Maybe it’s the season, but lately I’ve been wanting to read books set in other countries, particularly places I’d like to travel to. Add in a cute summer fling and I’m sold. This led me to Meet Me in Paradise, the debut novel by Libby Hubscher. I got the audiobook and it fully delivered on the vacation setting and romance… but it also brought lots of emotion, drama, sister love, and self-growth. It was more than I’d expected it to be, and the perfect way to end my August reading.
|Meet Me in Paradise by Libby Hubscher|
|Genre||Romance; Drama; Contemporary Fiction|
|Setting||Saba, in the Lesser Antilles|
|Number of Pages||352|
|Format I Read||Audiobook|
|Narrators||Josephine Huang; Kristen Sieh|
|Original Publication Date||March 23, 2021|
Marin Cole has never:
Seen the ocean
Climbed a mountain
Taken a risk on love
….But if her sister’s plan works, she just might do all three.
Ever since her journalist mother died on assignment, Marin has played it safe, refusing to set foot outside the state of Tennessee. Her wild-child younger sister, Sadie, has trotted the globe as a photographer, living off of art and adrenaline.
When Sadie returns from a tough assignment abroad and looks a little worse for wear, Marin reluctantly agrees to a sisters’ spa weekend on the tropical island of Saba. But her lifelong fear of travel is affirmed when Sadie misses the flight, Marin’s luggage gets mixed up with another passenger’s, and an episode of turbulence sends her hurtling into the lap of Lucas Tsai, the handsome stranger who stole her sister’s seat.
For the first time in a long time, Marin has to step outside of her comfort zone as she explores the island with Lucas and learns what she’s been missing out on. With each breathtaking new experience, Marin gets closer to her real self, the man she’s falling for, and the heart-wrenching truth about why she’s there in the first place.
Looking at the cover and summary for Meet Me in Paradise, it’d be natural to assume this is a light, cute romance with some good self-growth thrown in. Let me warn you, though, that this book actually weaves in some particularly heavy themes, including grief, illness, and death. In many ways, the romance can feel secondary to these other plot points. It’s a beautifully written book, but make sure you’re ready for an emotional ride before diving into it.
Meet Me in Paradise starts off as a fun and humorous story centered on Marin, a woman who is far too anxious and fearful for her own good. Right away, we can see how drastically different she and her younger sister, Sadie, are. While Sadie travels the world working as a photojournalist, Marin never leaves her Tennessee hometown and spends her time worrying about Sadie. Early on, we get a glimpse into how Marin ended up this way. She was once ambitious, curious, and dreamed of adventure; she wanted to be like her mom, who was herself an award-winning journalist. But when their mom died when Marin was only 17, she had to step up to care for her younger sister, thus putting many of her own dreams on hold. Furthermore, Marin learned to be afraid, especially of travel, and made it her mission to live as carefully and safely as possible.
Already, Meet Me in Paradise is a tender novel that examines the lasting repercussions of trauma and loss. It’s honest and raw, but it’s also clear that Marin is holding herself back. Sadie notices exactly that, and she sets Marin up on a wild trip to Saba, an island in the Caribbean. Her mission is to remind Marin of who she was so she can fully live again.
For the first half of the novel, Meet Me in Paradise is fun, funny, and a perfect getaway for those of us trapped at home. (Thanks, Covid.) Sometimes the silly hijinks are a bit too much; for example, Marin’s over-the-top experiences on her plane ride to Saba went from laughter to eyerolls, especially with the audiobook narrator’s delivery. But eventually the story evened out, becoming more realistic and enjoyable. I loved getting the chance to vicariously travel through Marin. I’ve never been to the Caribbean, but now I really want to! From scuba diving to zip lining, the adventures described here are envy-inducing!
This trip, and these adventures, serve as the backdrop for Marin’s tentative romance with Lucas, the man who owns the hotel and is acting as her personal tour guide. He’s a bit of an enigma, and while he seems kind-hearted and well-loved by all on the island, he’s also harboring his own grief following the recent death of his father. Lucas and Marin have similar experiences they can bond over, but vacations don’t last forever, and Marin still doesn’t seem ready to completely restructure her life.
Even so, a part of Marin is reawakening, particularly a desire to learn and write. Could she finally pursue those dreams she put on hold so long ago?
At this point, though, some big secrets finally come to light, and Meet Me in Paradise changes pace into something far more dramatic and heart-wrenching than I’d initially expected. Though I cried, I also loved how Libby Hubscher writes about these themes. Readers really get into the mind of Marin and feel her pain, anger, and aimlessness. In some ways, this narrative brought up feelings I had when my dad died unexpectedly eight years ago; the grief here is raw and real, but written with tenderness, too.
Perhaps what I love most about Meet Me in Paradise, though, is how it looks at the relationship between sisters. My own younger sister is my best friend, and I love reading stories like this where two sisters are so close. Marin and Sadie are so different and lead such disparate lives, yet they always have each others’ backs and work to lift each other up. I loved seeing their relationship and care for one another.
By the end, Marin has gone through a lot and made some big changes in her life, but she also grows from these experiences. I enjoyed seeing her character develop and return to the dreams and thirst for adventure she once had. Her final chapters even inspired me to go after my own goals. The novel ends on a hopeful note, showing how life can move forward even after tragedy.
Meet Me in Paradise offers a lot: a vacation-worthy setting, romance with a kind-hearted stranger, a deep sisterly bond, a realistic look at loss and grief, and the chance to overcome your own traumas and grow into the person you were meant to be. It’s at times funny and light, at others heart-wrenching and dramatic, but it’s always engrossing. I loved this book, and I look forward to reading Libby Hubscher’s next novel, If You Ask Me, due out next March.
About the Author
Libby Hubscher is a women’s fiction author and scientist. She studied biology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and holds a doctor of philosophy in molecular toxicology from North Carolina State University. Her work has appeared online and in textbooks, scientific journals, and literary journals. In 2018, her short story “The Unwelcome Guest” was long-listed for the Wigleaf Top 50. During the week, she is a coffee-fueled value communications writer for an innovative health economics outcomes research boutique. In her free time, she enjoys reading, painting, playing tennis, and watching Mandarin-language dramas. She lives just outside Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband, two young children, and a menagerie of pets, including two dogs, two cats who believe they are dogs, two parakeets, and a bearded dragon named Bubbles. You can find her on Twitter @emhubscher and on Instagram @libbyhubscher.
Her debut novel MEET ME IN PARADISE, is forthcoming from Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in March 2021. She is represented by the amazing Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich and Bourret Literary Management. For publicity inquiries, please contact Brittanie Black: firstname.lastname@example.org.