Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Let go of the relationships that cause you only pain. We make our own family.”
If you consider Lexi Ryan’s stories, there is a thread that runs through her stories: the idea of family. In her newest series, Orchid Valley, the constructed family is unconventional as it is built around familial relationships, not blood. In fact, the first two books of this series, Every Little Promise, the prequel, and Every Little Piece of Me, book 1, underscore this idea multiple times through their stories. It weaves itself through the romance between Brinley Knox and Marston Rowe. It’s a powerful message, a reminder that we can “make our own family,” so we can reject our blood family when they undermine our physical and mental health. This message is the power of this story, as it applies to so many readers who might need to be reminded of it.
The story follows Brinley Knox and Marston Rowe who were sweethearts in high school. Marston comes from a challenging background. His mother is an addict, and she’s incapable of caring for him, so he lives homeless as a teenager. In doing so, he breaks the law so that he can survive, but it gives him a reputation. His aunt takes him in, and she provides him a stable job and home, even though he is considered “poor.” Brinley Knox hails from a wealthy family with all of its advantages. One night, Marston and Brinley meet, and there is an immediate attraction. Even more, Marston sees Brinley in a way that no one in her social circle or family sees her, save her terminally-ill sister. Eventually, tragedy strikes and Brinley feels guilty, so she sends Marston away, even though her heart belongs to him. Eleven years pass and Marston and Brinley meet in Vegas unexpectedly (well sort of). All of the feelings are still there, and they pick up where they left off. In doing so, these two marry each other. The problem is Brinley leaves Marston again because she doesn’t remember that she is married to him. Six months later, Marston receives an invitation to his “wife’s” wedding, and he decides he has waited long enough, so he returns to Orchid Valley, the place that tore him and Brinley apart. He decides he will not leave until she’s “his” again.
Let me begin with the issues of the story. For one, Brinley. I hate struggling with a heroine’s choices, but Brinley’s crazy-making runs the gamut. On the one hand, she is striving for more independence, and her business sense is insightful in running The Orchid, the hotel/spa/restaurant where she works. This is a woman who has so much support in the form of her chosen family: her friends, Savvy, Stella, and Abbi. Yet, this woman rarely listens to her friends’ advice, which is doled out time and time again, and her own thinking is circular and does nothing to help her situation. She has no passion for her fiance, Julian, and she recognizes issues with him. Yet, she takes much of the story to do what her friends have been telling her. She has a daughter, Cami, who she hides from Marston, and she is annoyed when he becomes frustrated with her lack of transparency. It’s clear that Marston and Brinley are destined for each other, and he does everything to prove his love to her. Over and over again, Brinley spurns his advances, and it feels redundant. I found myself exceedingly frustrated with Brinley because she could be more. I understand that there needed to be more story so that Ryan could build the past and the present together, but the story felt slow because the present took up too much of the story in order to continue the same pattern of story. Brinley’s epiphany about Marston comes late in the story, and I think it could have come sooner.
Now, given that Brinley is a point of frustration in Every Little Piece of Me, Ryan has crafted a hero who becomes the reason for loving this story. The combination of Marston Rowe and Brinley’s friends save this story. All of them are devoted to a heroine who seems unworthy of that devotion. Yes, she would do anything for her friends, but the drama she creates in their lives seems overwhelming. Instead of crafting Brinley in a more meaningful way, Ryan does so with Marston’s character. This is a man who has pined for a woman for far too long, and he loves her in ways that don’t undermine her strengths. Since Brinley views her life through the filter of her parents’ “love” for her, she confuses Marston’s actions time and time again, putting him in a difficult position. Thankfully, Marston is one of the most mature people in this story. When Brinley pushes him away time and time again, he lives up to his promises, eventually winning her over. However, that process sometimes slows the narrative of the story.
Even though Brinley Knox is one of my recent least favorite heroines, the message, the hero, and the ancillary characters keep you engaged in Lexi Ryan’s Every Little Piece of Me. There is a promise in the Orchid Valley series of better stories: friends-to-lovers, single parent, etc. Even though this first book is a bit underwhelming, it still makes a good summer read when the beaches open and we can once again lie on the beach reading the day away.
In love and romance,