrific central character who, oftentimes, was a key figure of interest while playing a supporting role in “Delilah Green,” but where the book loses its necessary momentum is in the key romance. There are a lot of strong ideas and well-written and defined characters who are constantly peeling back layers of who they are both to themselves, their friends and family, and the readers too, but a romance novel that is missing the spark between the love interests instantly chills the story.
There are plenty of steamy interactions and sequences of exploration and self-discovery — Blake truly shines in moments of intimacy with prose that’s equally as romantic and sensual as it is enlightening, playful even. By eschewing standard mechanics of how to describe scenes of passion, Blake forms a full and whole frame of which to tell her story because these moments say as much about the characters as their inner dialogues.
Astrid, who we first met as Delilah’s estranged step-sister in Delilah Green Doesn’t Care, is still reeling from the events of the last book after calling off her engagement and therefore souring her relationship with her controlling mother. Now, a year has passed and she’s fully focusing on her career. Given the chance to help design and renovate the Everwood Inn, she grabs it by the reins, especially as the opportunity is accompanied by a popular HGTV show which will feature the work on the Inn.
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Enter Jordan Everwood, granddaughter of the Inn’s owner and lead carpenter for the renovation. Their styles and personalities clash immediately until they don’t, and the two grow closer as they discover more about themselves in the process and what it means to control your own destiny.
While Delilah Green Doesn’t Care hit some road bumps in its trajectory, most of it came down to length rather than a lack of interest in the main romance. Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail needed some of the simmering chemistry that Delilah and Claire shared to be imbued into the relationship between Astrid and Jordan. Part of the problem is that Jordan just isn’t as enjoyable as a character to read. Greater still though is that the relationship due to circumstance just weighs nothing here. A good trope is beloved for a reason — enemies to lovers? There’s only one bed and now we need to share? Fake relationship? Love it, eat that shit up. The latest by Blake doesn’t so much surround herself in cliche than she does bury herself in convention.
The romance just fails to click. We’re often told of the pair’s attraction to one another but there’s no heat or emotional attachment.
The greatest detriment to the novel is the promise Blake built around the Astrid character, someone whose internal struggles, insecurity, and journey to reclaiming her strength and vision, even if it’s not on the path of success laid for her, is much more interesting than the main plot. Even if her side-plot of discovering what career she might want to pursue seems tacked on, but still she remains a wonderful headspace to inhabit, especially as she works out her bisexuality in her early 30s and what that means for her.
Still, there’s an assured poise to Blake’s writing that keeps one reading, especially as she fully paints a picture of this quaint, postcard of a town so lovingly that we can’t help but want to visit it ourselves. With at least one more installment planned in the trilogy with Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date, there’s no doubt of a return trip to Bright Falls — just some hope that the central romance this time around will produce a few more fireworks.
Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail is out now. Purchase here Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | Parnassus Books
Featured Image Courtesy of National Geographic Books / http://www.ashleyherringblake.com/