Release Reviews: Matt & Zoe: Charles Sheehan-Miles

Matt & Zoe
Charles Sheehan-Miles
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Expected February 14, 2016

When Army Sergeant Zoe Welch learns of the tragic death of her parents in a car accident, Zoe has one concern: the care of her eight-year-old sister Jasmine.  Discharged from the Army, Zoe travels home from Tokyo to South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she'll be faced with an all new life she never planned on.

Matt Paladino is Jasmine's 3rd grade teacher.  Handsome and athletic, Matt's deeply concerned about Jasmine's welfare.  But Matt has secrets, hidden in the dark three-ring circus of his past.

When Matt and Zoe's lives collide, they seem made for each other. But will the pasts that haunt them both keep them apart?
Zoe has just returned home from the military after losing her parents, so she is suddenly taking on a motherly role for her eight year old sister and is a bit clueless about it.

Matt and Zoe's first impression of each other was not good. A second brought more understanding. Matt is her sister's teacher and they find themselves needing to band together to help her young sister during this difficult time.

Matt was quiet and a bit of a loner, but was also in a position of speaking for fellow teachers that often makes him a target for scrutiny. He keeps his past guarded, hides a lot of his true self, and has feelings of guilt, loss, and shame stemming from past events. 

Zoe was also a loner and used to being independent. This new role is overwhelming for her especially since she barely knows her sister. She is nervous, closed off, and  untrusting. And she has her own grief, regrets, and loss to deal with.
This was a sweet, intricately built story of two people marked by their pasts and trying to find their way in the present. They both could use a true connection, but are used to being alone and not opening up fully. Their facades hide their loss, fears, guilt, and loneliness.

I felt like there was a lot of time spent developing their back stories an current problems. And even the town locations and school board issues were clearly described and defined. There was a slow build of a friendship and relationship, but I missed real chemistry and passion between the characters. I do not really need sex scenes to illustrate that, but I felt it was somewhat lacking an intimacy and true vulnerability and connection between the characters because they both were so closed off. It seemed like at times the romantic relationship took second place. 

This was a story with a lot of emotional situations. I liked the characters and getting dual points of view. The flashbacks were essential to understanding the past, but sometimes they seemed to take me out of the story and then I would have to refocus.  I liked that they both had to face difficult situations both in their past and present and try to move on from them.  But I honestly cannot say I truly connected with the character's relationship on a deeper level. I wanted to feel it. I wanted them together. But because they both kept so much hidden and did not easily open up, they often seemed to be at arm's length. And the end came more quickly than I wanted it to without a chance to further delve into the deeper romance. 

I did like the side characters of her crazy cop friend, Nicole and his outgoing, outspoken friend, Tyler who added some comic relief. And even the more mysterious vet Luke shined in the scenes he was in. And the young, scared, sad sister Jasmine was another character dealing as best she could with the difficult situation she was placed in.  I liked Matt and Zoe's devotion to helping Jasmine and the building of the relationship with her. 

This story had unique and interesting elements and likable characters, but I sometimes felt sidetracked by their pasts or all of the situations around them versus the actual relationship and love connection between Matt and Zoe. But it was also about  personal growth, forgiveness, redemption, and family and the characters did make progress on those levels. I liked it, it was just different than I am used to from this author and maybe not quite what I was expecting. 

ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest review. 
 Zoe Walsh is unexpectedly back in her hometown. After a freak accident kills her parents, she separates from the Army and returns home to raise her 8 year old sister, Jasmine. Not only is Zoe dealing with the grief of losing her parents, but she also struggles with the feeling of disappointing her parents and what she will do next now that her life plans have been completely rearranged.

Matt Paladino is running from his past, keeping it close to the vest now that he’s a third grade teacher. He is also his school’s union representative to the school board, and as contract negotiations continue to deteriorate, he finds himself between a rock and a hard place.

These two do not have a favorable first meeting, and their second isn’t much better but begins to shift things into perspective. With the shaky start, it’s a wonder they even consider a second chance, and if not for Jasmine’s presence in both of their lives I question if they would have ever given the other the time of day. It often felt more like they were spending time together for Jasmine rather than for any true interest in a relationship. Though they developed a close friendship, the Matt’s secrets and Zoe’s walls made it difficult for either to show any vulnerability or intimacy.

I loved Jasmine and Mono. Her connection with that horse was magical and gave a sweet innocence, even in her grief, that was touching. Jasmine’s presence in the story, to me, became the glue that held these two together. I loved the way she struggled with her grief in a real, honest way, and reacted as a normal third-grader would.

The other side characters added a touch of humor that was needed with all the heavy emotions Zoe and Jasmine were dealing with. Nicole and Tyler both have a lack of verbal filter that had me laughing at their antics. Nicole's stories also served to lighten the  mood with her experiences with drunken students.
This was a sweet story that felt at times more like a character study than a full romance novel. There were significant emotions within each character as he or she navigates the present. Grief, guilt, regret, and pressure from work surround these two characters. They had intriguing backgrounds that made me want to know more about them as they worked through their present situations. While this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting when I began, in the end, the characters had grown on me and their ending was sweet.

ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

Charles Sheehan-Miles

Charles Sheehan-Miles has been a soldier, computer programmer, short-order cook and non-profit executive, and is the author of more than a dozen fiction and non-fiction books, including the indie bestsellers Just Remember to Breathe and Republic: A Novel of America’s Future. He is a member of The Authors Guild and the Association of Independent Authors.

Charles and his partner Andrea Randall live and write together in South Hadley, Massachusetts.


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