Author: Christi Barth
Release Date: 30 August 2011
Number of pages: 312 pages
Source: review copy provided by author
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Author's Website, Amazon
Grade: 3.5 stars
Goodreads appetizer: Can an unexplained breakup and ten years of heartache be cured by the romance - and endless buffets - of a tropical cruise? When her sister is left at the altar, small town librarian Zoe Balis jumps at the chance to take the bride’s unused ticket for the honeymoon cruise. But she didn't count on sharing a cabin with the man who broke her heart ten years ago!
Army medic Nate Hyatt never told Zoe goodbye when he enlisted - or the real reason why he dumped her on prom night after a year as high school sweethearts. And he never stopped dreaming about the girl he left behind. Could this voyage be his chance to fix the worst mistake he ever made? After all, a Caribbean cruise should be romantic… if he can convince her to move past ten years of bitterness and hurt.
Once aboard the luxury liner, Zoe befriends a bored Internet mogul with more heart than tact. Nate vents his problems to a ship’s photographer battling PTSD. The four team up on an island hopping treasure hunt. The stakes grow higher with each of Zoe’s mysterious brushes with death. They race to discover why she's a target and who's behind it, while still competing in the treasure hunt.
Zoe’s never gotten over her first love, and is tempted to let Nate back into her life. But she already lost him once. She’s not willing to risk loving a man whose career keeps him in a combat zone. Can Nate breach her defenses and suture her broken heart? Grab a deck chair and see if they survive the stormy relationship seas as they cruise toward love!
My Thoughts: I discovered Christi Barth earlier this year when I stumbled upon Act Like We're in Love and fell in love with the story, the characters and Christi's writing (you can read my review of Act Like We're in Love here), just telling you this so you can picture how much I was looking forward to reading Cruising Toward Love.
Cruising Toward Love is an interesting mix of contemporary romance and romantic suspense. I really liked the contemporary romance part but didn't care much for the suspense plot, but let me tell you about it in more detail.
The story starts wonderfully: Zoe is the considerate big sister and all around nice girl: she is not only helping out her baby sister in the organisation of Stella's (said baby sister's) marriage, but is organising her sister's marriage since her sister is enough of a brat to bat her eyelashes and pout to have her way. And poor soft-hearted Zoe gives in every time and takes on everything.
So Zoe is on her way, having just picked up the bridesmaids' gifts when some crazy biker almost runs her over, sending her (and all the crystal gifts and Stella's freshly cleaned out clothes) sprawling in a muddy puddle. You can imagine Zoe's indignation, well guess what, it even gets worse: because the handsome (but crazy) biker is none other than Zoe's high school sweetheart Nate, who left Zoe and their small town without any explanation and broke Zoe's heart and self-confidence by doing so. But no, don't think that is all: because Zoe's bratty sister forgot to warn her, that they have asked Nate to be the best man, thus Zoe has to endure his presence for several days and even smile since everyone's eye (and cameras) will be on them. So that is how the novel starts off.
I have to say that I tremendously enjoyed the first third of the novel, Nate and Zoe's meeting and the subsequent scenes were full of tension, banter and sizzling chemistry. But then later their love story sadly lost center stage once they got on the cruise as a lot of time was spent on Callie and Reed and they became just as prominent characters as Nate and Zoe and not just secondary ones.
Callie is a vibrant, colourful, vivid, over the top young woman. She is like a force of nature, nonstop flirting with shy geek Reed:
“I don’t need the food out of your mouth, cutie. I’m just interested in the lips that go around it.”
Whew! The lady laid on flirtation like she was laying down a fresh layer of asphalt. Hot, steamy, and thick.
Reed's PTSD was explored in quite depth, which frankly surprised me as I wasn't expecting it from a contemporary romance, especially as Reed started out as a secondary character:
For months he’d seen himself as damaged, useless. The doctors tried to tell him depression was an expected symptom, but he didn’t feel depressed. He felt like a windshield the moment after it’s hit by a rock—covered with a web of hairline cracks, on the verge of splintering apart. Waiting for the next tiny thing that might shatter him irreparably.
Though Callie and Reed were both nice cute and quirky characters I would have preferred if they got their own novel and Cruising Toward Love could have focussed on only Zoe and Nate. Maybe it's due to this that I found the middle a bit slow and bumpy, I just wanted to read more about Zoe and Nate and would have liked Callie and Reed to cede the stage to them :-/ (I would have loved to read about Zoe and Nate finally talking and confronting everything that happened, what they thought ten years ago instead of their time together being always interrupted because of meeting Callie.)
Christi Barth had me hooked right from the start, the small town was adorable ("here in Towanda, adulterers were exposed while perms were wrapped"), Nate and Zoe had both chemistry and history, so I was a bit disappointed that their story wasn't explored in such depths I would have liked (for example their first kiss after ten years wasn't described at all, neither how it made them feel, which in my opinion would have been crucial). I liked Callie and Reed, but I couldn't forgive that them being on the scene meant less time spent on Zoe and Nate.
The humour in the novel was refreshing and had me chuckle out loud several time:
“Togas, ouzo, and a great love of feta cheese comprise my entire knowledge of the nation of Greece,” said Reed. “Can anyone else do better?”
Nate shook his head. “Add a solid appreciation for gyros and that does it for me.”
“You keep surprising me with this latent romantic streak of yours. I like it, don’t get me wrong,” she added hastily, “but I sure don’t remember you being so sentimental in high school.”
Probably not. To a horny teenage boy, romantic gestures pretty much topped out at remembering to buy two sodas at the movies. And rubbing a few extra brain cells together to make sure one of them was diet.
And Nate was wonderful, in my opinion his proposal was one of the best and most moving one due to its simplicity and blaring honesty:
“Thinking about you makes me happy. Being with you sends me over the moon. I can’t do anything to bring back the time we wasted living separate lives. But I can ask you to let me try to make it up to you while you spend the rest of your life with me. Marry me, Zoe.”
Cruising Toward Love was an entertaining, sunny and funny contemporary romance, but why the suspense bit was added is beyond me, and for me it didn't add much to the storyline and the reason behind the mystery was ridiculous, far.fetched and improbable.
Verdict: Cruising Toward Love was a nice and sunny read, I loved the sometimes witty, sometimes emotional banter or interaction between Nate and Zoe, but I expected to be blown away just as much as Act Like We're in Love did and sadly Cruising Toward Love didn't. I wonder if I hadn't read Act Like We're in Love first maybe I wouldn't have had such high expectations for Cruising Toward Love and would have enjoyed it more. As it is, Cruising Toward Love was a nice and entertaining, funny and romantic story full of adventure and sunshine (but I still recommend you check out Act Like We're in Love).