She didn’t think it could ever happen again. Love that is. And it definitely shouldn’t be happening with him.
Anna Kulis has lost her husband. Their love was a perfect kind of love; a once in a lifetime experience. She never intended to fall for anyone again. Never expected to have this attraction stirring inside her. And she never thought her emotions would run wild for the one man she shouldn’t be attracted to – her late husband’s best friend.
Mason Becker has a secret. As a renowned ladies’ man, he’s been in love with his best friend’s wife for twenty-five years. After his friend’s untimely death, and a period of grief, Mason finds himself in a compromising position with the one woman he didn’t think he’d ever have. And that night leads to complications – namely, a desire for more.
Letting go can be one of the hardest tasks for the heart. Opening up to a second chance at love can be even harder.
L.B. Dunbar loves sexy silver foxes, second chances, and small towns. If you enjoy older characters in your romance reads, including a hero with a little silver in his scruff and a heroine rediscovering her worth, then welcome to romance for those over 40. L.B. Dunbar’s signature works include women and men in their prime taking another turn at love and happily ever. Along with her #sexysilverfox collection, she’s made Amazon Top 10 in Later in Life Romance with her Lakeside Cottage and Road Trips & Romance series. She is also a USA Today Bestseller. L.B. lives in Chicago with her own sexy silver fox.
To get all the scoop about the self-proclaimed queen of silver fox romance, join her on Facebook at Loving L.B. or receive her monthly newsletter, Love Notes.
Tropes: second chance romance; band of sisters; age-gap; single dad
Helena Hunting’s Spark House Sisters series has a steady brand of sweetness with a side of steam and unease. If you’ve read the first two books, When Sparks Fly and Starry-Eyed Love, you’ve encountered the growing pains of Avery and London as they transcend their core family unit, adding men to the mix. Make A Wish, the final story of this series, brings about Harley’s growth. In her newest book, Hunting shows her authorial strength as she crafts a main female character such as Harley to find her voice and position in the family business while reviving a long-forgotten love and finding her place within Gavin and Peyton’s family unit.
Make A Wish was a fast read for me. The plot structure is fairly uncomplicated as it begins in the past and moves forward seven years. While seven years might seem like a long time progression for Hunting’s main characters, it’s necessary. Harley is an interesting character in this series because, I think more than her sisters, her parents’ deaths factor heavily in her maturation. Even more, the inciting incident for her separation from Gavin and Peyton at the outset of this book keeps Harley in a safe space, stagnating to a certain degree. As her story progressed, my heart actually hurt for Harley as she tried to grow and find herself in an ever-changing Spark House. I hated that she seemed pushed out, which became my attachment to Make A Wish.
Because of this, I struggled with Harley and Gavin’s pairing. It’s easy to love Gavin’s precocious daughter, Peyton, and Harley and Peyton’s relationship is a special one, as emphasized at the story’s end. Yet, I didn’t feel the chemistry between Harley and Gavin, and I believe it’s because we never really get his internal motivations. Their relationship felt uneven to me, and I didn’t fully trust Gavin’s feelings for Harley. This is further underscored later in the story when the couple struggles. Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t entirely love Gavin.
What do I know about Helena Hunting’s Make A Wish?
Its ending will make you shed some tears because it’s heartfelt and ties the series up into a neat little bow. Harley’s journey, for me, is probably the most profound because she doesn’t have a distinct place at the story’s beginning; she has to make space for herself at Spark House and with Gavin and Peyton. And Make A Wish is a beautiful swan song for a sweet package of sisterly love. I will miss Avery, London, and Harley BUT I know Helena Hunting always has more to come for her readers.
With her signature charm and sense of humor, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Helena Hunting creates a novel about love, family, and second chances in Make a Wish…
Ever have a defining life moment you wish you could do over? Harley Spark has one. The time she almost kissed the widowed father of the toddler she nannied for. It was so bad they moved across the state and she never saw them again.
Fast forward seven years and she’s totally over it. At least she thinks she is. Until Gavin Rhodes and his adorable now nine-year-old daughter, Peyton, reappear at a princess-themed birthday party hosted by Spark House, Harley’s family’s event hotel. Despite trying to avoid the awkwardness of the situation, she can’t help but notice how unbearably sexy he looks in a tutu. Add to that a spontaneous hives breakout, and it’s clear she’s not even remotely over the mortification of her egregious error all those years ago.
Except Gavin seems oblivious to her inner turmoil. So much so that he suggests they get together for lunch. For Peyton’s sake, of course. It’s the perfect opportunity to heal old wounds. Or it could just reopen them. This is one of those times Harley wishes she could see the future…
Tropes: one-night stand; surprise baby; second chance romance; band of brothers; small-town romance; romantic suspense
Corinne Michaels’s Keep This Promise is quite the whirlwind of a story. Michaels forces her readers to run the gamut of emotions: surprise, grief, anticipation, shock, and adoration, to name a few. There is a LOT to this final story in her Rose Canyon series, and she puts her readers through the paces as she reaches its finale.
What should you know?
Holden is a surprise. He begins the story as an inveterate singleton, completely expecting to live his life married to his job. When Sophie and Eden enter his life, it’s all over for him. In fact, he doesn’t really put up much of a fight. One might say that his characterization is a bit uneven regarding how quickly he changes, but he is gone for Sophie and Eden immediately. He is as swoony as his friends in this series, Emmett and Spencer.
