Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Sara Ney has this incredible capacity to write real men in her romances. I’ll be honest. There are times when romance writers who are predominantly women fail to characterize men well. They write them as effeminate which, in my opinion, undermines the importance of romance. But not Sara. No, instead, she offers up men, who oftentimes, are really hard to love. As a reader, it challenges you because you have to undertake a treasure hunt of sorts to find any redeemable qualities in her heroes. With her newest series, the first book, Hard Pass, introduced us to a different kind of hero, one who is a talented baseball player with the resources for a lavish lifestyle, yet he isn’t your prototypical handsome hero. It doesn’t matter to his heroine, though. They find their happily ever after by the book’s end. In that book, we are introduced to Trace, the hero of the second book of this series, Hard Fall. In Hard Pass, Ney weaves her magic, and Trace reads like her typical hero…until we read his book and realize that much of that is misunderstandings and ways to protect himself from women who inevitably take advantage of him. By the end of Hard Fall, you realize quickly that Trace is your favorite type of romance hero: rough around the edges with a heart for his heroine. Trace’s book introduces us to his brother, Tripp. When Trace and Tripp are in the room, you want to run from it as their sibling rivalry is a constant battleground. Even though we don’t know much about Tripp other than his ability to strike up meaningless arguments with his brother, Sara Ney’s newest book, Hard Love, provides us with a story about a man who struggles to show his feelings because it creates a vulnerability that can easily be taken advantage of.
Of the three stories, Tripp Wallace is the perfect characterization of “hard.”
What are three things you should know immediately about Hard Love?
- It is a SLOW BURN!! For much of this story, Tripp and his heroine, Chandler, struggle to like each other. You will need to be patient with their story.
- Tripp is emotionally immature. As such, it takes him much of the story to understand his feelings for Chandler. He’s rude to her, fails to choose his words wisely, and lacks the manners his mother raised him with. To be honest, I was shocked to believe that he actually liked Chandler because his treatment of her is unkind.
- Underneath the hardest of exteriors, he really does like Chandler. It simply takes much of Ney’s story to understand. With his characterization, Ney points to the societal expectations of athletes in sports ingrained with toxic masculinity to hide their feelings. Tripp has a very soft underbelly. His family realizes this, and they have to prod his feelings out of him. With him, we are supposed to challenge our own thinking about athletes such as professional football players and the hyper-masculinity that causes them to struggle with relationships. Remember that Ney is forcing us to think about this as you want to strangle him for his obstinancy and inability to articulate his feelings. Yes, Ney uses his emotional ineptness to force laughs from her readers, but it’s very clear that we’re meant to also question our own ideas about it.
What should you know about Ney’s heroine in Hard Love?
- She’s an angel. She endures Tripp’s poor treatment of her with grace. She isn’t a pushover. Yes, she’s attracted to him, but she knows how to draw the line when he’s behaving badly.
- She’s admirable. Her cousin, Hollis (yes, Chandler is the cousin of Hollis, the heroine from Hard Fall), is her hero. She admires Hollis’s need to distance herself from the family business, and Chandler wants the same. In this book, we find her biding her time until she can find a job in her own field of interest. Instead of living off of her trust fund, she chooses to live life on her terms, forgoing her moneyed past to stand on her own two feet.
- She makes it easy for Tripp to fall in love with her. It’s really that simple. Even in the face of his bluster, arrogance, and emotional detachment, she challenges him but she does it with a kindness that, I think, wins him over.
What else is there to love about Hard Love?
- Tripp’s next-door neighbor/pet walker, Molly, a fifteen-year-old with a penchant for helping Tripp through his relationship issues, is hilarious. It’s oftentimes difficult to determine who is the more mature of the two.
- Tripp’s dog is adorable.
- Tripp’s family is as funny as ever. His mother acts as the requisite nosey mother trying to matchmake for Tripp and Chandler. Tripp and his brother have an ongoing battle with, quite frankly, Trace usually having the upper-hand.
- Just more of the laughs you expect from Sara Ney.
Don’t enter Hard Love expecting fireworks from the first chapter. That isn’t this kind of book. Instead, it’s a heartfelt and well-earned battle with a reasonable ending. I found myself muttering at Chandler’s willingness to embrace Tripp’s emotional immaturity and stubbornness because I surely couldn’t do the same. Honestly, the real hero of Hard Love is Molly with a close second for Chandler.
In love and romance,