Overall Grade: 4.5 ⭐️
Tropes: fake relationship; small-town romance; Penny Reid-inspired; STEM FMC; chronic illness; hurt/comfort trope; cinnamon roll hero
One of my favorite aspects of Penny Reid’s Smartypants romance, besides all of the fantastic stories born from Penny’s stories, is the introduction of new-to-me authors. Talia Hunter is one such author. Her offering to the SPR world, Tough Cookie, was captivating. Her story chronicles the fake relationship evolution of Noah and Carla. Carla rents and lives in Noah’s childhood home. When a leak in the ceiling leads to its disrepair, Noah who is in town healing from an on-set accident from his stunt actor work is tasked with repairing the roof and ceiling. He falls almost instantly for Carla. As their time treks toward Valentine’s Day and his eventual return to stunt work, Carla and Noah begin to fall hard for each other. Some of that transpires from their instant attraction. Some of it comes from Noah’s protection of Carla who suffers from ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) or chronic fatigue syndrome. Not one to shy away from loving hard, Noah must win Carla’s heart which is protected behind fortified emotional walls. Thankfully, his tenacity wins out, and these two find a happy ending, even though it’s hard-won.
In each of the SPR stories, authors focus on important topics that add gravity and dimension to small-town romances. In this story, Hunter deftly characterizes the difficulties of this disease as Carla fights against Noah’s love. She feels she has very little to offer, yet Noah loves hard and perseveres in loving Carla on her terms. Even more, Hunter lovingly proffers a heroine whose intellect and love for science feel necessary in stories wrought with romance. Carla’s braininess becomes a major attraction to Noah as well. Their coupling is dreamy with Noah’s fight for her, winning over your heart.
There is so much to love about Talia Hunter’s Tough Cookie. Jethro and Sienna make a small appearance, underscoring one of this beautifully drawn book’s messages: perfection doesn’t exist; it’s simply created in the eye of the beholder. I’m thinking Hunter’s book will be one of the favs of this newest season of Smartypants Romance.
In love and romance,