FicCentral received a free copy of this book from Momentum Books (via NetGalley).
Series: Always #1
Publisher: Momentum Books on February 12, 2015
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance (NA)
She has a future she can't escape. He refuses to let her face it alone.
Twenty-one. The age when adult life begins. In my case, it's the age I learned my future sucked, big time, and there was nothing I could do about it. Every minute of every day I face the fact my life is only going to get worse. Why? Because I have early-onset Parkinson's Disease. I'm not going to let it get me down, but I also can't let anyone close. That's not fair to them, or to me. Trust me. So that means my heart and my soul is off-limits.
But then I traveled to Australia on a college scholarship program and life royally screwed me over. Again.
Raphael Jones is an arrogant Australian celebrity, the hottest guy on campus and a pain in my ass. Worst of all, he makes me ache for a life I'll never be able to have. Especially when he takes me in his arms and does wicked things to my body.
How do I have a hope of surviving ten weeks in Australia when it's not just the paparazzi who have me in their sights, but Raph as well? Because Raphael Jones is a man who always gets what he wants. And no matter what I say or do, he refuses to accept what I so painfully know: a life and future with me is no life at all.
Maci’s future is decided. It will be difficult, humiliating, and dehumanizing. So she’s living in the now, determined to get as much “normal” out of life before the Parkinson’s gets worse and takes away her opportunities. Flying halfway around the world for a study program is the perfect getaway, and if she meets a good-looking boy or two, even better. But things stop going according to plan the second she gets off the plane, and before she knows it, she’s face to face with the best looking man she’s ever seen. But he has his own problems, namely the royal family his sister married into and what they now expect of him. Shouldn’t be a problem, since she’s not making any plans past next week. Then again, she never planned on falling…
I really wish Her Royal Craziness hadn’t been part of the story. It’s always a huge leap of fantasy to build a modern romance story around anything to do with royalty, but Princess Psychotic pushed me over the I’m-not-buying-it-edge. She was the quintessential mean girl, topped with a tiara, but the rest of the story was unique enough not to need her at all. And what was with Satan the Security Guy? I know there’s a certain ice factor when it comes to big time royalty, and I would imagine they’re capable of pulling off some serious insanity to preserve appearances and royal name, but as much as I enjoyed the story as a whole, I think that whole line of creepy manipulation took away some of the awesome.
When I saw the synopsis, all I could think was, what a strange topic to include in a romance! While it’s not unusual for romance novel heroines to face some pretty daunting circumstances, disabilities, or illnesses, it’s not often than an author takes up the challenge of writing a happily ever after for someone whose condition is debilitating, incurable, and ultimately terminal. So of course I just had to read it…
Maci’s flippant attitude about her Parkinson’s disease initially put me off a little. Sure, it made sense that a girl her age would handle something so devastating with a heavy dose of sarcasm, but there was just something about it that I didn’t like very much. Fortunately, she won me over right about the time she faced off with Raphael in the dorm hallway. Maci’s symptoms are often obvious, and while people around her might not immediately associate the shakes and loss of balance with Parkinson’s, they certainly notice that something’s not quite right. But as long as she wards off stress and takes her meds, she can usually escape being labeled. Still, that’s an awfully big hurdle for a college romance.
The book started off in a pretty standard way — random college girl runs into super-hot guy who she doesn’t realize is ridiculously famous, and then fate puts them in rooms across the hall from each other. But it didn’t stay standard for long, with Maci refusing to fall in love or admit to anyone that she had Parkinson’s, Raphael being alternately hot and cold even though he was clearly interested, Maci’s chatterbox dorm-mate and all around awesome friend Heather — and let’s not forget that Maci’s only got a few months there before she returns to her home on the other side of the world.
I usually hate it when characters try to hide a disability or condition, like it’s something for them to be ashamed of, but seeing Maci struggle — and perhaps the nature of her condition — had me right there in the hiding in shame with her. For one, she’s so incredibly young to be afflicted with what usually strikes people in their sixties. (Yes, I know there are exceptions to that, but you can’t argue with statistics.) And Parkinson’s doesn’t just keep her from competing in sports or make her take more sick days — it takes away her very independence a little more each day. It’s not something that can be easily covered up with prosthetics or that she can really entertain any hope of beating. It’s with her, in her, and without a doubt going to destroy her before it kills her. I can’t even imagine how desperate I would be to appear normal for as long as possible in that situation, like having to cram every bit of life and accomplishment into a few short months because I’d never get the chance again. I suspect I would be the very definition of denial.
Raphael was intriguing but definitely not my favorite romance hero, especially after the paparazzi mess at the cafe. But he pretty much won me all over again once he really fell for her and laid it all out on the table. Until then, though, it was interesting to see how ridiculous and sketchy his life became not because he chose fame or shocked the world, but simply because the world noticed him. That loss of privacy, insanely increased set of expectations, and sudden inability to trust anyone’s motives would be devastating. So while he was a bit of a jerk there at the beginning, and while I think he should have put his foot down and insisted everyone get off his back, I really can’t blame him for being quite lost in his new reality.
While the circumstances Raphael and Maci faced were anything but typical, their romance was surprisingly normal — and that’s what kept the story well-grounded and easy to relate to. They were both dealing with a lot, so the drama and reactions were certainly dialed up quite a bit, but it was still very believable. After all, not many college students are perfect examples of maturity and reason. And you’ve got to really respect a story about something as tragic as Parkinson’s that manages to make you laugh without glossing over the reality of the situation. Unconditional is a refreshingly different take on romance novel standards, a sweet love story beneath it all, and oddly enough, a message of hope in an utterly hopeless set of circumstances.