I don't think I've ever rated a Kleypas book lower than a 4...well, there's a first time for everything.
This is swimming in the 3-3.5 range. All of the stars are for Joe who I love but I don't think this book did him justice. I waited all these years and nearly quelted myself when I found out finally he was going to get a book. Because if you ever ask to name some of my favorite series, the Travis Family, is cement shoes in there. I can go on for days about Liberty/Hardy/Gage because that was something. That love was bombastic. Or Haven and her hard wrought HEA. Or Jack 'Motherfucking' Travis who is hands down one of my fave Kleypas heroes - smooth like fucking butter. ;)
And throughout all of the awesome characters who were secondary characters to main characters, they got a deserving story and HEA. And there was the youngest Travis, Joe, sort of like Jack but more arty with his photography and the tragedy. Fans (including me) wanted him to get his walk onto the HEA covered sunset.
How did the awesome secondary character from the first three books read like a secondary character in his own book? Wait, like a tertiary character in his book!
Joe's a great man - he photographs for causes, loves puppies, his family, doesn't mind a full-figured gal and can charm the drawers off his woman but he could only carry the book so far when the heroine (Avery) was unsure of what she wanted to be. The story was weak, or maybe weak when the secondary characters and the Travis family reunion outshines the main love interests.
Because...I read this version of Travis hero before, in a better version called Jack. Joe was Jack 2.0, just the lighter model. He's still a Travis...therefore the panties go BOOM:
And from the start, Joe had that Travis single-mindedness when it comes to the potential 'one'. who was dowdy, slightly shrewish, sworn-off of love Avery but there wasn't anything in the beginning to point out WHY Joe even liked her. She was seemed like she was cool: a ginger, horrible fashion sense with a I-don't-give-a-frig sense of air (or maybe it was obliviousness) because she was a woman with a purpose. She had a career, she was trying to rebuild her life from the shambles of her dysfunctional background and create happy for others with her wedding planning business.
But she changed herself. :(
Joe was attracted to the oblivious girl (though I don't know why? Her personality wasn't all there.) And I don't mind the makeover but she didn't do it for herself. She did it to please others. Joe thankfully looked passed that and saw the the woman underneath. But Avery played games which I frigging hate. Don't act like you're not going to bone when hello! One Night Stand (which wasn't all that hot to begin with-- I think this was the second misstep).
So Joe pursues Avery and is charismatic, gives her space and is patient whenever he is featured. The story is told in first person present from Avery's POV. The girl needed to make up her mind. It was annoying. She made rash decisions without really thinking and didn't vibe what seemed to be her character. She wasn't very 100% shrew or career woman or modern Cinderella...what was she?
For me, closer to meh. And one of my least favorite Kleypas heroines. Her sister, Sofia had more spunk than Avery.
And can we talk about the haphazard plot twist and family crisis? It was so meh with a side of bleh sauce. Why even include it? Why couldn't we just be left with the happy Travis family memories. Why end it at that odd note?
Who wants to be ungrateful when they get a gift? Not I.
Man... this story lacked some of the magic from the first 3 books: Sugar Daddy, Blue-Eyed Devil, and Smooth Talking Stranger.
Thank you Kleypas for the follow up on the Travis family. I wish Avery was written stronger, I think there was a spine in there, she just needed to be fleshed out more.