Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“What happened to us makes us who we are.”
Humanizing the bad guy, crafting him with heroic qualities, is like catnip to a romance reader’s appetite. It’s the ultimate in love redeeming what’s bad to good, and it’s always been one of my favorite heroic constructions. In its base form, it’s hot. At its most evolved form, it’s an encouragement. It helps us remember that there is oftentimes not one really bad person, but instead people with shades of bad and good in them. This is very true in Cathy Yardley’s SmartPants Romance offering, Prose Before Bros.
This book exists in Penny Reid’s Winston Brother’s universe, and it is the first SmartyPants Romance book that offers us the story of an Iron Wraith. Yes, we’ve read L.B. Dunbar’s SmartyPants book, Love in Due Time, about Nathan, a former prospect of the Iron Wraith’s, but this is the first fully-formed love story of a full-fledged Iron Wraith. In the Winston Brother’s universe, we get a sense that most of the Iron Wraiths are worthless, criminal individuals. However, in Cathy Yardley’s tale, we learn quickly that this isn’t the truth.
This is Drill’s story. Drill is the “heavy” for the Iron Wraiths. He’s the guy you send in to mess with people when they owe the MC group money, or they threaten it. He’s been with the Iron Wraiths since he was 16. He is now 32, and he’s at a crossroads of sorts. The Iron Wraiths are scrambled after their leadership has been undermined, and Drill’s “brother,” Catfish, is trying to bring its members to heal. He relies on Drill as his resource for doing this. Yet, Drill struggles with finding purpose in the group. He is numb to life.
Enter Drill’s sister, Maddy. Maddy hasn’t seen or heard from her brother, formerly Teddy, in sixteen years. She has returned to town on the death of their father. Her best friend, Thuy, accompanies her to help her resolve her father’s estate. On Maddy’s return, it’s revealed that she is pregnant. This information gets to Drill, and he’s curious and worried for her even though he formerly disavowed his family. In his curiosity, he seeks out Maddy who informs him that she’d like him to come to their father’s will reading. He complies, and they determine through the reading of the will that their family farm is equal parts his and hers if they both decide to work it. Catfish, Drill’s MC President, wants them to sell the farm and give his proceeds to the club to keep it afloat, but this doesn’t sit well with Drill. However, this is complicated with Maddy’s revelation that she wants the farm for her future. This problematizes Drill’s life as the Iron Wraiths want the money and Drill’s sister is stubborn and won’t sell the farm. In the midst of all of this drama sits Thuy, Maddy’s best friend. On meeting Drill, they are instantly attracted to each other, even though his life is incredibly complicated. Even more, Thuy’s past, her family, makes her question any kind of relationship with Drill. She knows the life he lives, and she is not interested. Thuy decides to stay in Green Valley with Maddy to help her work the farm while helping care for the baby. Even more, she finds a position with the library, as she’s a librarian. As their attraction grows, Thuy’s life becomes more fraught with issues. Will she stay in Green Valley, or will her relationship with Drill fall apart sending her back to where she came from?
There is so much loveliness in this book. These are the reasons WHY you should read this newest offering from the SmartyPants Romance universe:
- Four letters: Thuy. For one, while it isn’t heavily crafted on the page, she brings an ethnic voice to the world of romance. Yardley does a great job of providing cultural cues from Thuy’s life, and it breaks some of the typical heroine characteristics. Thuy IS the strongest person in this book, bar none. Yes, Maddy is resilient, but she’s not layered. Drill is also a complicated type (and the second-best part of the book). But Thuy has a resiliency and tenacity that endears her to you as a reader. She’s the solution to just about every problem in this book. She finds a way for Drill, she provides a much-needed income to help Maddy, she brings fresh ideas to Green Valley’s storied library, and she overcomes a complicated and terrifying past. She’s impressive, and Yardley’s crafting of her makes this book special.
- Drill. As I stated at the beginning of this review, I love a complicated hero. Yes, it’s easy to fall in love with a traditional romantic hero. A sweet hero is lovely, but it won’t make your heart pound as an anti-hero will. There is something interesting about a hero who hasn’t lived a heroic life. When you ascribe heroic qualities to him and complicate his sense of morality, you make him romance gold. And that is the case with Drill. He really is any of us who have grown weary of our current state. It is possible that the person we are at 16 or twenty won’t be the person we are at 30 or 40, and Yardley challenges us with that idea through the character of Drill. How do you then escape the decisions you make when you are younger? Should you even try? That is the overarching theme/message of this book: we should not feel ashamed for our pasts; instead, we should recognize that they helped us grow into the people we are today. Drill is the epitome of this realization in the book, and it’s why he is my second favorite part of this story. His truth resonated with me personally.
- The various love relationships. Yes, Prose Before Bros is a romance between Drill and Thuy, and their chemistry is amazing. It’s clear from the start that their souls yearn for each other, and Yardley makes their relationship probable even with the specter of Drill’s association with the Iron Wraith’s complicating it. Yet, this book is also about love relationships between friends, namely Maddy and Thuy. Through the construction of this relationship, Yardley shows us the power of friendships to save us and to create new families for us when our families of origin don’t meet our needs. Maddy and Thuy are special together. In the book, the town believes they might be in a relationship. However, it’s their friendship that saves them both, and it’s as special as Drill and Thuy’s relationship. Love can be found in any type of relationship, and it saves us from ourselves.
- Yardley clearly has this great love for libraries. Honestly, as a professor of writing, I ate up her depiction of the trials of modern-day libraries. I know this little piece seems silly in the scope of a review of this romance, but it acts as a bit of a warning over the idea of tradition vs. innovation. Green Valley’s library is one of the quintessential places in any Reid Winston Brother’s romance. It’s like a townsquare much like Daisy’s Nut House or the Donner Bakery. If you’ve read Reid’s books, you know how important these three places are to the ethos of Green Valley, and I love that Yardley questions the current state of the library. Through Thuy, she reminds us that we have to innovate to truly reach all people, not just some. This is a passionate secondary message in this book, and it’s important for us to remember that change and moving forward is necessary or we stagnate.
Honestly, if you haven’t read any of these SmartyPants Romance books, you need to now. Cathy Yardley’s Prose Before Bros is one of those books that will crawl under skin, flow through your veins, and hit your heart with an impact. Drill and Thuy’s story helps us see that our pasts can shadow our today, but they need not take over our tomorrows.
In love and romance,