Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
It’s a golden day when a Jolie Vines ARC lands on my Kindle. Oftentimes, I can’t get to reading it right away, as I am a reviewer blogger who has several ARCs at any one time. Her ARC screams to me, though, because there are some qualities of her writing that can be guaranteed: a universe of characters whose experiences, while seemingly far-fetched, represent truths found in our real life, heroes who adore their heroines from almost the first page and strive to woo them until the heroine accepts them, heroines who are compelling in either their acceptance of the hero’s pursuit OR in their personal insecurities that require the hero to finesse their love of them, and a believable happy ending that makes the strife of her stories worth your momentary misery. These truths are foundational to Jolie Vines’s books, and this reader conscripts herself to gobbling Vines’s stories.
I’ve been excited for Vines’s newest offering, Lion Heart. The third book of her Wild Scots series, Lion Heart, follows the story of James and Beth’s son, Sebastian. In the first two books of this series, we find Sebastian struggling with the strictures of his life. He’s aimless and fraught with self-doubt and ennui, as he determines his future. Given his unsettled nature, he finds himself in trouble at the end of the second book of the series, Perfect Storm. More specifically, he’s earned himself a stay in prison. Given this cliffhanger, I was ready to gobble Sebastian and Rose’s story. And, in true Vines fashion, she grabbed me from the first page.
Now, I do want to note a feeling about the book before I launch into everything I loved about this story. I’m not sure what it was, but the first third or half of the story had a strange pacing issue. At least, that’s how I read it. As Rose struggles with her feelings for Sebastian, I think Vines might have taken her indecision too far. Oftentimes, the “back and forth” of accepting love can build the tension of the story; it’s a necessary tactic towards the climax of a romance. Instead, there were times when I felt confused by it. She would, one moment, accept it and the next moment, reject it. She has very good reasons for it, and Vines clearly articulates it. However, the first part of the storytelling felt “off” for lack of a better word, and that isn’t the usual case for Vines. She has a melody to her writing that engages the reader from the beginning through to the end, but I found myself stopping and starting in a way that didn’t seem characteristic of reading her books. It’s possible it’s this reader, but I’ve read all of her books and the beginning seemed different in its narration from her other books. It is also possible that I had high expectations for this book because Sebastian’s story is distinct from his predecessors. He’s a Viscount sent to prison for a term, unjustly imprisoned based on false accusations. It is brave of Vines to take her readers to that place, but given the seriousness of his story, I hoped that I would gobble each morsel of her pages. Instead, I found myself slowly plodding through the beginning. To be honest, this is minute, and I suspect more my issue than Vines’s story, but I wanted to mention it here for anyone who might be surprised.
Now, that being said, the beauty of Vines’s Lion Heart is its central message. A quality of her books is the simple characterizations of her hero and heroine. In most of her stories, the hero and heroine are dealing with internal struggles related to the same issue. Oftentimes, it’s different sides of the same coin, and Lion Heart is no different. For this romance, the idea of expectations runs deep. One of the issues with Sebastian is the expectations he places on himself about his behavior and his life. Vines makes it clear through the story that no one (the other characters) feels disappointed in his imprisonment. The disappointment lies in the lie behind it. However, Sebastian’s expectations for his life are destroyed during his prison stay, and his life loses aim because those expectations no longer match his reality. Through his characterization, Vines deftly acknowledges that, sometimes, we must adjust our life by having new expectations for ourselves and making different decisions. Like Sebastian, Rose lives under the expectations of her life. Her background is dichotomous to Sebastian’s, and there is an expectation that she cannot transcend her past. This is the lie that Rose tells herself to dissuade Sebastian from loving her. Just as Sebastian struggles to find his new normal, Rose wraps herself in her lies as a protection wielded against Sebastion and his love, thus undermining living an abundant life. Since both of these characters struggle to redefine themselves, they only begin to live abundantly as they accept their love. Once again, here is Vines reminding us of the transformational nature of love, an impetus for change and growth.
It’s there where the depth of Vines’s story lies. In the love between these two. Just as she has done before, Sebastian falls deeply for Rose from the first page. This is one of my favorite qualities of her storytelling. In Hard Nox, Lennox falls deeply for Sebastian’s sister, Isobel, and she denies his love for her throughout that story. When Lennox wins her over, the story crescendos to their happy ending. Vines does the same thing in Lion Heart. Sebastian understands the depth of his feelings for Rose before Rose is able to bear them. It’s Sebastian who loves her through the lies she tells herself about him. As Rose recognizes and acknowledges her feelings, Lion Heart builds to its peak, and the happy ending is beautifully wrought as their future is set. Vines does this time and time and time again in her storytelling. I trust her books to take me on an adventure, wring out my heart just a little, and offer a plausible, deeply moving ending. Some might say it’s predictable; it never is. Vines keeps it fresh, as she introduces us to different heroes and heroines with different stories. That isn’t predictable; it’s titillating.
Jolie Vines’s Lion Heart met my expectations in offering a story of two people looking for that elusive abundant life. While Vines doesn’t surprise us in the end, what she does adroitly is craft a story that reminds us to allow love to heal our past and set the course for our future. You will never go wrong with reading her stories, and Vines has already piqued my interest with Viola’s forthcoming story. Additionally I’m thirsty for Lennox and Skye’s younger brother, Blayne’s story. I think there is something new afoot in Vinesland.
In love and romance,