Dr. Carly Cambridge has returned to the Texas Gulf Coast to rehabilitate and manage the woods and wetlands project for Habitats for Nature. She’s an ardent environmentalist and is dedicated to protecting the endangered birds that once called this land home. It’s a huge undertaking. She’s got to turn farmland back to its natural state – a marsh for shorebirds.
She’s pouring her life and soul into this endeavor. It’s not lost on her that the great passion in her life is her work and not a loving relationship. Carly was betrayed and left heartbroken a decade ago, and she’s sworn to never risk her heart again. She’s learned to be content on her own. It’s safe, but it’s also lonely.
Pat Ryan is a successful wildlife photographer. She’s also gorgeous and she knows it. In her younger days she had no problem filling her bed with beautiful women, sometimes three at a time, but at 36 she’s tired of that lifestyle. She just can’t seem to find a woman who holds her interest for more than one date. When her aunt volunteers her services to the new Habitats for Nature, Pat is none too happy about working with an environmental nutjob. In fact, Carly’s enthusiasm grates on Pat’s last nerve.
As the two women spend more time together their sarcastic barbs turn into mild flirtation. Pat learns to appreciate Carly’s love for the birds she is trying to save, and she realizes that Carly might be the one. Unfortunately, Carly is resolute about not giving her heart to Pat.
When a hurricane threatens to destroy everything Carly has worked so hard to build, it’s Pat who comes to the rescue. Pat makes it clear she wants to be Carly’s rock; her safe place; her partner in life. Can Carly put aside the pain from her past and let Pat into her heart?
Do we like these main characters? Why yes, we do! Pat and Carly are the quintessential lesfic archetypes. Pat is Xena to Carly’s Gabrielle. I couldn’t have been more invested in this couple had one of them been my own sister.
Pat is tall, dark, and prickly. She’s no ice queen; she’s simply a bit jaded and mildly grumpy most days. This seems to be a winning combination for me. Pat had the unfortunate experience of being shunned by her family after their parish priest failed to rid her of her sexual attraction to women. Luckily her Aunt Rachel took her in with open arms and complete acceptance. Pat isn’t amused when she finds out Rachel has roped her into working with Carly to photograph the new wildlife habitat. Pat has an instant aversion to Carly’s zealous passion for the environment and barely seems to put up with her. I thought this was very telling about Pat’s character. I got the sense that it wasn’t just Carly’s passion for the environment that Pat found annoying, but simply the passion Carly brought to what she did that got under Pat’s skin. Passion is sorely lacking in Pat’s life. Her job is merely a means to support herself, and she’s always looked at what a woman could bring to a relationship with her and always left disappointed. It isn’t until Pat starts looking at what she can bring to a relationship with Carly that her character begins to grow.
Carly is absolutely precious. Her enthusiasm for restoring the wetlands and making the Habitats for Nature project a success is contagious. It brings out the best in everyone around her, except for the grouchy Pat Ryan. Having her life’s work casually demeaned as environmental overzealousness doesn’t sit well with her, and I loved that she was able to stand up to Pat and demand some respect. There’s a quiet strength under Carly’s exuberant demeanor and that’s not lost on Pat. As the two women get to know each other, Carly’s aware that Pat stirs a longing in her that she’s avoided since her last lover broke her heart, but she expends a considerable amount of energy denying that. Like a domino effect, as Pat reveals her more vulnerable side, Carly’s attraction deepens. Carly’s main struggle is whether or not to let Pat past the barricades surrounding her heart. No spoilers from me!
The Writing Style
Gulf Breeze is told from both Pat and Carly’s points of view. Hill includes a fair amount of internal dialogue from both women which helps the reader see what’s going on beneath the facades they are trying to maintain. Their initial condescending bickering is fun and sets the stage for something special. The romance is a slow burn and the sarcasm and playfulness in the dialogue highlights what turns into fantastic flirting and deep yearning. Hill doesn’t tell the reader how Pat and Carly begin to open their hearts; she shows the reader with what they do. Whether it’s something small like Pat helping Carly move a bookshelf, or something big – Pat trudging through gale force winds to save two baby birds, every action matters and makes their romance feel organic.
