by Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: May 17, 2022
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Growing up the daughter of notorious treasure hunter and absentee father Duke Wilder left Lily without much patience for the profession…or much money in the bank. But Lily is nothing if not resourceful, and now uses Duke’s coveted hand-drawn maps to guide tourists on fake treasure hunts through the red rock canyons of Utah. It pays the bills but doesn’t leave enough to fulfill her dream of buying back the beloved ranch her father sold years ago, and definitely not enough to deal with the sight of the man she once loved walking back into her life with a motley crew of friends ready to hit the trails. Frankly, Lily would like to take him out into the wilderness—and leave him there.
Leo Grady knew mirages were a thing in the desert, but they’d barely left civilization when the silhouette of his greatest regret comes into focus in the flickering light of the campfire. Ready to leave the past behind him, Leo wants nothing more than to reconnect with his first and only love. Unfortunately, Lily Wilder is all business, drawing a clear line in the sand: it’s never going to happen.
But when the trip goes horribly and hilariously wrong, the group wonders if maybe the legend of the hidden treasure wasn’t a gimmick after all. There’s a chance to right the wrongs—of Duke’s past and their own—but only if Leo and Lily can confront their history and work together. Alone under the stars in the isolated and dangerous mazes of the Canyonlands, Leo and Lily must decide whether they’ll risk their lives and hearts on the adventure of a lifetime.
I’ve read and liked several Christina Lauren novels before, and this second-chance romance featuring a treasure hunt, all set in the wilds of Utah, sounded like a perfect summer read. While it does live up to some of those expectations, there was one major con that didn’t work for me at all.
“I guess I’m looking for adventure. My day-to-day life is pretty routine.” He turned his baseball cap over in his hands and seemed to note that the mood had grown solemn. “But maybe let’s set the low bar of just not dying[.]”
Once upon a time, deeply in love Lily and Leo were planning on running a ranch together, until misfortune struck. Leo’s spent the past ten years taking care of his sister Cora, while Lily has bee running tours based on notes in her treasure hunter dad Duke’s journal. When the annual buddy trip reunites Leo and Lily, it’s almost too good to be true – much like the rumored treasure in the canyons. But when things start to go wrong, they’re forced to work together and maybe, just maybe, they can make things work this time.
“The truth about tragedy was that once it struck, nothing on this wide green earth could make it any better. Leo had been her spark, had brought a glimpse of love and laughter and security into her life, but his departure had only proven what she’d already known: good things don’t stick around.”
Lily’s in a pretty rough place when the book starts. Frankly, she hates her job, especially for its association with the endless treasure hunts that took her father away from her. All she has are her horses and her best friend Nic, who helps her run the tours. From her dad’s constant travels to Leo’s unexplained abandonment of her, Lily’s learned first-hand that good things don’t last. So while seeing Leo again reminds her of how much she still cares for him, how good it felt to open up to him and share her feelings and dreams, she knows that giving him another chance will only lead to heartbreak for her again. Leo gave up his own dreams to raise his sister, but now that she’s graduated, he’s at a bit of a loss for what comes next. His job creating encryption used to be interesting, but his latest promotion will take him farther into manager-land. Being out in the wild again is like remembering how to live, and that’s not counting how he feels about Lily. Because this time, he’s determined to make it work.
“I had to let you go once,” he told her. “You think I’m letting that happen again?”
As far as a second chance romance, this works out pretty well. It’s only about a quarter of the way through the book when Leo and Lily hash it out and realize what’s kept them apart all this time was a big miscommunication, leaving them plenty of time to develop a new relationship. What’s there is pretty good and I could certainly understand both Lily’s hesitance to try again and Leo’s determination to. Unfortunately, the treasure hunt portion of the book overwhelmed the romance frequently. For the most part, the treasure hunt is the sort of madcap suspension-of-disbelief zaniness that I was expecting, but there’s one aspect that jarred me out of the book fully and repeatedly.
Discussion under the spoiler bar. View Spoiler »
“I think we’re missing the point,” Leo said. “Terry is dead. ”
One of the members of Leo’s group dies. Terry, the book happens to make clear, is a raging misogynist and a generally horrible person, and not really friends with any of them. He falls over the edge of a cliff while threatening the rest of the group, and while they’re initially quite shocked, what ends up happening? One of the things he claimed is that the treasure is real, so they decide to go off looking for it, and then will lie to the police that they thought he ran off and that they were looking for him. And then… the next half of the book happens, and besides some references to the fact that the guy is dead, that’s it. I don’t really care how bad the guy is, I just couldn’t get over how quickly a bunch of normal people just shrugged and decided to go on a treasure hunt. I mean, for goodness’ sake, Leo makes a joke about him being dead while using his condoms. It felt callous and not really in line with their characters, and it really affected my enjoyment of the book. « Hide Spoiler
“I just wanted to say to Miss Nicole and Lily, this has been one of the best trips we’ve ever, ever done.” He looked at Bradley and Leo. “Right, guys?”
“Except for the (spoiler),” Leo agreed, “it’s been great.”
Overall, if you can suspend your belief enough for that particular bit, I think this works as a beach read, so three stars for that.