Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
What do you get when you pair a former Mr. Universe/stuntman/baker and a current uptight, “colors within the lines” town manager together with a baking reality show about exes? You get Katana Collins’s romance, Beefcakes. While I am not the most prolific romance reader, I can tell you that this story read like a fresh take on second chance romance. From its first page to its last, you find yourself rooting for this couple to move beyond their past to find an exciting future together. What is here is a reminder that living an abundant life requires moving forward instead of always looking back.
Why should you read this book?
- Neil is this anomaly of a hero. He’s an amalgamation of types. And I think this is Collins’s purpose. Throughout the story, Neil has to remind Elaina “Lainey” that she can be both intelligent and “buttoned-up” and also the carefree “party girl” of her youth. She can take chances and find freedom in losing her strict control. We see Collins crafting this lesson with Neil. He’s a former ex-Mr. Universe bodybuilder who moved into the life of a stuntman before he comes back to his hometown to help his mother’s bakery. He is also an amazing baker who crafts bakery items that are healthier, yet delicious. There is clearly a traditionally masculine side to Neil (we see this also evidenced in his possessiveness around Lainey), but there is also a more compassionate, feminine side to him. We find him worried over Lainey, even when he shows her his “cocky” side. Through his creation, Neil encompasses one of the truths of Collins’s Beefcakes: we can be more than one identity. We can be whomever we want to be. This is a profound message for her readers, an admonishment to be “more” than we allow for ourselves.
- This is a story of second chances that emphasizes the need to stay and work through problems. Neil and Lainey are high school best friends with benefits. As they prepare to graduate high school, they have made plans for their future; however, at the last minute, Neil leaves town without a “good-bye” to Lainey. For ten years, Lainey nurses a broken heart, even though she engages in a nine-year relationship with another man. However, no one ever really compares to Neil, yet he left her without ever looking back. Or so she thinks. Neil has always regretted leaving Lainey, but he made a choice and he lives with it until he returns home. It is then that the gravity of his interest in Lainey becomes apparent, and he wants to do everything to win her back. Unfortunately, Lainey struggles with trust, not just due to Neil’s swift departure, but for other reasons. This is the reason for her control. In order for Neil to win her over, he will need to remedy his tendency to run when problems arise. I think this lesson is a profound one for today’s romance. We see this plotline in romantic stories, but it really is something that seems prevalent in today’s relationships. Through Neil and Lainey’s reconciliation, Collins proposes that the time and energy necessary for the maintenance of relationships breeds great rewards. Staying power and facing troubles together is always better than running from problems. It’s an important admonishment that Collins develops beautifully through Neil and Lainey’s story.
- The contemporization of second chance romance by using a common media attribute: reality television. Collins’s use of a reality television baking show connects us to our own society where these shows are the “bread and butter” of their networks. As a plot device, it forces Neil and Elaina together, but it makes it easy for her readers to imagine. We can see the bachelor-esque beginning of this show as Neil’s exes compete against each other for the coveted spot in the baking competition. It is here where Neil and Elaina are reminded of the depth of their chemistry. It is also in those moments where the readers can enjoy the cattiness of his former ex. This adds some spice and tension to Neil and Lainey’s journey towards reconciliation. As Collins crafts the show in her story, we can see the equivalent of a Cupcake Wars-ish reality show as a means to fully unpack Neil and Lainey’s soulmate-ish chemistry and their inherent conflict. Attaching their journey with something we can “see” and understand from our own world makes this more distinct, more significant, as their happy ending becomes threatened. In my eyes, this was smart of Collins, setting her apart from most second chance romances.
There are enough differences with Beefcakes from other second chance romances that it makes for an engaging read. I found myself falling into Neil and Elaina’s story and hoping for their reconciliation while laughing at Neil and his brother, Liam’s sudden social media celebrity, empathizing with Elaina’s trust issues, and applauding the beauty of Katana Collins’s epilogue.
I signed up for an ARC for this book simply because I hadn’t read a story like it in terms of its characterization. It intrigued me, and I wanted to read these characters developed on the page. Katana Collins did not disappoint with Beefcakes. It was engaging and thoughtful and the type of second chance romance that makes you believe in happily-ever-afters for everyone. I am INDEED excited for any forthcoming stories in this series, maybe Liam’s story? Neil and Elaina in Beefcakes are an apt reminder that we must forgive and move forward to live a rich life without fear.
In love and romance,