Jen’s review of Still the One (Animal Magnetism #6) by Jill Shalvis
Darcy Stone is game for anything — except sexy Navy veteran and physical therapist A.J. Colten, the guy who’d rejected her when she’d needed him most. Now the shoe is on the other foot and he needs her to play nice and help him secure grants for his patients. Unfortunately, Darcy can’t refuse. She needs the money to fund her passion project: rescuing S&R dogs and placing them with emotionally wounded soldiers.
A.J. admits it — Darcy is irresistible. But he’s already been battle-scarred by a strong-willed, vivacious, adventurous woman like Darcy, and he’s not making the same mistake twice—until he and Darcy are forced to fake a relationship. Growing closer than they’d ever imagined possible, Darcy and AJ have to ask themselves: how much between them is pretend? What’s the real thing? And where does it go from here?
We’re pretty big fans of Jill Shalvis around here, myself included. She’s always a dependable read for me, so it kind of pains me to admit Still the One was a bit of a disappointment for me.
This book tells the story of Darcy, sister to Wyatt from the previous book in the series (Then Came You). Darcy was in a horrible car accident and is still dealing with the debilitating injuries. AJ is the physical therapist (and Wyatt’s best friend) who helped her recover . Darcy has come a long way and has even regained the ability to walk, but she’s still in pain and has many physical limitations. (Though those limitations apparently don’t extend to the bedroom. There’s really no acknowledgement of her injuries in the sex scenes, which I felt was a missed opportunity.) She’s trying to rebuild her life, and while she does she’s working part time at AJ’s physical therapy office. She and AJ have a rather antagonistic relationship due to some unacknowledged attraction, but when AJ needs Darcy’s help to get a grant, she reluctantly agrees because she feels she owes him. They end up having to pretend to be in a relationship, which only adds more fuel to the fire because it’s a little too close to what they both really want.
I liked Darcy as a character. She’s prickly and defiant but that’s what’s kept her going through the grueling months of pain and hard work. She’s a survivor. Her relationship with her siblings was great, too. I like that they support each other, try to protect each other, and work hard to be a family. I also enjoyed her relationship with her friend Xander, which was complicated and interesting to read about. I didn’t dislike AJ, but then again I don’t feel like I really knew him well. He cares about Darcy, but I didn’t get a sense for why, beyond her generic “strength.” He has some interesting history with his dad, but that wasn’t really explored beyond one quick little scene. I felt like AJ’s story was half-finished. Still, his dialogue with Darcy is entertaining, and the book has lots of Shalvis’s lovely humor.
I didn’t particularly like Darcy and AJ together, though. I felt like there was an inequality that didn’t help sell me on the romance. First, AJ was Darcy’s physical therapist and even though she’s not technically visiting him any more, he routinely snaps back into therapist mode with her. There was too much therapist/patient for my comfort. I could overlook the inequality there, though, if I felt like it evened out in other areas, but it didn’t. I was pretty frustrated with AJ because I felt like he never really put himself out there. He pushes and pushes on Darcy to trust him, to open up, to be vulnerable, but I kept wondering, how much more vulnerable can she be? She’s the one who tried to advance their relationship in the past, and he shot her down without an explanation, which humiliated her. She’s the one whose entire life was upended, and she’s struggling to construct something new. Then they start spending more time together and he continually pushes her to reveal her fears, her desires, etc. He doesn’t give her much back, beyond a quick little conversation about his ex. He’s so stoic and might think about how he cares, but he rarely expresses that care to her in words. I wanted him to meet her in the middle, to make a gesture or demonstrate his honest feelings. I wanted him to admit, freely and passionately, about how much he needs her and how much he’s willing to do for her. I never got that, and it made me doubt their compatibility. Instead, it left me concerned about the hero-worship from Darcy and the savior-complex from AJ.
There was also another seemingly minor issue in the book that really bothered me, enough that I just couldn’t get it out of my head after finishing. One of the reasons AJ is supposedly reluctant to get involved with Darcy is because his gorgeous ex fiancee had been disfigured in an accident but couldn’t cope or move on. AJ and Darcy are so incredibly judgmental about this woman, and I didn’t like it. I could understand why AJ had to move on from her–it does sound like her attitude was toxic and maybe highlighted what was already wrong in their relationship–but for AJ and Darcy to act so superior and judgmental was just icky. The ex was portrayed as unconscionably vain and selfish, highlighting how wonderful Darcy was because she wasn’t hung up on beauty. Ugh. How about a little grace and empathy for this other person who also suffered? How about acknowledging that things like recovery, pain, and self esteem are complex and difficult? I get that AJ might have normal bad feelings about the end of a relationship, but I felt like Darcy shouldn’t be so quick to throw stones at someone she’s never even met, especially since Darcy didn’t always cope very constructively with her own accident. The whole thing felt one-note and just didn’t sit right with me.
I have to wonder if this isn’t a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” with this book. I really like all the rest of the books in the series, and I suspect not everyone will share the issues I did with Still the One. Shalvis fans should check it out, but I know for me it didn’t quite live up to it’s potential.
Grade: 3 out of 5
This book is available from Berkley. You can purchase it here or here in e-format. This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.