Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail nearly broke me. Some of my favorite tropes in this one: Military Hero, Damaged Hero, Marriage in Trouble, Small Town, Holiday Story. So many tropes. And it all worked.
The book starts with Lucy at work hearing Sully is back in town. We come to learn Sully is her ex-husband Sullivan. He was an Army Ranger who was injured by an IED. He is now recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury and remembers almost everything…except Lucy.
Lucy is still in love with her ex-husband. They’ve only been divorced less than a year, and it wasn’t her idea. Since Sully had no memory of his wife, he decided she shouldn’t be chained to him while he recovers.
I have to say, I had heard a lot about this story. All of it good, and nearly all of it using words like “sobbed my way through” and “ugly cry” and “OMG I couldn’t stop crying.” All of it accurate. I pretty much weeped my way through this book. My heart absolutely broke for Lucy. She loves Sullivan so much and yet he doesn’t remember her at all. And even worse, their marriage was in trouble before he shipped out this last time. He does have an insatiable craving for cookies. Since Lucy is a baker, I knew his craving for cookies was a craving for Lucy and that, too, broke my heart.
While I was rooting for this couple, I couldn’t help but want Lucy to just leave town. She was in so much pain having to deal with Sullivan and her unresolved issues with his choices and the fact he treats her like everyone else. I just wanted her pain to stop, and seeing him around town was just torture for her.
And Sullivan…What he did becomes clear, and he DOES do some grovel, and while his explanation is satisfactory, I’m from the “There can never be too much grovel” school of thought, and thought she forgave him way too easily. He hurt her a LOT, not just after his injury, but before when they were still married. It felt like she cut him too much slack because he had been injured since then. I would have liked some acknowledgment of all the issues they still need to work through.
Lest you think this book is nothing but an angst-filled heartbreaking tragic story, every now and again Ms. Gail puts a line in which makes you laugh.
“Every time you say you hate Christmas, one of Santa’s elves explodes.”
“Tweed is the devil’s material, and moths are his fluttery, dusty minions that want to steal my soul.”
As a knitter with a closet full of wool yarn and hand-knit wool items, I COMPLETELY agree. Damn soul suckers.
There was just enough humor in this book to keep it from being too dark. There was hope, even when it seemed Lucy was crushed under the weight of her grief and sadness. While I cried my way through, I never felt as if these two wouldn’t get their HEA. I had absolute faith Sullivan would remember Lucy and realize what a jerk he had been to her before and make it all up to her. Because if he didn’t, I was showing up on his doorstep with pitchforks and torches.
At the end of the story, Ms. Gail has a note that there are “deleted scenes” on her blog, and to check them out. I did, and I wish they had been included! The epilogue she has posted on her site is what I needed there to be at the end. It shows how Lucy and Sullivan (especially Sullivan) really worked to get their relationship back. It shows us the end of the book wasn’t as simple or cut and dried as it seemed. Lucy DID make him work for it. Good for her. She deserved it, and he needed to put his time in making it all up to her.
And warning: on her site there’s also a letter to Sully’s friend’s kids which will make you cry. Crying is kind of a recurring theme with this book, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
While this book is technically a “holiday” story, This one is going to end up in permanent rotation all year long. Whenever I want a great, emotional, sob-fest of a story, this is the one I’ll reach for.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from Ms. Gail. According to her site, she’s writing another Bitterthorn book. Yay! And I’m hoping at some point we will get Coe’s story, too. He intrigued me.
Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Holiday Peppermint Sticks
aka The Fish With Sticks
Rating: 5 Stars