Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️+
“And wasn’t that the most precious gift? To know someone so deeply, so thoroughly that every detail of their skin was familiar. I loved this man.”
Everyone wants to be seen and accepted. Everyone. It’s as imperative as breathing air and nourishing one’s body. This becomes complicated when the one person who has seen and accepted you your whole life is your brother’s best friend. Or when your brother’s best friend has created a new family because his family is broken, and that family involves your own, so he does not want to potentially ruin his carefully constructed safe haven. Catherine Cowles’s newest book, Beautifully Broken Spirit, illustrates these ideas through the characters of Tuck and Jensen. Tuck is Jensen’s brother’s best friend, and he has been involved in her life since birth. Almost from the beginning, Tuck and Jensen understand each other’s hurts and needs in a way that no one else can. In their adulthood, this understanding morphs into an attraction and eventually, an abiding love, that seeks to complicate their lives. Is it possible to find love with the one person who seems off-limits to you? Should you even try for it?
Beautifully Broken Spirit is my first Catherine Cowles’s book. There was something about the cover and the blurb that called to my reader’s soul. To be honest, it reminded me of one of my favorite romance authors, Devney Perry. I knew I needed to read this book. It’s the third book in the Sutter Lake series, and, after reading it, it’s not imperative that you have read the first two in order to understand this one. Yes, there are instances that have occurred before this book that play into the development of Tuck and Jensen, specifically Jensen. Yet, Cowles does a brilliant job of giving the reader enough detail to enter this story without confusion. It also is enough detail that it will trigger you to read the first two books in this series. At least, that is how it worked for me. The reason that Cowles reminds me of Perry so much is the way in which she allows the landscape and surrounding community of her book to take up residence as its own character in the story. The forest and wild mustangs act as a way to connect Tuck and Jensen. They also play an important part in the story. Perry does something similar in her books where she, like Cowles, establishes stories that evoke a specific place and time. Just as Perry gives us Montana in romance, forested Oregon now finds its place in romance through Cowles’s books. The place becomes a landmark for Cowles’s storytelling, and she does it in a way that makes you feel like you are walking through its forested splendor with Tuck and Jensen.
In terms of the development of Cowles’s characters, Tuck and Jensen are such round characters. They are multi-layered and deep. Both of them carry hurts from their past that wreak havoc on their present and potential future. Tuck’s family is broken. His father is a philanderer, and he’s disparaged his son throughout much of his life. His treatment of Tuck has created wounds that emotionally stunt Tuck’s thinking about relationships. In fact, much of the drama between Jensen and Tuck revolves around his insistence that he’s like his father and cannot engage in a long-term relationship. Interestingly, in Cowles’s crafting of Tuck, the reader (and the rest of the characters in the book) see the real truth of Tuck: he is nothing like his father and his heart is bigger than anyone else’s in the story. He would sacrifice himself for the people he loves, and he nearly does. There is no way he could act like his father. His inability to see his strengths mar the story. As a reader, you want to reach into the story and shake him because he’s so absurd when it comes to his future with Jensen. But that also illustrates Cowles’s prowess at characterization. When an author uses a character to evoke intense feelings from their readers, you know the writing is stellar.
Similarly, Jensen’s journey is meant to remind us that we are not islands. Instead, a community surrounds us, willing to help. At the outset of the story, Jensen is recovering from deceit and mayhem caused by actions from the story of the second book in this series. Her shoulders weigh heavy with the guilt of her actions, and she’s taken to distancing herself from her family and friends. As a single mom, she has relied upon the help of her family to raise her son. Yet, in her guilt, she believes she’s responsible for taking care of everything without help; it’s her penance. This begins to create issues, and the reader starts to understand the depth of her friendship and connection with Tuck. At that moment, Tuck “sees” her, and he diligently works to unbind her from her guilt. It’s his compassion and tenacity towards her that allows her to accept help while letting go of her guilt. This becomes a turning point for these two, as they begin to acknowledge their attraction to each other. Even more, Tuck notes a wildness in Jensen, and he knows that he will always treasure it, allowing her to be true to herself. Just as Tuck is helpful with Jensen, she too acts as a beacon in Tuck’s life. She’s the impetus for “seeing” himself as more than temporary. Together, Jensen and Tuck are the epitome of friends becoming lovers, and Cowles’s talent lies in the development of their relationship. It’s the most beautiful part of this story.
Interwoven with Jensen and Tuck’s journey is a bit of romantic suspense. There is a baby daddy storyline and a mystery to solve about the killing of wild mustangs. The romance conspires with these plot points to elicit a tale that is timeless. That is what I kept thinking after I read Beautifully Broken Spirit. It feels as though Cowles has situated herself in the genre in a way that feels organic and truthful. Every word on the page, every feeling felt between the pages of her story captured my heart. It really did me in. I’m thankful that I found her as a writer. I know that I will continue to read her, and she’ll find a permanent place on my list of favorite authors. Beautifully Broken Spirit is a timeless romance of beginnings and forever afters between life-long friends.
“Being around Jensen was the most beautiful form of torture.”
In love and romance,