Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️+
Have you ever watched the Jane Lynch game show Hollywood Game Night? There is a game on that show called Kaboom!. It entails a large bowl, full of confetti, and a timer. As the game show celebrities try quickly to answer questions, they pass the bowl back and forth with the fear that the timer will go off, the bowl will express a huge puff of air, and the confetti will explode into the face of the celebrity (don’t worry – they wear protective glasses). The kick of this game is the anticipation of that explosion. The timer is set to some undetermined period of time, and you have no idea when the burgeoning energy will be exposed, leaving you with a quick shock of fear and anticipation. You can feel its palpability even through your television screen.
As I was reading Karla Sorensen’s Forbidden, the last book of her Ward Sister’s series, I kept trying to compare the feelings of anticipation running through me as I turned page after page, chapter after chapter of this emotionally grave, beautifully drawn story. And the best comparison is Hollywood Game Night’s Kaboom!. Sorensen’s genius in this book brings a three-fold gift: building that anticipation of the coupling of Aidan and Isabel, articulating the frenzy of their attraction through the careful craftsmanship of her words, and expressing the will of one of her most complex characters to date in Isabel. All of these conspire to build, build, build your emotions about these characters and their story in a way that makes turning the pages difficult because you can’t do it fast enough. Then, once you’ve done it, you’re sad because you know this world is complete, and you hate to leave the Ward sisters behind. This maelstrom of emotions makes for a book that is the perfect end to this series.
Where to begin.
It’s clear from the beginning of my review that my love for this book lies first in Sorensen’s careful plotting of her story. In her acknowledgments, she writes of the difficulty of bringing Isabel’s story to life. Interestingly enough, as you read the story, you can’t find that difficulty anywhere because her capacity to build such explosive chemistry between Isabel and Aidan is extraordinary. You hold your breath as the story progresses because you just can’t help it. Aidan and Isabel’s chemistry takes up so much space that the story itself feels like an exercise in edging (see any erotic romance for that understanding). If Sorensen is the dom in this situation, then you the reader are her sub, and she makes you wait all the glorious minutes and hours to the eventual consummation of all of Aidan and Isabel’s attraction. When it happens, it isn’t disappointing at that moment, which can often be the case when you anticipate something so much. It feels right and it is a testament to Sorensen’s pacing of her story. Even if you’re impatient for heroes and heroines to finally end up together, you won’t be disappointed by Sorensen’s story here. It’s just so right.
I’ve loved Karla Sorensen’s style through her books. It’s as though the syntax of her prose, the careful construction of her words, match the meter in my mind. Through her words, I can feel the soul of her books in ways that match something in me. There is a chapter in Forbidden, Chapter 28, where this feels like the zenith of her writing. Through her use of repetition and the meter of her words, you can feel the spring-loaded tension of her characters through the careful selection of her words and phrasing. This happens over and over again in her books, and it’s one of the reasons she’s one of my favorite authors. Again, I just get her style in a way that makes me feel complete in her stories. I didn’t realize how important this was to me until, recently, I’ve found myself in a bit of a desert of stories. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read a couple of other exceptional stories recently, but I’ve read several that stylistically make me stutter through the story. Honestly, I thought I was a little broken, that maybe my love for romance had diminished. I found myself interrupting my reading for bouts on TikTok to give me a break from having to wade through the stories that I connected only with the story. Yet, Sorensen’s Forbidden reminded me how much her stories call to me through her capacity as a writer, not just as a storyteller. Forbidden, honestly, made my heart soar again at the words on the page because Sorensen’s style brought it back to life. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but it’s the honest truth.
And lastly, the one place where I connected the most with Forbidden is in its characterization of Isabel. Could I be talking about Aidan and his journey through grief? Yes. But I won’t. Should I mention that the Ward family is all here, and Logan Ward is still my favorite book boyfriend? That his brief moments with his sisters ALWAYS make the tears stream down my face? That even writing those words on the page make me tear up because I adore the gentle giant’s fierce words over his sisters? Yes. I should spend time on it, but Isabel calls to me in ways her sisters don’t. Karla Sorensen develops her in a way that feels kindred. If you’ve read The Marriage Effect, you know that Isabel stuffs her feelings until they become rage. In that book, Paige introduces her to kick-boxing as a vehicle to help her unleash it, to help her connect with her emotions, to help her express them to others. Isabel is a character study in control to sometimes its detriment, and I felt every one of her internal thoughts as she denies her attraction to Aidan. As she locks herself down so that she doesn’t make a fool of herself. As she struggles to contain her essence. As she loses her composure with her sister, Molly, in the face of potentially seeing their mother again. And mostly in her belief of her difference from others, her soul that sets her apart from others because she can be difficult to read. There is a poignant moment in the story when she wishes for a man who “sees” her beyond that outer shell that is protective of her soft underbelly, and I. Felt. All. Of. It. Because her struggles are my struggles. When you see your reflection in a character, you can’t help but fall deeply for them and their story. And that, my friends, is what I did.
As I said above, Karla Sorensen’s Forbidden is the perfect ending to this series. Thankfully, we will circle it in coming stories in her book world, and I’m thankful for that because I need glimpses of Logan, Paige, and his sisters. But even if they are quick glimpses, Forbidden has left me replete; it’s satiated my need for the Wards. In the end, Karla Sorensen brought to life a family, one who endured the trauma of abandonment, and in the end, taught us all that family isn’t always blood; it’s the people we choose to love and who love us in return.
In love and romance,