I have certain expectations when it comes to books by Linda Francis Lee. One, there will be lots of melodrama, and two, she always gets the best cover art. Her first foray into the contemporary market doesn’t deviate, and while I found she has toned down the angst from her previous historical releases, there’s still plenty of drama to be had.
Grace Colebrook called off her wedding when she caught her fiancé working through his jitters with her older sister’s best friend. She has made it back to her brownstone apartment in New York City’s Upper West Side only to find herself sitting shell-shocked on a bench across the street tearing apart her wedding bouquet.
ER doctor, Jack Berenger, is her sexy new neighbor. When he spies the beautiful woman sitting out in the cold, in a wedding gown no less, he is captivated. Jack and Grace are quickly drawn to each other by their mutual pain and intensity, stepping into a heated embrace and a steamy one-night stand.
So begins the relationship of two very different people, who actually have more in common then they think.
The Ways of Grace is a heroine-driven story. In the beginning, the reader learns much more about Grace than Jack, and the story revolves around the mess her life has become. Not only has her fiancé betrayed her, but a dysfunctional family also surrounds her and her job quickly turns ugly. For a good portion of the story, her self-doubt simmers to the boiling point. She does have her fair share of flaky moments, but ultimately her denial makes way for a new confidence. By the close of the last chapter, Grace is a better person.
Jack is a bit more vague in the beginning, as Lee takes much more time setting up his story. Here is a man who is running away from something. While close to his brother, he has no one else in his life. He lives alone, and works at one of the most dangerous hospitals in the City. He is in a constant battle with God, trying to save the lives of street punks, drug dealers and accident victims. He doesn’t want to be drawn to Grace, but he is, and he wrestles with that fact for the bulk of the story.
For contemporary readers tired of white picket fences and small towns, The Ways of Grace will seem like a breath of fresh air. Not only does Lee use a city as a setting - she uses the City. Much of this tale takes place at the brownstone, and by the end I really began to “see” the Upper West Side.
The melodrama is quite well done. Every time I thought it was going to overwhelm the story, the author took a step back, allowing the reader to catch their breath. Lee also has a beautiful writing style; the beginning sequences alone are some of the best I’ve ever read. That isn’t to say there aren’t a few missteps. The author includes what is fast becoming a cliché in contemporary romance - the fabulous gay friend. That said, Mark quickly grew on me with his no-nonsense attitude, and by the end I was no longer splitting hairs.
When it was all said and done, I felt confident that Jack and Grace were both going to be OK. While I had no doubt that they were both better people for finding each other, I also was left with the feeling that like any realistic relationship they were going to have to continue to work at it. As well they should - because really, what could be more romantic than that?