All I Am by Nicole Helm. Descriptions such as "super good" and "VERY sweet" may have been bandied about. I happened to already have the book in my TBR thanks to the last time Harlequin had a killer sale I couldn't ignore, and voila!
Wes Stone was injured in an explosion while he was serving in Afghanistan. He's back home now, living life as a hermit. After multiple surgeries, the reality that his dreams of becoming a veterinarian are officially over, tired of the pity and of people treating him like an invalid, Wes lives in his remote cabin in the woods, surrounded by stray animals he's taken in, and getting his organic dog treat (yes, really) business off the ground.
It's at one of the local farmer's markets where he's selling his dog treats that he meets Cara Pruitt - local party girl. Cara is in her mid-20s and has no clue where her life is going. Her job at the local beauty salon is going nowhere, the job interview her sister set up for her was a disaster, basically Cara is a screw-up. But then she meets Wes and something inside her snaps. She basically hornswoggles him into giving her a job. Wes can make dog treats, but the business side of things? He's not terribly organized. Being a salesman? Ha ha ha ha! Wes is rough around the edges to the point where he totally needs Cara's help. And if she's working for him? It buys her a little time with her own family and dealing with her own shortcomings.
We all know where this is going, right? What we have here are two seriously screwed-up people who spend an exorbitant amount of time in their own heads. Wes is no good dealing with people, so he pushes everyone away before they figure out how truly screwed-up he is. Cara figures admitting you're a failure and owning that fact is better than waiting for others to discover it about you - so she runs. A lot. She's the master at self-sabotage. Ultimately these two people are the perfect people for each other - it's just going to take some time for them to convince themselves of that fact.
It's an interesting romance and it features two types of characters I have a massive soft spot for - the heroine with a "reputation" and the awkward, inexperienced-in-the-ways-of-love hero (read in between the lines there). And they're both very good at shutting people out of their lives. However when these two get together, the uneasiness, the uncertainty - it's all very sweet. Cara knows flirting, she knows sex - but in every other aspect of her life she's uncertain. Wes isn't certain of anything other than he's tired of surgeries, he's tired of the empty promises that doctors make, and he's tired of being alone. It just takes him a little while to realize that last bit.
This all being said, the conflict here is, outside of Cara's crummy friends and a local Mean Girl, all internal. And when you have two characters so wrapped up in their own insecurities and uncertainties? It gets pretty exhausting after a while to be constantly wrapped up in that. Especially during the last 20% or so of the story when the author has to wedge the couple apart again in order for Wes to make his Grand Gesture (and it is worth the wait) - but still...exhausting.
But it is emotional and it felt like characters with real problems. Because really, at the end of the day, feeling insecure and unsure of yourself - this is tangible conflict that a lot of readers will have no problem relating to. I may have wanted to smack Wes and Cara at times, but these aren't bad people. They're just screwed-up people who really don't know who they are or where they're going - but they end up figuring it out together. Which, really - isn't that what we all want?
Final Grade = B