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Caged in Winter (Reluctant Hearts Book 1) Kindle Edition
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Winter is just two months from graduating college. Abandoned as a child, she has grown up in foster care until she aged out. She worked hard to get a scholarship and is looking forward to being a free adult, free of her awful job as a barely-dressed waitress, free of the rent she can barely afford and free of the burden of college. She wants to travel, to roam and to get a job where she's on her own finally. She has no plans for romance... in fact she has no relationships at all. She has not a single friend, unless you count the middle-aged woman she works with that she barely knows.
Cade is an aspiring chef who is, also, about to graduate from college. He takes on responsibility way more than he should, working a job he doesn't have to just to feel like he's contributing... helps to raise his niece and basically is still attempting to father his adult younger sister. He's a rescuer that wants to help everyone around him. In real life, these guys drive me crazy because they are often sweet and loving like Cade... but are usually draw to complete basket cases that need rescuing.
Like in this book. Cade, perfectly healthy and normal and already too burdened, takes on Winter like a project. Like he has time. Like he the energy. Like he is even qualified to help this girl. He's doggedly persistent with her... and I couldn't help but be a little exasperated. Like really?! Wow. What is it about this girl you want?
And. Of course. She doesn't WANT to be rescued. She's "strong" and "independent" and "doesn't get too close to anyone" and "HAS TO make it on her own" and "she cannot accept help." Gag.
This was a frustrating book in many ways. Cade was way too awesome for Winter. But she does have her moments with him. She tries to warm up and be normal, but she is extremely damaged. She misinterprets him constantly and goes cold then hot. Cold and hot. Up and down. Pushes away then holds him close. Cade is constant in his attention with her but yes... she is very damaged. It occurred to me that this girl has NO FRIENDS. What teenage/twenty-something girl doesn't befriend a single person in four years of college? Not one coworker? (No I'm not counting the middle-aged woman.) Her issues are very deep-rooted. And I'm not sure a light romance such as this did it justice or worked. There was no fantasy here to escape into as I just didn't trust she was healthy enough to really be with Cade. Her damage was way too deep to be solved in just a few months and by the conclusion of the story.
There were many good parts to this book and it did retain me until the end. Some scenes were excellent, others not so much.
Edited to Add: If you enjoy this female character type (and want a deeper look at it the psychology behind it) you may enjoy The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Though it's not a romance per se (it's chick lit) it does have a romance in it that ends with satisfaction.
A few days later, I picked up the book with some trepidation and started to read. And I take it all back. NA romance is great. Winter and Cade were real, complex characters with real problems and real desires. I understood and identified with both of them and what they were trying to accomplish. Winter's internal struggle was real. Cade's conflict between his obligations and his desires was real. The minor characters all had distinct personalities. It turns out that I don't mind dual first-person POV, present tense when it's well done. And this was well done.
And since I personally distrust five-star reviews that are all glowy perfection, I will point out that Cade calls Winter "baby," and that bugs me. But no book is truly perfect, and if that's my biggest complaint, I'll take it.
It takes Cade a while to woo Winter but slowly he knocks down the wall around her heart, only to put it up again.
Winter has had a rough life that’s made her heart hard and unable to open up and trust or to let anyone help her when she needs it. After a long struggle and self doubt she finally sees what her future holds and the man she calls her home.