Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
The other day I wrote a review about a story that featured a hero with some mental health challenges related to the death of a parent. In my review of that book, I talked about the incomplete way that the author of that story handled that challenge. I noted that other authors in the genre were making strides at magnifying these challenges and handling them with a care that feels necessary in our times. In writing that, I didn’t know that I would be confronted with just such a situation in Sarina Bowen’s Waylaid, the next story of her True North series, a series that has stolen my heart and made me rabid for future books.
Waylaid follows Daphne Shipley. If you’ve read any of the other books, then you know that Daphne’s experiences in those other books have been fairly fraught. She’s ambitious and lacks the warmth of her twin, Dylan. She outs her sister in a way that makes for one of the series’ most uncomfortable moments. Basically, Daphne isn’t the easiest character to love. However, as we find in romance, much of that colder or abrupt exterior hides vulnerabilities and insecurities. It usually takes the hero, in this case, to unravel the heroine’s guardedness.
In Waylaid, that hero is Rickie, a character we’ve met in Dylan’s story, Heartland. Now, Rickie is interesting because, with him, what you see is what you get, or at least that’s what it seems. Rickie is Dylan’s roommate/landlord/friend, and he’s decided to spend his summer working at the Shipley homestead. What is most interesting about Rickie is he cannot remember six months of his time during his tenure at the US Tactical Academy. During this time, we find that he met Daphne and made plans for a date, but he never showed up. Therefore, Daphne doesn’t fully trust him, and Rickie doesn’t know why she avoids him even though he can tell that she’s as attracted to him as he is to her. As the story progresses, Bowen crafts a winding tale that reveals the secrets of Rickie’s past while drawing Daphne and Rickie together.
What Sarina Bowen has done with Waylaid is nothing less than fantastic. For one, Rickie’s characterization is handled with the care that I had missed in the book I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Rickie is incredibly self-reflective and insightful, yet he’s wrapped in this flirty, playboyish package. At first, it makes sense that “good girl” Daphne would find him physically attractive but emotionally offputting because he’s so bold in his flirtation with her. You can’t help but want to warn Daphne off from him. However, as Bowen develops his character’s journey, you realize that there is weight and sincerity in his interest in Daphne. Bowen develops these graded levels in his character, and it makes him one of the most exciting characters in the True North series, in my opinion.
Now, while Daphne is seemingly a difficult character to love, she was kindred for me. I too am a person who has a hard exterior, so to speak. However, it hides a soft underbelly of vulnerabilities. I connected with Daphne’s journey as she learns to lower her walls around Rickie. They are truly suited to bring out the best in each other. At the beginning of the story, it makes for some fireworks of attraction; however, as Bowen deftly draws their story, she shows us how they complement and fulfill each other. Daphne, like her siblings, becomes this layered character who needs to rectify the wrongs of her past in order to find peace in her future.
Waylaid has elements of suspense and small-town romance. The struggles of her characters include sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and the idea that the past doesn’t have to define the present or future. And Sarina Bowen handles these messages with the gravity and care that they deserve. Honestly, I didn’t think that Waylaid could be one of the top reads of this series, but I think Daphne and Rickie have taken the second spot of my favorites of the series. The connection, the story, and their journeys steal a little piece of your heart through to the very end of the story.
In love and romance,