Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
A couple of months ago, I decided to read Kristen Ashley’s The Hookup. It was one of the first books I’d read when I began reading romance a couple of years ago. This action quickly devolved into a read of other parts of her booklist because she had me hooked (pun unintended). Ashley’s ability to create characters that feel both real and imagined grabs at you. She writes heroes who fall quickly for their heroines even when they don’t want a relationship. They are heroes who are wildly possessive, masculine, and virile. Couple them with heroines who are insightful, independent, and intelligent, and Ashley provides you with page after page of fireworks. She also has this uncanny ability to give you all the details. It’s not often that you feel fully engrossed in the lives of a hero and heroine. As a reader, you gain a sense of their journey, usually one grounded in completing each other physically, mentally, and emotionally. But Ashley’s romances feel weighty and meaty. She gives you everything from start to finish, and at the completion of her stories, she’s run you through the wringer of the lives of her characters. Her books read like the best value for your money because she simply doesn’t hold back in her storytelling.
Her newest book, Still Standing, is no different. Unlike her Rock Chick series, her paranormal stories, or other books such as The Hookup, this story is situated in the MC world. Now, to be honest, I like MC romances, but they don’t bowl me over. You can’t love every sub-genre or trope in romance. I appreciate MC romances; they entertain me as they lay out usually possessive, masculine forms of heroes. In this book, that is no different. Her hero, West “Buck” Hardy, is all of those things and more. He’s protective, possessive, pointed, and provocative. He takes up all of the space in a room, and it’s clear from their first meeting that his eyes are set on Ashley’s heroine, Clara. Like her other heroines, Clara is self-possessed, intelligent, and stalwart. From the beginning of the story to its end, Clara endures; she perseveres; she’s gritty. The moxie that belies her along with her witticisms draws her to Buck. There are moments in their coupling when your heart will be in your throat. Chapter 11 of this book made my heart crack a little. However, for every moment that feels painful between Clara and Buck, Ashley rewards you with moments of protection and steam and hilarity. You feel all of the “feels” with Still Standing.
What is most profound about this MC story is its insistence on interrogating the idea of family. Any MC romance asserts the idea of the brotherhood of MC members. If you’ve read one MC book, you’ve read them all with that truth. What Ashley does so adeptly with Still Standing is interrogate that idea to a variety of degrees. She acknowledges that families have rules, usually unspoken and learned on the fly. She points to the protection of belonging to a family. And she also highlights the complications of family, the entangled and often irrational feelings that be meted out within the group. When you pair this discussion with a heroine who has no real knowledge of family, you find romance gold as she navigates these complications. But more importantly, in Still Standing, it’s in this discussion where you find its emotional gold. As the solitary, family-less Clara encounters the truth of Buck’s family, the real emotional rollercoaster rises and falls. Quite frankly, I couldn’t put the book down, not because I adore Clara and Buck as Ashley’s hero and heroine, but more for Clara’s growth in finding a family. The sweetest and saddest moments occur as she takes the ride.
After spending a couple of months with Kristen Ashley (via her books), I knew that I could trust her with my time and emotions. But to be fair to her, I wasn’t sure about Still Standing because I didn’t know that I wanted to read an MC romance. I’m so thankful that I trusted my feelings about her stories. Kristen Ashley’s Still Standing did not disappoint. It reminded me again that her heroes save the day, while her heroines steal your heart. Grab this one quick. You won’t regret it.
In love and romance,