Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
“And I knew that these two had the power to move baseball to the side and become the center of my world.”
You know when you read a romance, and it surprises you. Not in an evaluative way; in a way that you didn’t expect the story set before you. A blurb can only tell a reader so much. It’s really a teaser of the story, and in my experience, it rarely provides enough detail to fully illustrate a story. Emma Renshaw’s Ember is that such story. There were a few reasons I wanted to read this ARC: (1) sports romance (that is one of my fav genres), (2) bachelor baseball player + single mother (one of my fav tropes), (3) small-town romance (another fav genre) and (4) I’ve read Renshaw previously, and I wanted more time with her stories. This genre felt outside her “wheelhouse,” and my curiosity wanted to be indulged. What I can tell you is that Emma Renshaw’s Ember is a delightful surprise. I think the word “delightful” might be a stretch because this book is heavy with an emotional gravitas that holds you captive throughout its story.
It’s hard to say exactly if there is a main message. I’ve teased a message of redemption in my social media build-up, but that isn’t the correct word as there are few characters, if any, who require redemption. Given the hero’s backstory, that word doesn’t fit the feel of this story. If anything, through the journeys of the hero and heroine\, there is a message about forgiving one’s self.
The book begins with a trauma in the life of Gunner, the hero. He leaves his hometown to pursue his baseball dreams, and he doesn’t look back. There is pain there. Ten years later, he returns to care for his mother. Returning to town brings back the ghosts of his past, and he struggles with forgiving himself for his life. He meets Delilah, the daughter of the owners of the bed and breakfast where he stays. Delilah is the chef for the inn, and she has an eight-year-old son who sees Gunner as his baseball hero. As Delilah and Gunner grow closer, Gunner begins to envision a different future for himself. Like Gunner, Delilah’s life is complicated by her own past. With their lives entwining deeper, will Gunner and Delilah find their future together, or will they struggle with their pasts, keeping them apart?
There are three collective elements of Ember that make it a must-read. For one, Renshaw’s characterizations of Gunner and Delilah are complicated. It’s easy to say that Delilah is a single mother, but, without ruining the story, there is more to that story. She isn’t “simply” a single mother; the topic of addiction underpins her story. Renshaw writes Delilah’s somewhat co-dependent nature so well that you realize she is multi-layered beyond a “single mother.” Additionally, Gunner’s life is complex. Through his character, Renshaw illustrates the difficulty of moving past trauma. There are guilt and regret that is woven in trauma. Renshaw elaborates this perspective beautifully into Gunner’s character. He becomes the emotional centerpiece of Ember. With that, he eventually (at least in my opinion) becomes the most emotionally available. Renshaw allows him to more easily fall for Delilah as he forgives himself and seeks to live his best life.
The second element of this book that makes it a must-read is its story. For me, this was the biggest surprise because this story is not really a sports romance. There is an element of romantic suspense that surprises the reader. Given that the story already centers on trauma and addiction, the romantic suspense felt a bit unnecessary. That would be my only criticism of this story. Yes, it was a surprise, and it obviously offers a genre for readers who like that. Yet, it felt like one more “thing” to wrap your mind around. However, the depth of the story related to Gunner’s trauma and subsequent journey, Delilah’s story about addiction, and Gunner’s mother’s illness are enough to pull you through Ember to the last page.
The third element of this book that sets it above many other stories is its writing. I know this seems a bit “on the nose;” however, Renshaw uses her “fire” metaphor and carefully intertwines it in her story. It isn’t simply the title; instead, feelings and thoughts are described in fiery elements. It’s a reminder to the reader that new lives will be built after the fire has burned down the past. Believe it or not, writers can often struggle with carrying a metaphor through their writing to completion. Renshaw’s craftsmanship shines in this way throughout Ember.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from Emma Renshaw’s story of a bachelor baseball player and a single mother. What Ember does is offer a story of two people drawn to each other so distinctly that their lives will never be the same again. There is definitely strife and tension between these two, but once their hearts recognize each other, life changes, and the struggles of their past pale in comparison to their future. It’s this truth that keeps this story exciting and the reader turning the page.
In love and romance,