Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
I did not read L.B. Dunbar’s Sound Advice when it was released several years ago. Over the past year, I have fallen hard for Dunbar’s brand of over-40, small-town romance. She has this way with crafting characters that feel and seem realistic but with sprinkles of fiction. For this reader, I can get lost in Dunbar’s stories quite easily and find myself planted in them.
Enter Dunbar’s revised Sound Advice now entitled Speak from the Heart and the charm of the romances I’ve come to love finds itself once again in this story. I can’t tell you what she has done differently from the original. What I can tell you is that I didn’t want to stop reading this story because Jess and Emily Post (I see your genius there, L.B.) represent the parts of our humanity that fear vulnerability and choice. Below the depths of the simplicity of Dunbar’s small-town romance lies the deep-rooted theme of wanting to be chosen. At the heart of this story is a plea: choose me; pick me. And that prayer smacks you right in your heart.
The reasons to add this to your library TODAY:
Emily Post. As far as heroines go, you will adore Emily. For one, she’s incredibly insightful. She understands Jess’s daughter, Katie, in a way that her father oftentimes misses. She’s quirky. Jess calls her a “hot mess,” and she might be, but this part of her personality humanizes her, makes her seem real. She’s ambitious: she wants a career predicated on her work ethic and drive. She has strived for much of her life to seek after the reward of a coveted journalist’s spot, but her misogynistic boss only sees the perceived weakness of being a woman. This is not a major point of this story, but it’s one to pay attention to. Dunbar uses all of these traits to endear you to her heroine, and she does it well. I appreciated Emily much more than I did her hero, Jess.
Jess. It took me some time to enjoy Jess. Honestly, it took me almost three-fourths of the book. Here’s the thing: I adore grumpy heroes. There is nothing more satisfying than a surly hero who is redeemed to a point of adoration. They will always have shades of irritability to their persona, but it usually becomes possessiveness for the heroine. But Jess, well, he begins to become humanized, yet regularly falls back behind his hardened shell. Oftentimes, it feels contrived. Jess is the rollercoaster ride of Dunbar’s Speak from the Heart. Sometimes, you want to sit in the front seat of it; sometimes, you simply don’t want to get on because it’s a little bumpy when it could be engineered to be smoother. Thankfully, Emily reminds him of what it means to live more abundantly, and slowly, he begins to break his hardened shell. However, for much of this story, these two dance around a future, and it can be so darn frustrating. Yet, that tension and discord is the reason we love romance, and Dunbar creates stories that balance that tension with a sensuality and romance that you simply don’t want to leave.
The extended family members. From Jess’s daughter, Katie, to his sister, Tricia, to Emily’s grandmother, Elizabeth, Speak from the Heart is fraught with additional ideas about mutism and trauma, divorce, and senility/dementia/Alzheimer’s. Dunbar deftly weaves these stories in the midst of Jess and Emily’s burgeoning romance, bracing it within the realm of the real world. There are no billionaires here, no rich trips to Bali. Instead, Dunbar’s story illustrates the difficulties of falling in love when the real world beckons for your attention. It’s one of the many reasons to read this book as well as her other ones because she’s a wizard at making the “real” better and realizing these stories on the page, ameliorating real life with the beauty of romance.
From its first page, Speak from the Heart captured my heart. There is something special about Jess and Emily’s journey, as they struggle to live life and avoid falling in love. When your hurts feel heavier than the promise of feeling adored and cherished, you run…until there is no more place to run and hide in. So…as L.B. Dunbar carefully suggests, we have to face it and accept it. In doing so, the rewards will always outweigh our fears. If you do one thing today, it’s to “pick” Dunbar’s Speak from the Heart. You will not regret this one.
In love and romance,