Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Book Review: "The Simple Wild" by K.A. Tucker

I'll admit, I have a straight-up obsession with Alaska. Of course, I'm far from the roughing-it type, so my appreciation of the "Last Frontier" comes from the pictures I've seen from those on Alaskan cruises, books like The Great Alone or The Smell of Other People's Houses, and movies.

I must say, that when a character in K.A. Tucker's book The Simple Wild said she loved Alaska because of what she saw in the movie "Into the Wild," I actually laughed out loud, because I felt seen.

Anyway, all this preamble is just to say that The Simple Wild already had a bit of a head-start with me because of its setting, but Tucker's story of romance, family dysfunction, forgiveness, and desperately trying not to make the same mistakes your parents did really blew me away. I've been on a bit of a roll with romance/rom-com novels lately, and this one was just as spectacular as everyone told me it was.

Calla Fletcher is a bit out of sorts—she's just lost her job and her relationship with her boyfriend seems to be going nowhere. Then she gets a phone call that her estranged father, Wren, has cancer. Calla hasn't seen her father since she was two years old, when she and her mother left their rural Alaska home because her mother could no longer handle the isolated lifestyle. And while she talked to her father periodically throughout her childhood, they haven't spoken in a number of years, and she essentially felt he chose his life in Alaska over her.

With nothing really going on in her life, and the opportunity to try and get to know her father before it's too late, Calla decides to head to the Alaskan wilderness, where he runs a charter plane company. She is utterly unprepared for how different life is in Bangor, Alaska from her life in Toronto—the spotty wi-fi, the constraints on water usage, how much everything costs—but she is captivated by the beauty of the place. But her father is very guarded, and she can't seem to understand why he keeps avoiding her. She's only in Alaska for a week—shouldn't he be taking the time to get to know her again? Or doesn't he care that she came all this way?

Little by little, Calla begins to understand why Wren could never uproot his life, even for her and her mother. She gets to know the people he's chosen to surround himself with, especially Jonah, the cocky pilot with the chip on his shoulder, and a host of incorrect assumptions about Calla. He's convinced she's too pampered to last in Bangor, and is ready to fly her home at the first sign of distress—if she can ever get her luggage in the first place. She doesn't understand why Jonah resents her so much, although he does encourage her to get to know her father.

Determined to prove Jonah wrong, and realizing that the time she has with her father is truly limited, Calla begins to settle in to Alaskan life, and starts to form a relationship with her father again. She learns more about his relationship with her mother, and how they never truly stopped loving each other, even though she has gotten remarried and built a new life. More and more, Calla's combative relationship with Jonah begins to soften into friendship, with hints at something more intense. But Jonah will never leave Alaska, and like her mother, Calla cannot fathom a life here. She's determined not to make the same mistakes her mother did, no matter how much her hunger for Jonah grows.

While nothing surprising happens in The Simple Wild, I was completely hooked from start to finish, and devoured the book in just a few hours. I was totally invested in these characters and their lives, and found myself getting emotionally invested right along with them. Granted, I have a lot of emotional vulnerability regarding my own father's death five years ago, but this book really touched me. I love books which celebrate both the families we choose along with those we're born into.

Far from just being poignant, however, this book is funny, ridiculously sexy, and a love letter to Alaska. Tucker is a great storyteller, but she painted such vivid pictures of the beautiful surroundings as well as the mundane parts of rural, small-town life. She also did a great job capturing the exhilaration and the danger associated with flying such small planes in unstable conditions. It really added another dimension to the story.

If you're looking for a book that is both a story of family relationships and a love story, pick up The Simple Wild. Hopefully you'll marvel at Tucker's storytelling and the absolute charm of this book as much as I did.

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