Close To You – Kara Isaac – Howard Books – Published 26 April 2016
A disgraced scholar running from her past and an entrepreneur chasing his future find themselves thrown together—and fall in love—on a Tolkien tour of New Zealand.
Allison Shire (yes, like where the Hobbits live) is a disgraced academic who is done with love. Her belief in “happily ever after” ended the day she discovered her husband was still married to a wife she knew nothing about. She finally finds a use for her English degree by guiding tours through the famous sites featured in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. By living life on the road and traveling New Zealand as a luxury tour guide, Allison manages to outrun the pain of her past she can’t face.
Jackson Gregory was on the cusp of making it big. Then suddenly his girlfriend left him—for his biggest business competitor—and took his most guarded commercial secrets with her. To make matters worse, the Iowa farm that has been in his family for generations is facing foreclosure. Determined to save his parents from financial ruin, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince his wealthy great-uncle to invest in his next scheme, which means accompanying him to the bottom of the world to spend three weeks pretending to be a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, even though he knows nothing about the stories. The one thing that stands between him and his goal is a know-it-all tour guide who can’t stand him and pegged him as a fake the moment he walked off the plane.
When Allison leads the group through the famous sites of the Tolkien movies, she and Jackson start to see each other differently, and as they keep getting thrown together on the tour, they find themselves drawn to each other. Neither expected to fall in love again, but can they find a way beyond their regrets to take a chance on the one thing they’re not looking for?
This is a standout contemporary novel, hilarious, touching and enjoyable right to the very last page.
Close To You flips from charmingly amusing to downright hilarious. Everything that could possibly go wrong does, from falling into mud pits or getting lost in the rugged New Zealand wilderness. The interactions between Allie and Jackson are magic. From the you’re-driving-me-crazy moments, to the ones where something lingers under the surface, I loved every minute of it.
Allison Shire is working for a Lord of the Rings tour company. She is perhaps the most over-qualified tour guide ever, but this is where she must stay until the courts can annul her marriage to a charmer who was only after her money and citizenship and just happened to already be married. Jackson Gregory went from entrepreneur and businessman success story to disaster when his girlfriend stole his company’s secrets and gave them to his top competitor. Now he has been dragged to the bottom of the world on a trip that sounds like a combination of everything he finds ridiculous. But he must impress his uncle with his Tolkien knowledge (which is actually less than nonexistent) and good character if he wants his uncle to invest in his latest scheme and hopefully save his family’s farm and pay back what he owes to disappointed investors. Both Allie and Jackson have been severely burnt by love and life, but they can’t deny the feelings that spring up on their trip through the great New Zealand scenery (although those feelings are mainly frustration and irritation). It just might take a miracle for these two to survive the trip with their hearts intact.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a contemporary that is so well paced. It felt long. And not in a this is boring, hurry up way, but in that it felt like the relationships developed naturally. Nothing is rushed, the characters are able to express a whole range of feelings, and the time it takes for Allie and Jackson to move from deep dislike to something more (with maybe a few twists in the middle) felt realistic and worthy. Both are determined to stay away from relationships. I love how their feelings sneak up on them. I also loved how this never happened in a way that was all ‘I’ve given up on love but two seconds later I’m totally head over heels’. They both fight the slowly growing attraction each step of the way and there are plenty of arguments, sweet moments, hilarious stunts and pure frustration. Despite Jackson’s initial arrogance I couldn’t help feeling a little bit sorry for him. He is clearly out of his depth. And Allie makes a great heroine, smart and brave but very weary after everything life has handed to her.
While I’ve seen the movies, I’m not a die-hard Tolkien fan. I had to look up a few references while reading, but both main characters are well and truly sick of all things Hobbit most of the time, so everything is approached with a blend of respect and humour, as well as a whole lot of disbelief, cynicism and eye-rolling. Perfect and very amusing.
The writing style is flowery, with plenty of metaphors, but it works it this rolling tale of love, literature and adventure. Aside from all The Lord of the Ring references there are many other cultural references to books, movies and TV shows.
Faith doesn’t play much of a role in this book until later in the last half. Allie is a Christian, but feels distant from God due to her bad choices. Jackson’s family are Christians and he was raised as a Christian but he hasn’t had much time for God in between his business deals and past relationships. God is only mentioned in passing a few times in the first half of the book, but this increases towards the end of the book, where the characters find themselves turning back to God, choosing to follow his direction and ultimately trusting in his love and plans. It’s a great balance, never preachy or overdone but nor is it lacking in any way for a light, Christian feel.
The end is absolutely perfect – a wonderful moment (and all the moments leading up to it). The characters worked so hard to get to this place and they totally deserved every minute of it. I loved how it was paced, how it wasn’t easy or assumed or cliche or anything but brilliant.
I love that this is set in New Zealand. I love the abundance of pop culture and literature references. I love everything about all the Lord of the Rings aspects, from the fan devotion, movies, books, locations, quotes, characters and storylines, but especially that the book is not afraid to make fun and tease, never taking itself very seriously while still remaining respectful and authentic enough to please any fan.
The humour is what makes it a five-star book for me. It’s a book I will go back and pick up when I’m down and needing something fun, making it a perfect Christian contemporary.
The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: Christian contemporary.
Themes: Love, faith, literature, Lord of the Rings, marriage, family, careers.
Published: 26 April 2016 by Howard Books.
Format: Paperback, ebook. 384 pages.