Abby Craden does an excellent job bringing Pat and Carly to life. Her voicing is spot on. She subtly shifts her vocal pitch reflecting the differences in Pat and Carly’s physicality without going over the top. She expertly differentiates when they are speaking out loud from when they are thinking to themselves, and her narration perfectly amps up to match the tension during Pat’s trek in the midst of a hurricane. My only criticism was Craden’s voicing of Pat’s Aunt Rachel. In trying to make her sound over 60, the character comes off as having a very faint non-descript European accent. At least that’s what it sounded like to my ears.
I’m a huge fan of metaphors whether they’re intended by the author or created in my head. I sometimes laugh at my reviews because I’m sure there’s been an author or two who’ve read my pithy interpretation of their work and thought, “Huh?” The hurricane that takes place in the last third of the book is the catalyst that finally brings clarity to Pat and Carly’s feelings. It’s great imagery. The destruction left in the wake of the storm strips bare what’s really important and allows the women to clearly see what they mean to each other.
Gulf Breeze was the first book I read by Gerri Hill back in 2007. I enjoyed reacquainting myself with it on audiobook. I loved it then and I love it now. The slow-burn romance and fantastically realized main characters still kept me captivated. Listening to the audiobook added a whole new layer to the story, and it made me feel like I was right there with Pat and Carly. There’s something special about rereading a novel that took your breath away the first time. Originally, I gobbled it up in big bites as fast as I could. This time, I let myself relax into it and enjoy it like a gourmet meal. Hill never disappoints, and Gulf Breeze is an example of why she’s a powerhouse in the world on lesbian fiction.
Excerpt from Gulf Breeze by Gerri Hill
An environmental nutcase, Pat mused. Why couldn’t she have been an old Dr. Cambridge? Pat flicked her eyes over the small woman sitting beside her. Her blonde hair looked like it was in need of a cut and she had it tucked behind her ears. Her arms and legs were tanned and she noticed the fingers that drummed against the steering wheel impatiently. She was too damn cute to be an environmental wacko.
“I apologize, Dr. Cambridge. What do I know about it? I’m just a photographer.”
“Can I ask you something, Ms. Ryan?”
“Why did you volunteer for this?”
Pat cleared her throat and grinned.
“Well, I didn’t exactly volunteer. It seems my aunt volunteered my services without asking.”
Carly stared, her mouth opening slightly. Rachel Yearwood had come to her, saying her niece had graciously offered her services, free of charge, all for the benefit of the preserve.
“I’m not really into all this nature stuff,” Pat admitted.
Great. Just great. Could she even take pictures?
“You are a photographer, right?”
“Yes, of course.”
Carly nodded. “Well, if you were coerced into this, I’ll understand if you bail out now. In fact, we probably would do better paying someone. At least then, they might actually care about what they shoot.”
“Hey, look. I make my living shooting wildlife. Forgive me if I’m not political about it.”
Carly let out her breath, her impatience with this woman growing thin.
“Ms. Ryan, we all have different agendas in life. Ours, apparently, don’t seem to cross paths. However, we are in need of a photographer and our budget doesn’t exactly allow us to hire one. If you’re not able to do this, perhaps you know someone in your profession who might be willing to lend a helping hand. Time is what we don’t have. Our resources will run out by the end of summer without new donations. We’re planning on starting on our mailing lists by mid-May, at the latest and we would like to have a brochure put together by then.”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t work for you, Dr. Cambridge. I promised Aunt Rachel,” Pat said. “Just don’t expect me to go door-to-door with you, looking for donations.”
“Fair enough. We do appreciate your sacrifice,” she said.
Pat laughed again, surprising Carly for the second time. She had intended her comment to be an insult. Apparently, this woman was too thick-skinned to even realize it.
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Bits and Bobs
ISBN number: 978-1931513975
Publisher: Bella Books
Audiobook Publisher: Tantor Audio
Narrator: Abby Craden
Gerri Hill Online
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