|This is my first book by Jaclyn Reding. The second I finished the last page, I went searching for her backlist; it’s a rare treat to come across a writer I enjoy this much but have somehow managed to miss. The Second Chance offers characters that are not too complex but are finely drawn, and a tale that is so probable as to border on mundane but is somehow still powerful and immensely moving, and all of this set against a backdrop so meticulously sketched that you can smell the sea and taste the scones.
The second chance of the title is a second chance for love, family and home for both Flora MacCallum and Gavin Matheson. Their respective tragic pasts include a husband unexpectedly dead at an early age from an accident (leaving behind a devastated pregnant widow and two young children), and a somehow even more tragic custodial kidnapping that has resulted in a two year separation from a young son.
Flora and her children live quietly in Wrath, Scotland, where she works as the caretaker for Castle Wrath, owned by Graeme and Libby Mackenzie (who clearly had their own book prior to this one). Flora has been asked by the more-than-nine-months-pregnant Libby to be responsible for the grand opening of the bed and breakfast she’s created in her childhood home, a Federalist era ship captain’s house overlooking the sea in Ipswich-by-the-Sea on the Massachusetts coast. Convinced by her friend Libby and her brother Angus that she needs to come out of the bubble of widowhood and sacrificial motherhood into which she has been frozen, she accepts the challenge. Leaving her three young children under Angus’s care for two weeks while they finish the school year, Flora jets off to face this challenge and perhaps even take charming brother Angus’ advice – “I want you to have yourself a right good shag.”
The house next door to the B & B is temporarily occupied by Gavin, a composer who is trying to bring back the magic that had brought him his unbelievably successful career – he had always simply heard the music in his head and then poured it out. There had been no music in his head for two years, since his immature and unbalanced former wife absconded with their son. He has a private detective tracking them down across the globe, but has been unsuccessful in retrieving his son. After just a glimpse of Flora, he hears a bit of music in his head at last. It’s only four notes, but he is determined to stoke this feeble spark to life by seeking her company. The two then meet cute but charming, are immediately intensely attracted to one another, but get off to a bumpy start due to the complexities of opening a new business, soon having three children underfoot while another is missing and dwelling in parts unknown, and a long-dormant talent is struggling to resurface.
This quite simply a sweet, lovely, mature, beguiling tale of two people who deserve better trying to muck their way through the unpleasant and unexpected reality in which they find themselves. There are no “big misunderstandings” or “big dark secrets” – just reasonable reactions one might expect from people who have lived through almost unbearable tragedies. She doesn’t quite know how to balance a sexual relationship with her primary role as mother; he doesn’t think he can have a relationship with a woman that might result in his loving another child, as the mere idea of potential loss is paralyzing. Makes sense. They have some squabbles, but manage to reconnect, apologize and move forward, just as one would expect of mature persons. How refreshing.
One of the more charming aspects of the book is Flora’s voice. Her lilting Scottish syntax, its tone and vocabulary, could have been cloying but was instead beguiling, in part because it wasn’t entirely comprised of the ordinary “dinna” “willna” and “wee lass,” but rather included a number of charming colloquial expressions, particularly in endearments to her children: “Heya, m’cooshlin’” and “Aye, m’wee dosh.” You don’t even know precisely what they mean, but they sound exactly right.
Just one minor quibble – there was a bit more complex plotting than was necessary. Although one subplot had an interesting historical context, the one involving Flora’s talent and future stardom was superfluous. She didn’t require that to be whole – she could have simply gone home with her new family and had a completely satisfying life. Having said that, at least the subplots made sense, flowed, and didn’t detract from the strong main story. I can’t wait to get my hands on her other books.