BOOK REVIEW ~ AFTER THE RAIN BY RENEE CARLINO

Under the bright arena lights of a rodeo show, young Avelina Belo falls for a handsome cowboy with a larger-than-life personality. After a whirlwind courtship, she happily moves away from her family in northern California and settles into married life with her cowboy on a seven-thousand-acre cattle ranch in Montana. One freak accident later, Avelina’s hopes for the future come to an end.
Nate Myers graduated from UCLA medical school at the top of his class, ready to follow in the footsteps of his father, a superstar cardiothoracic surgeon. Six years later, Nate’s career is being ruined by a malpractice suit. Questioning himself for the first time, he retreats to a Montana cattle ranch to visit his uncle and gain perspective. There, he meets a beautiful young woman named Avelina who teaches him more than he ever knew about matters of the heart.

This is one of those books where I read the blurb and immediately wanted to get my hands on the book. Not only is it described as an emotional second chance romance but a romance between a wrangler and a doctor, two people who are so opposite of each other and under normal circumstances would never have met. While this story started off strong, things started spiraling down after the 25% mark and though I didn’t outright dislike the plot and characters, I didn’t love them either.
At 18, the heroine Avelina gets caught up in a whirlwind courtship and marriage with another young wrangler and they live a quiet, simple life on the ranch. She never expects to lose the love of her life – first when he’s handicapped for the rest of his life, then when he commits suicide. Her experiences through the years have turned her from a vibrant young woman into a cold, harsh shell of who she once was. She blames herself for not being enough to save her husband and she blames her husband for destroying what was left of her heart.
On the opposite end of the country, the hero Nate is a rising star in the surgical field about to take on an operation. One faulty decision blasts his confidence and career into smithereens and makes him question everything he’s ever believed in. In the spur of the moment, Nate goes to his uncle’s ranch to regroup and reflect on his next move. It is in the lush scenery of Montana and amongst the wild horses he meets Avelina, a widow for five years now. It only takes a matter of seconds for Nate to see that this woman is different from others he’s met, in character and physical appearance. And it only takes days for Nate to see how refreshing the ranch is compared to the big city he’s used to – it’s a place where respect is earned and hard work is applauded.
Up to this point in the book, everything was perfect. It was at least a 4.5 star read, the writing was lovely, the character’s struggles were convincingly heartbreaking, and if done well, I could see the potential and beauty in having these two characters – both broken in their own ways – come together. Sadly, this is also the part that fell extremely flat and was the beginning of the end of this book for me. Here is my rationale: whenever there’s a second chance romance that involves two characters that are even slightly damaged, I NEED to be specifically convinced, 100% convinced that these two belong to each other. However, I wasn’t. I felt like Avelina’s connection to Nate was solely based on the fact that he wasn’t from town and was someone new, someone she could know based on a clean slate. And Nate’s connection with Avelina I thought it was because she was the very first woman he spent a little time with after dedicating 5 years to his career. In other words, I thought that these characters could be replaced with others and it wouldn’t make a difference. What makes these two specific characters right for each other? That is the question I ask myself whenever I read a second chance romance like this one and sadly, the author didn’t convince me of their connection.
As the story progressed, Avelina’s stubbornness grated on my nerves and even when the book hit a point where I could feel the characters’ romantic connection, Avelina would push Nate away and cling to the memory of her late husband. I normally would be less frustrated with this part but the author reveals some unsavory details about her late husband’s character that made me believe that he doesn’t deserve all this devotion from Avelina long after his suicide, especially since it was so obvious that she had the ability to move on with her life, whether it was with Nate or by herself.
I wouldn’t completely write this book off, but to read the book I would prepare myself for some insta-love and some character stupidity before starting. It wasn’t an outstanding book in my eyes but it wasn’t bad either. It fell right in the middle, and usually those are the books that readers have trouble in deciding whether or not to read. In my opinion, I would recommend this book but with caution, as a frustrating heroine can really wear you down.
After the Rain is a complete standalone that is unrelated to the author’s other books.
ARC provided by Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.