Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
J.H. Croix’s Heartwood is a solid addition to the Speakeasy Taproom/World of True North universe. As its second offering for the Speakeasy world, it does a good job of connecting us with Karen Stivali’s Touchstone, the other first book released in tandem with Heartwood. It also nods to Sarina Bowen’s True North stories in its cameos of Alec, May, and Griff.
Along with its place in this world, Heartwood highlights the struggles of mental health. Its heroine, Belle, suffers from bipolar disorder, and Croix takes the space of this book to magnify those struggles and the fear and pain involved in living with it. Through Belle’s character, we recognize the worry along with the determination of living an abundant life in the specter of that mental health challenge.
Her hero, Ty, also illuminates the challenge of living in the shadow of a parent, a parent who holds his children as emotional hostages. As Ty’s character develops, we find a man willing to stand on his own.
This story is a story of second chances. As Ty and Belle find their way forward, it’s fraught with needing to define their relationship. This is also the frustration of Heartwood. I found the story to be a bit sleepy in its pacing and never fully connected emotionally with Ty and Belle. I think Croix’s strength in this book is her capacity to situate this couple in this world. However, I wanted to feel their struggle more distinctly.
J.H. Croix’s Heartwood is a worthy read. Will it bowl you over? I’m not sure. I wanted a bit more from it, but it will leave you satisfied in the end.
In love and romance,