I was ordinary. Nice. He was extraordinary. And he wasn’t always nice.
Moody and difficult, brilliant and beautiful, Kes scared me and he protected me. He could be incredibly hurtful and incredibly thoughtful. He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for me. He challenged me, he took me out of my safe little box and showed me the world could be magnificent. He was everything I wasn’t.
Aimee Anderson is ten when the traveling carnival first comes to her nice little town. She doesn’t expect her world to change so completely. But meeting Kestrel Donohue puts her life on a different path.
Even though she only sees him for the two weeks of the year when he passes through her home town, his friendship is the most important of her life. As a child’s friendship grows to adult love, the choices become harder, and both Kes and Aimee realize that two weeks a year will never be enough.
Sometimes there are those rare books I read that really can’t be swept under one rating and The Traveling Man falls under that case. I just want to say this part first before anything else: I loved and disliked this book in equal measures. The unique setting of the story, the friends-to-lovers romance, and the beautiful writing were all major positives. Yet on the flip side, there were several plot devices I flat-out didn’t like and put up a pretty big negative case against the positive. And with these kinds of books that make me feel so conflicted, I have tons to say, so I’ll be disregarding the rating this time and just let my thoughts all out before I start pulling my hair out.
With each new book I read from this author, it never fails to surprise me that there’ll be some unique aspect incorporated that makes her stories stand out among her own work and others. This book was no exception, and what made this one different is the carnival setting. I think the closest I’ve come to this premise would be a circus romance I read a while back but even so, the author makes it clear there’s a difference and that there’s more to a carnival than just petting animals and magic tricks. It’s very well researched – from the detailed descriptions of carnival ‘carnie’ life to behind the scenes setup – and it’s among all this chaotic fun where the stormy romance between Aimee Anderson and Kestrel Donohue began.
Their backgrounds are so different – Aimee’s your average girl living an ordinary life while Kes is a carnie, a wild card from the very start who has no roots and lives for thrills and excitement. And yet – even from the time they were children – there has always been a connection between them that no one could ever sever, a bond that just seemed right.
“He was everything I wasn’t, but somehow, together, there was a synergy, an alignment, something just made sense no matter how crazy it seemed to anyone else.”
The tricky part is that for every year for 6 years, Kes and Aimee would only see each other for two weeks as the carnival would tour around the country after that. As they were kids maturing into adolescence, the author perfectly captured the strife caused by their growing attraction to one another and the inevitable long distance. Thus, the two weeks they could see each other became their lifeline, from daily outings to bedroom readings to innocent kisses…they had to make the best memories to last them for a year before they could see each other again.
The pivotal year that became the game changer was the year Aimee turned 16, when she and Kes both instinctively knew that all their years of playing around as kids were over. They were teens in love that left no room for anyone else.
“You’re my girl, Aimee. No one else.”
Just when they thought they could finally be together, a series of unfortunate events hit them hard – deception, loss, misunderstandings, etc…I can’t even begin to describe how frustrated and angry I was that such a wonderful couple had THIS many obstacles to face. This part was also my strike #1 as I thought some of the conflicts were put in for pure drama’s sake and the time gap right after all this put me in an even sour mood. If you didn’t already know, I hate time gaps.
Anyways, years pass and in a very realistic and believable manner, Aimee and Kes meet again. Both have matured considerably, both have moved on, yet both can’t deny that their chemistry and bond from before hasn’t changed. Even after finishing the book, I still can’t get over this second chance romance part because there’s just SO. MUCH. tension and conflict and passion put together that I’ve questioned more than once if their love is toxic. Because of their failed past relationship and all the baggage they’re dragging, these two have put up high walls. Some of their actions are cruel. Some just made me go WTF. And this quote from Aimee captures their struggles perfectly:
“…that was the truth: I’d never stopped loving him, but I was beginning to wish that I could.”
One part of this book that has always bothered me was the lack of information about Kes’s background. He’s such a tortured guy. He’s harsh and rough, but can also be gentle and loving. Throughout the book, only little hints have been dropped about his past and what could’ve made him so closed off and cynical, even towards Aimee.
I wished the author could’ve given me more on that – maybe even a few chapters in his POV – because it made some (okay, a LOT) of his actions seem unnecessarily cruel. And yet strangely enough, every time I thought he stepped out of line, I would remember. I would flash back to the time where he and Aimee were sweet, carefree children, flash back to young teenagers in love. Same with Aimee. Every time I got annoyed with her doormat-ish behavior, I would remember how strongly and deeply she loved Kes and how holding onto that love was #1 for her, that no matter what, she believed their love was worth fighting for.
“Kes was moody and difficult, brilliant and beautiful. He scared me and he protected me. He could be incredibly hurtful and incredibly thoughtful. He wasn’t perfect, but he was perfect for me.”
You could say that the author has effectively messed with my mind because these warring emotions are the source of my inner conflict and why I can’t decide on any one rating. Other technical issues I had like the very abrupt ending and how when they were children, Aimee and Kes didn’t really talk like kids were factors to consider too. It wouldn’t have been fair of me to let my frustration take over and slap a 3 star rating because I really was invested in this couple, in their romance. I loved them individually and I loved them together. On the flip side, I can’t hand out a 4.5 or 5 star rating because those plot devices truly frustrated and angered me.
But what’s weighing heavily on my mind right now is that I simply can’t forget about the book. There’s just this intensity to the story and I’m so tempted to do a re-read now, even knowing that reading all the conflict again will probably kill me. So much happens so fast I’m feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. Taking all of this into account, does it sound like an epic romance worth reading or just a bundle of never-ending drama and unanswered questions best to skip? I have no fucking clue. And I stillcan’t get these characters out of my mind…
The Traveling Man is book 1 in a 2-book series and isn’t a standalone. Aimee and Kes’s tumultuous journey will be concluded in book 2 The Traveling Woman. You can bet your bottom dollar the moment the second book releases I will be reading it. I NEED my closure!!
ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.