Having devoured On Dublin Street in a matter of a few days, I was more than giddy at the prospect of reading Down London Road. As with its predecessor, Down London Road continues with a story that is an emotional rollercoaster ride that by the end of the book you are exhausted but happy that everything worked out in the end. True, for those few days, I once again sacrificed sleep for Young sucked me into such a complex story, I just kept saying to myself “Just a the next chapter, then I’ll go to sleep.” Coffee companies saw their profits skyrocket as I used the caffeine fix to get me through my day. We all know that is the sign of an excellent book.
Rather than do a straight sequel from On Dublin Street, Down London Road is all about Johanna Walker, or Jo, Josses friend and co-worker from Club 39 in the first book. When the book opens, Jo has apparently found her Mr. Right in Malcolm, a lottery winner who ticks all her boxes. He is financially secure, handsome and treats her well.
This is all blown to smithereens when she meets Cameron MacCabe. True, he is handsome, but the fact that he is financially challenged after being made redundant from his graphic design job, Cam doesn’t meet Jos’ criteria. That being said, neither party can deny the instant sexual attraction.
For once Jo is willing to take the chance and let someone see who the real Jo is, but with a past that holds many dark secrets, there is a lot at stake. Not just Jos’ happiness, but also that of her little brother, Cole.
Down London Road was every bit as compelling as On Dublin Street. The storyline once again takes you on so many high’s and lows that by the time you are finished reading it, you are emotionally exhausted. Any fear of second book syndrome, where the second book just doesn’t meet the dizzying heights of a fantastic first book are instantly quashed.
The introduction of the two main characters is once again unorthodox, where both parties are involved with someone else. Jo is with Malcolm, the lottery winner, and Cam is with Becca, Malcolms’ ex. As the saying goes, first impressions last, and with Cam and Jo, it is less than flattering when they meet at Beccas’ art show. Cam judges Jo as the gold-digger, who is only with Malcolm for his money. He sees her as scheming and is altogether rather unfriendly towards Jo. This never normally bothers Jo as she is used to this assumption, but for some reason Cams’ perception really gets to her. It is this first impression which rears its ugly head time and time again, when both characters do get together.
Down London Road deals with many darker storylines than what was cover in On Dublin Street. The most harrowing for me, was Jo’s abusive childhood. Normally, I shy away from books with these darker plots but Young manages to integrate these issues into the plot in such a way that you see they are the reasons Jo is the way she is. Her life and personality has been shaped by what has happened to her and it helps you, as the reader, understand Jo’s reasons for the choices she has made.
Though this is a romance novel and the journey Cam and Jo take in order to make it as a couple is very interesting, on retrospect it is more of a sub plot to the book as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that watching these two characters realise that they have a deep rooted attraction and both fight, at least in the beginning, to push these feelings aside. Just like in On Dublin Street, Cam and Jo’s relationship is tempestuous as well as downright hot. The chemistry between the two of them is apparent from their very first meeting and you can tell that when these two fall into bed (or changing room) the pages are going to sizzle with the sexual chemistry. No, this book has a much deeper story going on beneath it and that story is Jo’s personal journey to a young woman who accepts who she really is.
Jo, as a character, is one of the most complex three dimensional characters I have ever read about in any contemporary book. The preconception that Jo is an airhead, bimbo only looking for some rich guy to keep her in designer clothes, is quickly demolished. Jo has been taught by her mother that the only way she will get anywhere in life is through her looks. We are not told as such, but the few conversation that she does have with her alcoholic mother, gives as a clear indication that this woman has chipped away at Jo’s confidence and self-esteem, It is only with the arrival of Cameron and his first impression that she is nothing more than a gold-digger, does Jo begin to start reflecting on herself. She begins to question why she is with guys like her current boyfriend Malcolm. True they may treat her and buy her expensive things, but Jo begins to realise that the cost of this is the real Jo. Jo has convinced herself that this is the only way for her to keep a roof over her mother, her younger brother Cole and her own head. Coupled with the fear that if the authorities found out what her mother was really like, they would take Cole away. Jo has sacrificed so much that she can’t bear to lose Cole now.
