Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
As I jumped into Hope Ellis’s Been There Done That, a SmartyPants Romance, I went in curious. I mean, in looking at her GoodReads profile, this is the only book attached to her page. Without any background, you hope for the best obviously. Given the other authors in the SmartyPants Romance universe, I expected insightful, nuanced storytelling, grounded by the Green Valley community surrounding the beloved Winston Family. After reading Ellis’s book, I realized very quickly that you get this and so much more. Nothing makes me more joyful than reading a first-time author (to me and maybe others) and getting my “socks knocked off” because that is INDEED what Ellis has done with this first book in the Leffersbee series.
Ellis coins this romance a second-chance romance. And it is that. As I was reading this story, my brain ran over this idea of second-chance romance. What makes a story that uses this trope successful? What allows us to surrender ourselves as readers to the idea that two people separated in their youth could and would find each other again, igniting a latent love? I realized that, for me, for this trope’s believability, I need this type of story to be a slow burn. I become inflamed when a heroine (or hero) jumps quickly back into a relationship with a past love especially when their counterpart broke their spirit. This type of story requires a careful plodding that quietly and insistently builds the chemistry to a point where it must be satisfied or the story will lose its power. Acting upon this too early removes the needed development of their reunion, and waiting too long loses readers. In my opinion, there is a fine line in developing this trope, and Hope Ellis writes this brilliantly. Zora, the heroine of Been There Done That, is an empowered woman. She’s independent, intelligent, and insightful. When Nick, her childhood love, returns and seeks her out after breaking her heart and soul twelve years prior, if she had run straight to him, the story would have muddled its message of control and balance. As Ellis draws these two nearer to exposing their truths, in a way, Ellis replicates her message. Nick breaks their coupling twelve years earlier for reasons related to control. Ellis crafts their journey towards reconciliation and redemption slowly so that her characters can evolve and accept their truths. It’s a lesson for her readers. As Nick and Zora find their way towards each other, they find more of themselves and an equity in their relationship that might not have been there previously. Ellis’s conjuring of this second chance trope is perfectly balanced that the reader feels satiated with Zora and Nick’s eventual coupling.
As well, Hope Ellis’s biography notes that she is “a behavioral outcomes researcher by day.” Her profession clearly influences the tertiary plot of Been There Done That. Beyond the developing romance of this book is a motif about healthcare. As an academician, Zora’s story includes us in discussions about the current healthcare system in the US. Her work and her conversations with Nick allow us access to its problems. Even more, Ellis’s dextrous characterization of Zora to take on this system’s ills does two things: it acknowledges Ellis’s insertion of herself into her storytelling which allows us insight into her own occupational challenges and it lends a gravity to Nick and Zora’s romance, making Been There Done That more intentional in its creation. This book is more than a Penny Reid-inspired romance; it’s an admonishment to “fix the system” of its problems. While Nick Armstrong/Rossi has the means and power to effect some change, Ellis also shows us a “lay person’s” effect too. There is clear craftsmanship in this discussion throughout the story. Even more, it’s timely given how our world is currently handling the COVID-19 crisis. At the very least, Ellis’s story is a magnifying glass for a national and global problem.
Beyond Ellis’s careful handling of this story’s second chance trope and the reconciliation of her characters, along with a secondary message about the fragmented and complex healthcare system, we find Ellis the wordsmith. I’m a fiend for good prose. When authors have the capacity to engage a reader with the way in which they string words together into sentences, paragraphs, and pages, I fall. I love a storyteller who finds words that infuse emotion without needing to describe the emotion. There were so many moments in this book when I appreciated Ellis as a writer. From her play on the movie ideal of Nick and Nora as Nick and Zora to sentences that emoted the challenges of this couple, there is an intentionality in Hope Ellis’s writing that manifested a romance that felt intentional. I think that’s the difference between someone who quickly writes a book for the masses and someone who recognizes a story as a purveyor of thought and truth. If Been There Done That is Hope Ellis’s first book, then she hit a triple that turned into a home run on her first at-bat.
This is what I know after reading Ellis’s book. She MUST write more. Specifically, I NEED more books in the Leffersbee series. There are more stories to tell about Walker, Leigh, and Tavia. She has piqued my curiosity and earned herself a new fan. I haven’t even touched on the diversity of this story, it’s brilliant connection to Penny Reid’s Winston Brothers, and it’s insistent that independence is found in both the power of the individual and the completion of the self in a great love. Those are all AMAZINGLY worthy topics to consider for this book and more of what you will LOVE about it. If you are a Penny Reid fan, Jackson James is here in all of his glory (dear LORD, I need this man’s story), and we earn more of the Leffersbee family. However, if you are a Hope Ellis fan (or a new reader), then you are in for the best treat of second chances and sultry homecomings.
In love and romance,