Overall Grade: 4.5 ⭐️
L.B. Dunbar has set herself apart from her fellow indie romance authors. Recognizing that romance doesn’t end at 25, Dunbar has been emphatic in writing romance centered on the over 40 crowd. It isn’t that she can’t write romances about the typical 18 – 35 romantic heroes and heroines; it’s simply that she acknowledges that men and women still fall in love in middle age. Even more, there is oftentimes something deeper abiding in that love as they have traversed life longer.
Enter Dunbar’s newest story, Studfinder. This story suggests that good people make bad decisions and deserve second chances, making this newest book a story of second chances. A romance ensconced in the Busy Bean series from Sarina Bowen’s World of True North universe, what is most exciting about Studfinder is its focus on a titular, yet ancillary character thus far to the True North world, Rita. If you’ve been reading Sarina Bowen’s stories or any of the other stories of the Busy Bean variety, then you know that Rita is a recovering alcoholic, lawyer (she’s a partner with May Shipley of Shipley Ciders) who has a serious claim on the velvety peach couch at the Busy Bean. Possessive of her space, she is irked one day when she finds it inhabited by a silver fox of a man, Dunbar’s hero, Jake Drummond. From the moment these two meet, sparks fly…and not necessarily the garden-variety romance ones. These two quickly spar because (1) Jake has erected high emotional walls after spending 7 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and (2) Rita is incredibly protective of her space. As their story progresses, it becomes clear that those initial sparks are actually more of the garden-variety romance ones, and they fall for each other. However, past actions haunt their present, and it threatens to tear them apart. Given that this is romance, there is a happy ending for them, but they must traverse the past in order to find their future together.
There is much to love about Studfinder. For one, there is always something intensely entreating about a hate-to-love connection between the hero and heroine. This is the case for Jake and Rita. Their sparring is foreplay for their attraction. Secondly, this story has an unsolved case in it that Dunbar is careful in doling out its clues. Much of Studfinder is Jake and Rita falling for each other and trying to reconcile their pasts for the future, but the thing that pulls you through their story is your curiosity over Jake’s case. Thirdly, Rita is a favorite character. In this book, we learn more about her past and its effect on her present. She is layered in this story, and you can’t help but adore her. Fourthly, the redemption of Jake is the emotional gravitas, I think, of Dunbar’s tory. Letting go of his past is the necessary catapult to his future with Rita, and Dunbar is careful in allowing him to work through this. If I have a criticism of this book, it would be the continued interruption of the forward motion of his relationship with Rita. He makes some later choices that, in my opinion, are inconsistent with his character midway through the story. I won’t reveal the details of the story; however, I think Dunbar adds some tension into their relationship that doesn’t align with the forward motion of his journey.
After all of that, though, what you find is a beautifully drawn romance about two people who have missed out on the “living” part of life. As they find each other, a light is turned on, and for the first time in many years, they begin to live more abundant lives. L.B. Dunbar’s Studfinder adds another great story to the Busy Bean series, but she also reminds us that we can’t let our pasts continue to define our present or future.
In love and romance,