A disgraced scholar running from her past and an entrepreneur chasing his future find themselves thrown together—and fall in love—on a Tolkien tour of New Zealand.
Allison Shire (yes, like where the Hobbits live) is a disgraced academic who is done with love. Her belief in “happily ever after” ended the day she discovered her husband was still married to a wife she knew nothing about. She finally finds a use for her English degree by guiding tours through the famous sites featured in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. By living life on the road and traveling New Zealand as a luxury tour guide, Allison manages to outrun the pain of her past she can’t face.
Jackson Gregory was on the cusp of making it big. Then suddenly his girlfriend left him—for his biggest business competitor—and took his most guarded commercial secrets with her. To make matters worse, the Iowa farm that has been in his family for generations is facing foreclosure. Determined to save his parents from financial ruin, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince his wealthy great-uncle to invest in his next scheme, which means accompanying him to the bottom of the world to spend three weeks pretending to be a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, even though he knows nothing about the stories. The one thing that stands between him and his goal is a know-it-all tour guide who can’t stand him and pegged him as a fake the moment he walked off the plane.
When Allison leads the group through the famous sites of the Tolkien movies, she and Jackson start to see each other differently, and as they keep getting thrown together on the tour, they find themselves drawn to each other. Neither expected to fall in love again, but can they find a way beyond their regrets to take a chance on the one thing they’re not looking for?
I enjoyed reading Close To You, the debut novel by my New Zealand author friend Kara Isaac. I will confess I’m not familiar with Tolkien’s works… I’ve never read the books, I rarely read fantasy, and I saw a couple of the Lord Of The Rings movies at the cinema. The movie scenery inspired me to bump travelling to New Zealand higher up my travel wishlist.
You don’t need to be a Tolkien fan to enjoy this book. I identified with Jackson and his confusion as he was surrounded by die hard fans living their dream of dressing up and touring the various movie settings in New Zealand.
Allison (Allie) Shire, their PhD qualified Tolkien expert tour guide, is struggling to emotionally deal with her past mistakes and move on. She has a toxic relationship with her mother that emotionally cripples her. Her mother views Allie’s so-called failings as a personal slight against her and their family’s reputation. Her mother doesn’t empathise with her daughter’s difficult situation with her estranged and hopefully soon-to-be ex-husband. Allie has been betrayed by people close to her and has big self-esteem and trust issues. This includes trusting God and believing that God could love her for who she is. We meet Allie in Chapter One when she is literally and metaphorically hiding her true self in a Hobbit costume.
Jackson Gregory has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and believes it’s his job to rescue the people he loves and those who have made the mistake of trusting him with their life savings. He’s desperate to convince his elderly Uncle Louis to invest in his new business venture so he can right the wrongs caused by his failed business venture. Jackson’s ex-girlfriend betrayed him and he’s determined to safeguard his heart and fix his life, his way. He turned his back on his childhood faith from small town Iowa to live a glamorous and opulent lifestyle in LA.
The romance that develops between Allie and Jackson is both entertaining and frustrating. They come from different worlds and hate each other on first sight. Their inability at times to speak honestly and openly creates mishaps and humour in the story. Allie, in particular, hides behind sarcasm and snark to protect her fragile heart.
The witty dialogue and Tolkien references and stunning New Zealand setting create a fabulous combination for a fun contemporary romance. The minor characters, including Jackson’s Uncle Louis, add wisdom and frivolity to the story. The faith element is drawn out more toward the end of the story when Allie and Jackson are working through their emotional issues. I highly recommend Close to You to readers who enjoy contemporary romances, and especially readers who are also Tolkien fans.