Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
Okay, I’m going to say this here. Hard Nox, Jolie Vines’s newest release, is her steamiest book yet. I didn’t think it was possible after Ally’s story in Oh Baby, but she did it. Hard Nox is Marry the Scots 2.0. In other words, this is the next generation of the heroes and heroines of Vines’s first series about a brotherhood of Highlanders finding love in the hills of Scotland. It’s a favorite series of mine already, so it isn’t a hardship to fall for this new book.
Hard Nox is Lennox McRae (Callum’s oldest son) and Isobel’s story (she’s the daughter of the McRae’s best friends, James and Beth Fitzroy). There is a bit of an age difference, but nothing that makes it taboo or forbidden. Isobel and Lennox have circled each other as they grew up, given their parents are best friends and Isobel’s brother, Sebastian, is Lennox’s best friend. However, one Christmas Isobel engages in a potentially dangerous race and Lennox rushes in to “save the day,” effectively noticing Isobel for the first time. That night, these two share a kiss, but confusion and life separate them for the next four years. The story takes up later when Lennox and Isobel are forced together through a series of events, and the two of them recognize a heavy attraction still beats between them. Will these two find their happy ending, or are they destined to remain friends?
At its heart, Hard Nox is really a story about trust and accepting your truth. Yes, Lennox and Isobel are steamy. These two are insatiable in the bedroom, and it’s surprising to read this face of Vines in this book. From Storm the Castle (Lennox’s father, Calum’s story) until now, her romance writing has evolved, taking on more and more traits common in romance. Yet, I know that Lennox and Isobel drove this story; they whispered to Vines their $exual connection, and she made it so. This, however, isn’t the focus of the story; it’s more the surprise of Vines’s storytelling in this book,
Instead, Hard Nox considers the messages we tell ourselves that create a truth that might be skewed. For some time, I’ve called it creating our own mythology that may or may not be grounded in truth. This is the case with the character of Isobel. She’s different in the sense that she struggles with learning and processing information, and her passion lies in restoring older vehicles and racing. She’s what we call more kinesthetic and less book-learned. Her problem lies in believing this is a deficiency as it doesn’t compare with other girls who aspire to a more traditional life. Through Isobel, Vines is challenging us to live in our own truth, to not compare ourselves to others, thinking there is only one way to exist. When Isobel finally realizes this truth, it opens her to the potentiality of a future with Lennox. That moment becomes the most beautiful part of Vines’s story. Isobel’s ability to revel in her truth is one of the strengths of this story.
Like Isobel, Lennox must also confront a truth: finding his way in the world regardless of his father’s intent. For many people living in their early twenties, they struggle to find their place in life that both please themselves and their family. On leaving the military, Lennox feels this complication. He has a dream, but he fears his father’s disapproval of it. This creates an ennui in him that potentially derails him; however, through the development of his relationship with Isobel, Lennox becomes empowered, and he finds his voice. He stands in his truth as a way to embrace his future. This becomes the second strength and lesson of Hard Nox.
Entertwined with her messages, Vines treats us to our favorite characters in the past. She provides updates enough to appease her fervent fans, but, as she has forthcoming books for the offspring of the Marry the Scots folks, those updates are minor. She clearly doesn’t want to spoil it for us. What this does is the equivalent of being wrapped in a warm blanket, given a cup of hot chocolate or tea, and sat by the fire. It’s like welcoming an old friend home. And this becomes the third strength of Hard Nox.
Jolie Vines’s Hard Nox is the pleasantest of surprises because she welcomes us back to the McRaes and Fitzroys while showing us another side of her writing. This book continues to hold the secrets of this clan, and I’m excited for more of its secrets to be revealed. She leaves this book with the most epic of her epilogues, more surprising than the end of Wasp’s story in Picture This, if you can imagine. After reading Hard Nox, it seems to me that Vines has definitely hit her stride, and the potentiality for her future is bright.
In love and romance,