***Warning: This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk***
Just Down the Road by Jodi Thomas
published by Berkley in April 2012
Harmony, Texas, is a place where dreams are born. As the townspeople face unexpected endings and new beginnings, they also come face to face with themselves—and what’s most important in life...Genre: Contemporary romance
When Tinch Turner lost his wife, he gave up on living. Now he spends his nights brooding, boozing, and brawling. When one of his escapades lands him in the ER, he finds himself staring up at the beautiful new doctor in town. For the first time in years, he feels a spark, but Addison Spencer wants nothing to do with the unruly rancher—or any man for that matter. She’s only in Harmony four months, long enough for the trouble she left behind to be over. But then a vulnerable little boy barrels into both their lives, forcing them out of the past—and into a future where love is just down the road...
In the meantime, as Reagan Truman grieves for her beloved uncle, she finds comfort in the makeshift family she’s made in Harmony—and in a new baby, the first born in the Wright Funeral Home in 45 years, proving to everyone that life does go on...
Series: Harmony series, Book #4
The Story: It is customary for a Harmony novel to have several story threads - some beginning and others continuing - and Just Down the Road is no exception. The main story is about Tinch Turner, a rancher who lost his wife to cancer. Ever since her death, Tinch has lost his purpose in life and often spends his nights getting drunk at the bar and getting into brawls, with the odds not being in his favor. That is how he meets Dr Addison Spencer who also happens to be his neighbor. Tinch quickly figures out that Addison has come to Harmony to hide, but from what? As the two have nothing in common, Tinch and Addison figure they'll each go their own way... That is until Tinch finds out he is the guardian of a 4 years old boy, Jaime, who is his nephew on his wife's side. Jaime's mother was a drug addicted who came to Harmony to look for her sister. When her death is ruled as murder, everyone fears for Jaime's safety... and Tinch and Addison start bonding over the little boy as he considers Addison his guardian angel.
The other storylines involve familiar faces. First, there is Tyler, the funeral home director. His Kate has finally agreed to marry him, but she has one more mission to complete before and it is not without danger. Tyler can't help but worry and in the meantime, there is also his young housekeeper, Autumn, who is about to pop. Then, there's Reagan who finds herself alone for the first time since she came to Harmony after her uncle Jeremiah passes away. She really needs Noah by her side, but he is not there... When he finally returns, Reagan questions their relationship as it is clear Noah is not ready to settle down. Finally, there is Beau Yates who is 18 years old and the son of a minister. He aspires to be a musician, but stutters every time he talks to a woman... and he is slowly making the transition from boy to man.
My Opinion: After reading The Comforts of Home, I did something I rarely do... I read the excerpt for Just Down the Road. See, there's a reason I usually don't!! Because it makes me want to have the book right away! Luckily for me, I only had 6 months to wait instead of a full year! As soon as I got the book, I started reading it... and as usual, Ms Thomas does not disappoint :)
Before I start gushing about the book and the series, I'd like to give out an advice and that is to read this series in order, LOL. As I said in my synopsis, every book has several storylines going on and Ms Thomas doesn't tie them all up neatly at the end of each book. So if you really want the whole experience, I strongly encourage newcomers to start at the beginning with Welcome to Harmony :) And since I'm talking about the series, I might as well start my gushing from here :) After vampires and werewolves, small town romance is the new "in" and as a result, there's been a boom in small town contemporary romance series in the past couple of years. To me though, the Harmony series is one that really stands out. I mainly attribute it to Ms Thomas writing. As I've said many times in past reviews, there is something special about Ms Thomas' style. It's just so gentle, so serene that it lulls you into the stories and it really fits the atmosphere she has created for Harmony. After reading Just Down the Road, I think I've figured out another reasons why this series is so enjoyable: equal opportunity/diversity. By equal opportunity, I mean that with Ms Thomas' talent and touch, everyone can become a protagonist. Most contemporary romances feature H/H in their mid-20s to mid-30s, people that somehow made their way to the small town and meet its inhabitants. Some are looking for a place to rest before returning to their lives, others are looking for fresh starts... That's what readers enjoy and there's nothing wrong with that. But did you ever think you'd enjoy reading about a 45 years old, chubby funeral home director? Or a socially awkward 27 years old mailwoman? Or an 18 years old boy who stutters when he talks to women? Well when it's by Ms Thomas, you do :) Her characters are so diverse, both in age and background and that makes it interesting and keeps the series refreshing. Something else that I really like about the Harmony series is the lack of sequel baiting. In most series, when some interesting characters are introduced, you expect them to get their own book when the time is right. In this series, many of them will likely never get the spotlight. Instead, their stories are told as the series continues and I really like it because that's how life is :)
