This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.
Where the Stars Still Shine is set in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and after reading this book, I had to do a bit of research, because I wanted to visit this Gulf Coast town NOW. Throughout the story, Doller made me feel like I was right there with Callie, viewing this town through her eyes.
Callie had a childhood that was unconventional, at best. Her mother kidnapped her at a young age from her father, and the two spent Callie's childhood on the run. They bounced from town to town, skipping out on rent, and staying out of the grasp of law enforcement. Callie's mother left behind a string of boyfriends who ranged from bad to despicable. When Callie's mother is finally arrested, Callie is sent to live with her father in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Their initial "meeting" is very poignant, because the two are basically strangers. Her father is overwhelmed to see his daughter as a young woman, whom he'd last seen as a young child. And Callie is confused by the obvious love in her father's eyes, because her mother had filled her head with poisonous lies about Callie's father, Greg.
Greg has remarried and has two young sons. The boys immediately embrace their big sister, but Callie and her stepmother, Phoebe maintain a polite, respectful distance. Greg attempts to put some rules in place; he wants Callie to go to high school, and he expects her to respect curfew, but with the vagabond life Callie has had up until now, she doesn't understand why these rules are necessary. She also has a certain way of dealing with guys, and that way is light on the romance and heavy on the sexy times. We already know Callie had an unconventional childhood, to put it mildly. We learn more about her past as the story progresses, and none of it is pleasant. So, when Callie meets Alex, who's stunningly hot and all sorts of charming (of the pants off variety), I wish I could have yelled at Callie to slooooow down. But she didn't listen to me, which in hindsight, I suppose I should have expected.
Callie is gradually introduced to her extended Greek family in Tarpon Springs. They are all thrilled to have their little girl back, but it's overwhelming to Callie who has never had a relationship with anyone other than her mother. She does bond quickly with her cousin, Kat, and Kat has to teach her what it's like to be a "normal" teenage girl, with shopping, boys, and parties.
But the only guy Callie wants is Alex, and that's not surprising, because his character is written as pure perfection. TOO perfect for my taste, to be honest. He dives for sponges for a living, and he's so incredible-looking to the point that tourists get his autograph and pose for photos with him. He always says the right thing, he's adored by his family, and he's intelligent, charming, and flirty. And of course, he's completely into Callie. A couple of people warn Callie that he's bad news, but they have ulterior motives that turn out to be pretty silly. It seems like the warnings were designed to give Alex an air of danger to counterbalance his supreme awesomeness, but I didn't really buy it. He dropped his awesomeness a bit at the end in a trivial piece of plot that had him behaving like a baby and angry at Callie.
Alex was the only weak part of the book for me, simply because he seemed so unrealistic. Every character from Greg to Callie's young brothers to Kat helped Callie to recover a sense of trust and security and the ability to love unconditionally. And even though I'm being hard on Alex, he taught Callie that she can be loved for her mind and her soul, not just her body.
I'll reserve all my venom for Callie's mother, because she used her daughter as a weapon in a fight with Greg. Her awful behavior begins there, but it certainly doesn't end there. In a recent Twitter chat, I asked Trish Doller if we should feel any sympathy for Callie's mother. She replied that she knows why people would dislike her, but she hopes they understand her. I thought about that while reading the book and now, as I write this review. I know I dislike her, but I can't honestly say that I understand her. She is responsible for every bit of misery dumped onto her child, and she never seemed to "get it." I do understand Callie's devotion to her, because for better or worse, Callie's mother managed to keep her alive all of those years on the run.
Callie's recovery is like a house of cards. It's not quite stable, and a strong force can knock down all of her improvements she's carefully built. The most dangerous force is Callie's mother, who escaped from police custody and is likely to try to track Callie down to get her back. As readers, we can only hope that new cards that Callie has been dealt are strong enough. Doller had me so invested in Callie, and I so badly wanted to see her thriving and happy. But we're never sure what Callie is going to do - she's just as likely to make a wise decision as a terrible one - and it's a big part of what makes her such an endearing character.
Note - I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.