Title: Staying for Good
Author: Catherine Bybee
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: January 2017
Length: 322 pages
Series?: Most Likely To #2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Zoe Brown may have been voted Most Likely to Never Leave River Bend, but the paper-thin walls and suffocating air of her family’s double-wide trailer were not what she wanted for her life. Other than BFFs Melanie and Jo, the only thing that kept Zoe sane during high school was her boyfriend, Luke.
She didn’t just leave, she escaped—turning her back on the shame of her black-sheep siblings and imprisoned dad. Now a celebrity chef in Dallas, she can afford all the things she never could have growing up. But when she returns to rustic, ruggedly beautiful River Bend, Zoe has to face all that she abandoned—including Luke.
While Luke was a refuge for Zoe in the past, he knows they inhabit totally different worlds now. Anchored by his parents and his job as a mechanic in his father’s shop, Luke never felt the urge to leave River Bend—until Zoe’s return.
But when the two rekindle their old flame, Zoe is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: remain in River Bend and confront her past before it destroys her, or say good-bye to everyone she’s ever loved…again, this time for good.
Despite the talk they all heard growing up, Zoe Brown did not stay in River Bend and relive the trailer tragedy that was her life growing up. She learned to cook in Sam’s diner and took refuge at Ms. Gina’s, and her culinary career took off after participating in a network TV culinary competition show.
Her mother works at the local diner and her father was an abusive drunk. Ziggy eventually wound up in maximum security following a mini mart hold-up. Jo’s dad, the former sheriff, documented as much as possible the doings of Ziggy Brown, and when he returns to town following his release, she breaks out the mountains of files about the Brown family.
The year previous, Zoe returned to River Bend for her 10 year high school reunion, and being back in her small town brought all the old memories of her high school love with Luke back. It didn’t help that they kept running in to one another, and the fact that the flame was still alive. She returned again when Mel’s daughter went missing and Luke realized he wasn’t over her.
With Wyatt and Mel’s upcoming nuptials, they make a decision that sends Luke colliding with Zoe. With monumental life decisions, they reignite what started in high school. With Zoe going back and forth from River Bend to Dallas, she is reevlauating her life – but has a lot of reasons to stay away from River Bend.
Zoe Brown – a trailer park girl who left her small town and became a famous chef
Luke – Zoe’s high school flame; he stayed in River Bend to work at his dad’s shop
Jo – Zoe’s good friend; she is the local sheriff
Mel – another good friend; she is newly engaged/married to Wyatt and works at Ms. Gina’s
Wyatt – Mel’s significant other
Ms. Gina – the unofficial matron of Zoe, Jo, and Mel; she owns a B&B and is famous for her “red pitcher lemonade”
Zane – Zoe’s younger brother; he was a very troubled teen that seems to be headed in the right direction
Zanya – Zoe’s younger sister; she has a baby, Blaze and lives at home trying to get by
Sheryl – the Brown mother; she works at the local diner and looks well beyond her age; deflects and lies
Ziggy – the Brown father; he has been incarcerated for the last 17 years
Miss Gina was still mentoring the youth of River Bend.
“Just keep them out of the lemonade.”
“Are you kidding? That’s what keeps the track team in this town full.”
The Highs and Lows
- The Familiarity. This is the second book in the series, and I fell in love with the characters back then and reading from a new character’s perspective as their stories and lives continue brings back all the good feels. Knowing the history of the characters and how they are connected and the tight-knit, good friends that they are is sometimes hard to see in our world today. So many people are busy doing their own things, have their own families that keep them busy, and the familiartiy of the characters and the down-homey feel of River Bend was a good return.
- Zoe. Zoe is a character with a truly troubled past, and it is all revealed in the book. This was not something I really knew from the first one – things were hinted at, but the reality and gravity of the situation was not there. She reveals all in this installment. As a child of abuse, I can empathize with her. She strove to get out of River Bend and not be the same as her parents. Not only did she accomplish that, she became very successful so that she could help assist her mother. With reality crashing in, it is hard for Zoe to accept that everyone else in her family downplays and sugarcoats just how bad it was, and she is left an outsider and feeling like she’s walked through the Twilight Zone. As if everyone else lived in the same reality and she lived in a disillusioned, alternate version. This creates a lot of strife among the members of her family, and tension.
- Jo. She was that kid in high school that was always in trouble. She overcame that thanks to the Sherriff’s choice of discipline for River Bend hoodlums: running for the track team. It was double punishment that the Sheriff was also her dad. She lives every day in his shadow and takes a lot of cues from his work and the records he kept. She pulls out files upon files when the man her dad worked hard to put away returns to River Bend. None other than Zoe’s father, who hasn’t changed one bit – he’s just learned to be sneakier. Jo is unfailing in that she is on this like a bloodhound and will not give up. She will not see her best friend destroyed and hurt any more than she was before. More spunk and personality of Jo come out in this installment, and she’s an interesting woman. And she’s continuing her father’s legacy.
- The banter. Because this is a group of friends who have largely grown up with one another the majority of their lives, the interactions are wonderful. No one is left out, even little Hope. The warmth and the concern, the love and the joshing all come out in the dialogue between characters, no matter which ones are in a particular scene. There are funny moments, there are quiet and reflective moments, and their are serious moments. I enjoyed them all.
- The Plot. The plot centered around Zoe’s possible return to River Bend and her rekindling romance with Luke, but that was one linear plot that bubbles on top of the plot zeroing in on Zoe’s family issues. Ziggy Brown and his influence and reach – his negativity and the bad aura he carries around everywhere he goes – fuels the plot. Everything about Zoe’s life now revolves around how this impacts her family and herself. I will say that Ziggy’s moments he has are crude and very telling. Reading his snippets and scenes made me nervous of what was to come.
Such great characters and a complex plot! I didn’t think I would encounter as much as I did in this book. Things that were just lurking beneath the surface of the synopsis.
Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip?
BUY! Read it. You won’t regret it!
New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Catherine Bybee was raised in Washington State, but after graduating high school, she moved to Southern California in hopes of becoming a movie star. After growing bored with waiting tables, she returned to school and became a registered nurse, spending most of her career in urban emergency rooms. She now writes full-time and has penned the Weekday Brides Series and the Not Quite Series. Bybee lives with her two teenage sons in Southern California.