Now, what about Just Down the Road? Well I really enjoyed it :) I really liked the main story with Tinch and Addison. Tinch was the strong, silent hero type. My heart really ached for him because when he lost his wife, he lost his best friend, his family and his lover T_T Is it a wonder that after her death, he lost himself? However, as soon as Jaime came into the picture, Tinch put himself back together and was there for the boy. He found a purpose in life again and with that, he started living again. Awwwww. It does help that I love this type of story, LOL. Plus, Jaime was a pistol :) I also liked the romance between Tinch and Addison. It was sweet and it was fun to see the two of them dancing around each other. I have to admit, I did not really care about Addison's back-story. Basically, Addison has tried her whole life to be the perfect daughter, but her father always found fault. She tried rebelling once in her life and it resulted in a failed marriage and her parents bailing her out of it. Now, her father has decided she should marry an older man who happens to be a brilliant researcher... However, there's really no passion between the two of them. To delay the decision, Addison has "ran away," taking the position in Harmony for a year... but her contract is coming to an end. From the way Addison behaved at the beginning of the book, I thought her past was really dark and painful... And while I know everyone reacts differently, I've really read worst pasts. I kind of felt Addison's current behavior was a bit over the top considering her past, but oh well. Apart from this, I liked Addison character. As for the suspense, I thought it was interesting even though you had to suspend disbelief at times.
To my surprise, Tyler - the funeral home director - has become one of my favorite characters in Harmony :) Seriously, he just grows on you and you can't help but like such a nice guy. I found it cute how excited he was to have a baby in the house... and his reaction at the end when he realized that a newborn mainly slept, ate and cried was so male LOL. I also like how much pride he takes in doing his job. You don't often think about it, but he is kind of the glue of the town... It's also funny how Tyler always ends up being at the right place at the right time :) However, I have to say that the whole worrying about "my Kate" got old fast ^_^; Also, while it never got to that point, I'm kind of disappointed in Tyler that he would give Kate an ultimatum - him or her job. In the end though, I'm just happy that he's finally found happiness :)
And as usual, there's Reagan's story thread. While Tyler is kind of the glue of the town, Reagan's story is the glue of the series. I loved that we've seen Reagan grow throughout the series. However, when I heard that her storyline was about her relationship with Noah, I couldn't help but think "Not again" ^_^; I mean, it's obvious that Reagan and Noah belong together, although I do agree that they are a bit young to settle down. I just wished the story was about something else than "are we together or not." The worst is that there's never a real break-up ^_^; I think Ms Thomas is doing a great job at showing the friendship, but also the love between the two characters and how much they mean for each other... However, I'm ready to take a small break. Plus now that Big is out of the picture, it should help :) One thing though, it was really sad that uncle Jeremiah died T_T I knew it was coming and yet, I didn't want to believe it would happen...
Finally, I enjoyed reading the bits about Beau Yates. I'm looking forward to reading more about him. I wonder how he'll turn out, if he'll make it big :) Another storyline I'm hoping Ms Thomas will pick up again soon is Ronny and Marty! It was also fun seeing so many familiar faces throughout the book. Sometimes it was just a mention, but that was enough :) I especially like the part where Tinch needed someone to watch Jaime for a couple of hours and ended up with Gabe (hero of Somewhere Along the Way) and Denver, two guys who served in the Special Force... and when they learned that Jaime would be asleep, their response was "Great." LOL. Wonder how they'll do when Gabe's twin girls can walk and talk LOL.
My Grade: B+. Just Down the Road has its flaws, but it still ended up being a very good read :) As usual, I'm looking forward to the next book! Can't wait to be back in Harmony already LOL. By the way, I really like the cover :) The more I look at it, the more I love it... It just fits so well :)