Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
I have a secret. As a two years plus long reader of romance, I have a pet peeve inherently natural to the world of romance reading. In most (yes, most) romance books, I detest how quickly a heroine subjugates herself to a hero. It doesn’t matter if the romance is dark, clean, or in between, many romance writers allow the heroine to fall too quickly for her hero (or heroine) even when a little bit of wait would (1) support the idea that women have more sense than to readily subject themselves to poor behavior (and yes, dark romances are excluded to a certain degree because they have their own rules), (2) illustrate the idea of boundary setting, and (3) keep the tension building further into the story instead of falling into the “I just can’t handle myself so I’m willing to forgo my sense of self.” Yes. I know many romance readers love this, but for me, this hits against something deep inside me, and I feel uncomfortable until the hero and heroine have finally “leveled” their proverbial romance field. For me, it speaks to vulnerability, and I oftentimes feel uncomfortable at the easy vulnerability that writers craft into their heroines.
Enter Melanie Harlow’s Make Me Yours, the second book in her Bellamy Creek series. I have been ready for this book. Going into it, I knew that Cole’s backstory would obviously play a part in this book (which it does in a meaningful, important manner), and I was prepared for the heartbreak intended for this book (and I WAS prepared for it…it still felt painful, but it also felt necessary). What I wasn’t expecting from this carefully-wrought, beautifully drawn small-town romance was an insistence from Harlow to offer a heroine who feels so wholly capable and self-evolved that my normal response found no purchase. Some of you are probably saying, “Professor A, what are you talking about?” What I loved most, beyond Cole and Cheyenne’s coupling, is Harlow’s fierce determination in crafting a heroine who can “say no” and walk away because she has the ability to establish healthy emotional boundaries for herself. In doing this, Harlow doesn’t absolve the story of its mounting tension. Instead, it sanctions her readers to understand what that looks like AND it allows the story to build in its depth and gravity. Creating a heroine who is beautiful, thoughtful, introspective, and emotionally strong provides apt and important examples for romance readers. Harlow’s feminism lies in her creation of Cheyenne, and this reader is HERE. FOR. IT. When Cheyenne recognizes Cole’s problematic emotional processing, she simply says “no” and forces Harlow’s hero to become more self-reflective. These are the types of heroines that romancelandia needs because it helps readers understand how to embrace better emotional health for themselves. Period. This should be a cause for the world of romance writing WHILE offering romance readers what they love: happy endings.
Additionally, Cole is central and necessary for Make Me Yours. His story is grounded in an important idea behind Harlow’s newest book. Her book deftly asks an important question: how do men, specifically, process trauma? Throughout this story, even as Cole fulfills every dreamy aspect of his herodom, his exemplification seeks to answer that question, and Harlow brilliantly answers it with the perfect answer. It’s painful, and it causes actions in the story that will make her readers groan, but just as Harlow is responsible in her depiction of Cheyenne, she is also intentional in her crafting of Cole. What this does is make a seemingly sweet and steamy small-town romance feel imperative. For this reader, I’m a fan of romance that looks and feels easy, but is undergirded with truths about what it means to be human.
Finally, everything you love about Harlow is found in Make Me Yours beyond her characterizations. Her easy style, her world-building, and her steaminess are all here. In fact, Cole is a “dirty boy,” but would you expect any less from one of the town’s most heroic policemen? Harlow’s capacity to draw her readers into her stories knows no bounds. She is a requisite read for me because I love the stories she draws as they both entertain and cause me to question ideas about love within the scope of a seemingly natural story.
Melanie Harlow’s Make Me Yours is the type of book that makes your heart flutter. There are moments when that flutter drops to your stomach or rises to your throat, but there is always a promise from Melanie Harlow: that her heroes and heroines will find their happily-ever-after in the end. And that promise pulls you forward when you struggle through their challenges. But that’s life, and life reflected on the page with intentionality and thoughtfulness is a cause for repeating. And I will repeatedly read Melanie Harlow’s brand of romance. Any day. Every moment. In each second.
In love and romance,