Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️+
“I couldn’t have scripted this, couldn’t have planned it, couldn’t have controlled it. Because sometimes, the best things in life come straight from your blind side.”
Like most romance readers (or readers in general), we have a list of authors whom we love. No matter what they write, we add it to our TBR or one-click preorder it as fast as possible. But, lying in the back of our minds (at least this is my experience), we wonder when we might be dissatisfied with a future book. I mean, not everything turns out as you plan, not to mention, that some books are simply “misses.” I know it’s not fair to take on this mindset, but it’s the truth of reading.
I have quickly fallen in love with Karla Sorensen. I found her with her Washington Wolves series. When she announced that she would be writing a series for the Ward sisters, I ran to GoodReads and quickly added Molly’s book to my TBR. Their stories were compelling: three sisters raised by an older brother with the oldest sister struggling with her autonomy. I knew their stories would own me, and the first of the series, Focused, has done exactly that. Worrying that my expectations for this would let me down, I began reading Molly and Noah’s story, and I found a story about perfection and control wrapped in heady tendrils of soul-abiding love. If I thought Sorensen was going to disappoint with this book, I was clearly delusional. This author has shown me time and time again that characterization, style, and story are her superpowers. Thus, I need not have worried that this book wouldn’t live up to the standards of their predecessors.
We met Molly, the oldest Ward sister, and Noah in Logan and Paige’s story, The Marriage Effect. In that story, these two characters are found in a compromising situation. Given that Molly is a minor, Logan intercedes and warns off Noah. Focused begins ten years later. Molly works for her brother’s former team, the Washington Wolves, as a brand marketer for the team. At the outset of the story, she is provided an opportunity for promotion from her new boss, a woman who perceives Molly has earned her job based on her last name. Wanting to prove her new supervisor wrong, she agrees to the opportunity; however, it entails working with a new player for the Wolves, Noah, the mistake from her past.
As a newly traded player, Noah comes to the team after an incident with his former team. He is not interested in attachments. His whole life is football: creating records, winning games, and forming his body to be a weapon for his profession. Relationships and romantic affection are distractions from football. Enter Molly to complicate Noah’s life. Noah and Molly must work closely together for a series project related to the team. Unfortunately for Noah, Molly has the propensity to break through his heavily-fortified walls. Noah pushes back against this at first, but Molly’s kindness and ability to see the “real” Noah begin to wear him down. As their story progresses, their chemistry builds until their romantic interest in each other cannot be denied. Will these two rekindle their past attraction, or is this a momentary fling for each of them?
To a certain extent, Focused has an enemies-to-lovers feel to it. Yet, it’s more than that trope. Yes, Noah is initially cold and abrasive towards Molly, but Sorensen makes it clear that this is simply Noah’s defense mechanism. Through Noah, Sorensen’s readers recognize the power of perfectionism and control. This is the message underlying the romantic story of Focused. His character has hyperfocused on football for his career because most of the variables of football are controllable. In doing so, he reduces himself and his life. He stands as a reminder that life is meant to be lived, to give and receive love, and to allow people to help mold us. When Noah recognizes this truth, he moves from being a flat character to being one so round that your heart squeezes for his transition. Noah’s epiphany brought the biggest tears to my eyes.
“‘But I think’—I breathed unsteadily—’I need him to climb through my window this time. Do something that feels risky and crazy for me. I deserve that.’”
Molly is the impetus for change. This is a mature Molly even though she still struggles with impulsive decision-making. Yet, she is also grounded and secure in her family and her self. Because Logan, Paige, her sisters, and her nephew provide a foundation of love and acceptance, Sorensen uses her character to challenge Noah, effectively breaking down his walls. As we know in romancelandia, this generally comes with some level of heartbreak, and this is true in Focused. The emotional upheaval of Noah and Molly’s struggle winds your heart up and sets it into a spin. For me, a book is “good” when it hits the depths of my stomach and sets the butterflies into action. Focused does this brilliantly. Before the story even ended, I found myself becoming nostalgic for its beginning. I didn’t want it to end because it would be the end of Molly and Noah’s beautiful story. These two are both a salty and sweet combination.
There is something comforting about Karla Sorensen’s stories. As I was reading Focused, hoping it would stand up to the impeccable storytelling of her other books and recognizing very quickly that it holds its place well in her universe, I found myself reveling in Sorensen’s storytelling. She never disappoints me. Her romances are character-driven, and her stories take common romance tropes and add a twist to them. I simply do not tire of her. Her stories are impressionable because her characters are us. Even when they are NFL football players, team owners, supermodels, etc., we can find ourselves in them, in their struggles, in their love, and in their happy endings. I was waiting for Noah and Molly’s story, trusting that Sorensen would dazzle me again with her storytelling. And she surely did not disappoint with this book.
In love and romance,