When Cameron moves into the flat below hers and finds out what her life really is like, he begins to soften towards her, offering to look out for Cole when their mother becomes abusive towards him when Jo isn’t there. Just by having someone to talk to, you begin to see some of the pressure begin to lift. This is the start of a friendship that blossoms into much more, very quickly. Though both Cam and Jo are in a relationship, they quickly break it off in order to give their attraction to each other a chance. It gives Jo hope that she can have something for herself, but with this trust there is always that risk of the other party hurting you and we see how this can be used against us with such brutal consequences. Young doesn’t shy away from showing the uglier side to a relationship and it is a credit to her as a writer that she does this in such a way that the emotions from each character are so easy to understand.
One scene in particular that best demonstrates Youngs’ talent for writing complex characters, has to be the major row Cam and Jo have about two thirds of the way through the book. It is all related to the communication Cam and Jo have to past partners. Jo is jealous and worried that Cam will dump her for the only woman he has claimed to love. Meanwhile, we see Cam’s fears begin to creep to the surface that Jo is only with him temporarily and that the first sign of trouble she will go running back to her rich ex, Malcolm. Both make very valid points throughout the exchange, but the parting shot Cam directs at Jo, is the one that is the sucker punch we experience through Jo’s eyes.
“No, Blair is just a friend. Malcolm’s a rich fuck who still has a hard-on for you, and he lets you dangle him on a string. Got a problem with me hanging out with Blair? Think I’m just keeping her around in case you and I don’t work out? Well, what’s not to say you’re not ready to spread your legs for Malcolm if what we have goes south?”
I guess that’s the problem when you really get to know someone. You learn all their triggers and emotional buttons, and unfortunately, in times of war, you press them. The button Cam pressed had direct access to my tear ducts, and salt water spilled down my cheeks in anguishes silence. I took a step away from him, feeling sick. I ignored his remorseful expression, concentrating on those ugly words, and what they meant.
They meant he had never stopped thinking of me as a shallow gold-digger. He’d never believed that I could be more than that. Not really. Did that mean he’d never meant anything he’d said to me?
What I found to be so painful to read, was the fact that this came from the one person Jo could truly be herself with. She has put her trust and him, only for Cam to through it back. It seems to back up Jo’s fear from throughout the book that it was only a matter of time before they would split up, yet she didn’t think it would be due to that first impression he had of her.
You may think that I dislike Cam for the way he treated Jo, and is true he is a major asshat both at the beginning and at this point in the book, but Cam is protective of Jo and he sees something in her that no one else does. He cares for her deeply, but like anyone he does make mistakes. Cam also has abandonment issues, which stem from the fact that he was adopted. Yes, he has wonderful parents who love him very much, but you get the sense that it still hurts him deep down to know that his biological parents abandoned him. Maybe, it is this reason why he fears Jo will run off with Malcolm? Maybe this is why he called things off with Blair?
This is what I love about Young’s characters, every single one of them has shades of grey in them. You can be feeling sympathy for them one minute and the next you are screaming at them for being so stupid.
Needless to say, Cam and Jo do end up as a couple and it is in such a way that is realistic. The break up is not the last trial they have, for a blackmail plot near the end of the book threatens to set Jo back. It didn’t play out how I thought it would, but this just adds to the tension and the satisfactory conclusion.
It has been ages since I have read an author who can capture the characters so brilliantly not once, but twice. Young is a gifted author and Down London Road proves that On Dublin Street is no fluke.
This is a book that takes you to hell and back, but once again I was left with that warm feeling when everything worked out for the best. Jo and Cam were a couple who just worked so well together and though like every couple they have their ups and downs, you want them to work things out. I can’t wait to see what book 3 has in store for us.
Rating: 5 Stars
Down London Road by Samantha Young
(On Dublin Street #2)
Contemporary Erotic Romance
Penguin (May 2013)
Paperback: 407 Pages