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Annie M. Ballard
Domestic Arts
The last thing she wants is a boyfriend. The last thing he wants is to take advantage of a situation. Artist Evie returns to Stella Mare with nothing. Having spent years building her boyfriend’s art practice, their break-up leaves her without a career, a home, or a way to make a living. She becomes enraptured with the hooked rugs made by an ancestor, stashed in her father’s attic. But is she just avoiding reality? Stephen shivers through a Stella Mare spring to collect stories and art from fishermen. On sabbatical from his university in the southern US, he’s a local novelty, helping his friend Leonard in the art gallery. But when he discovers his job may evaporate, he throws himself deeper into his work. He’ll think about that problem later. Evie stumbles into the gallery and Stephen’s life. She has connections he wants; she’s a local, linked to Stella Mare and all its history. He’s a fellow artist-type, and she relishes their new connection. Their friendship blooms through conversation, coffee and art. It should be easy. But of course, life happens. A family crisis, demands from the ex-boyfriend, conniving gallery owners, disappearing grant funding, all challenge Evie with the question, what is my worth? As she grapples, Stephen must question his own integrity. Am I really the man I want to be? This delightful second book in the Sisters of Stella Mare series features small town romance, big dogs, ancestor dreams, delicious baked goods, and beach bonfires. And the unforgettable Madison family.
Ballard continues exploring life and love in the small coastal town of Stella Mare (after A Heart for the Homeless) with a gentle, aptly titled romance that celebrates the value of traditional practical folk art and of family traditions. Evie Madison returns home in the wake of a breakup which has made her realize she put her own art career on hold in service of her ex-boyfriend’s. Cleaning out her father’s generations-old house so he can downsize yields Evie some handmade rugs that connect her to family history, and also to Stephen Culpeper, who is collecting the stories of old maritime carvings while working at the art gallery of an old friend.

Ballard’s leads are engaging and worth rooting for, and she has planted some beautiful story seeds here, particularly around the connection between local towns and their traditional arts, giving this novel more substance than other love stories with similar settings. Readers expecting a focused romance should know that Ballard is as committed to her setting, its people, and their lives as she is to the kindling of love between the central couple. Stephen and his feelings are explored in less detail than Evie’s, as she faces much drama in her personal and professional life, including her father’s illness, some issues involving grant funding, and other dramatic elements that at times have her connection with Stephen on the backburner.

Ballard’s prose is easy to read, her dialogue feels natural, and the pacing of the story works well. Ballard teases some delightful magical realism as Evie reads her great-aunt’s hidden diary and dreams of her female ancestors giving her advice about belonging, though that promising element doesn’t get fully explored here, perhaps being left for future books. In the end, the emotional connection between the leads proves satisfying.

Takeaway: Ideal for romance readers who appreciate emotional connection and a rich coastal setting.

Great for fans of: Freya Sampson's The Last Chance Library, Addison Cole's Lovers at Seaside.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-