Sophie is the hold-up. For good reason, to be fair. In this series, Michaels asks a lot of her heroines/FMCs. They are entangled in some serious problems, and at one time or another, their lives are in danger. As such, Sophie’s boundaries are firmly in place until Holden weaves his magic and wins her over. It takes some time, but when it happens, it makes sense for Michaels’s story.
There are a lot of plot points to this story. Many of them are surprises, so I don’t want to reveal anything in this review. Once it seems that Holden and Sophie are beginning to find their groove and settle into each other, Michaels pulls the rug out from under them, and they find themselves embroiled in chaos. This leaves the reader of Keep This Promise sitting at the edge of their seat, waiting for the resolution to each situation. One of these plot points relates to the arc of the series. If I had to be disappointed by anything, it would be that resolution. For me, it came from out of nowhere; the villain isn’t someone you’d suspect. I still have questions about a couple of characters who acted suspiciously, and I don’t think Michaels wrapped up those questions. Additionally, I have never seen Jackson’s team be so inept as it is in this story, and that goes against character for his team of security professionals.
However, even though this arc seemed like Michaels” jumped the shark,” the long-lasting, protective community grounded in friendship is this book and the series’ glue. Beyond the different romances in this series of books, Michaels’s ability to draw a friendship between life-long pals adds another depth to Keep This Promise and its predecessors. It’s one of the main reasons I continued reading this series. The ways the guys care for and protect each other and their loved ones is my favorite aspect of this series.
As with her other books, I enjoyed Corinne Michaels’s Keep This Promise. It has her signature angst and community wrapped with a bow of romance. It’s a quick read that keeps you engrossed through to the sweetness of her bonus epilogue. Any fan of small-town, romantic suspense will surely enjoy this book and the rest of the series.
Tropes: childhood friends; love triangle; impossible love; instalove; star-crossed lovers; rock star; scars; blackmail
“It won’t be cloudy forever, Memphis. Eventually we’ll see the stars.”
Every writer leaves a piece of themselves in their stories. Even if the story is nowhere close to their experience, an author leaves something behind. What happens, though, when a writer bleeds all over their story, their passion for their characters imprinted indelibly on the page? Emotional, explosive, engaging stories. I’ve been trying to determine why I adore Ashley Jade’s romances. To be fair, I’m older than her average reader and her characters’ ages. Their young adult struggles are well in my past. But, after reading The Choice, I recognize I can feel her within her stories. There are very few authors I’ve read (someone like Kennedy Ryan comes to mind) where I feel them written all over the pages of their books in an urgent, impassioned way. And I believe this is why I adore Ashley Jade’s stories. When I enter them, I will be expected to feel feelings and be uncomfortable in doing so. Ashley Jade compels her readers into a rabid fandom, and it’s the ardor of her storytelling that lights this fire. There is no mistake: Ashley Jade cares deeply for her characters and the ideas that infuse her stories. The Choice? It’s no different.
You won’t find story details in this review. To do so would be to ruin this story. Instead, I’ll offer my feelings on reading The Choice.
For one, TikTok became my friend while reading this book. I needed small breaks because the “choices” of the characters will overwhelm you. At least, it did for me. Here’s the thing, though. They make their choices informed by their individual traumas. And all of her main characters have endured much. Ashley Jade warns her readers at the beginning of The Choice to avoid judging her characters, one in particular. And that’s an apt warning because hurt people make decisions informed by their past and pain. What Jade does well in this story is show the power of one’s trauma to inform the present. Even more, she shows the spectrum of people’s reactions to a trauma-filled past. And it’s so darn REAL. For me, this is the most impactful part of The Choice, and it’s the reason that readers should avoid making judgments until the conclusion of this book…and maybe even this duet.
Two, my heart broke for Skylar, Memphis, and Josh. Their lives are wrought at the hands of others. This changes them forever. However, as they move forward, putting their pain behind them, they encounter people who want more for them. Mrs. Landrum and Archie and Valerie attempt to provide more for these three. Infusing these characters into the story, Jade ameliorates the drama of her characters; she provides respite from the intensity of the story. Archie, for one, becomes beloved in The Choice as he shows a zeal for food and becomes the wizened guide for stubborn teens, a difficult task.
Thirdly, The Choice titillates as much as it delivers drama. Ashley Jade writes eroticism into her stories that always makes you stop for a moment and think, “did I just read that?” And she makes no apology for it. There is $ex all over this story, but don’t miss it. Jade uses its administration to underscore the emotional connections of her characters. It’s also crafted to express the tether of the past to the present, showcasing the destructive power of abuse on one’s understanding of $ex. It becomes a conduit of control and a mechanism of healing in The Choice.
Ashley Jade’s book will steal your breath and a piece of your soul. The Choice is not for the faint of heart, but I wouldn’t miss this book. To do so would be to miss out on the experience of reading passion infused on every page. In a book world such as romance, where some authors produce a book a month oftentimes leaving out the emotion necessary for a romantic story, Ashley Jade offers a place in her stories to feel your feelings because she’s already left her’s on the page.
Tropes: Dead Fiance’s Brother; Forbidden; Forced Proximity; Small-town Romance; family trauma
Stylistically, Winter Renshaw’s Love & Kerosene is interesting. At the start of each chapter, a word is defined. It is probably a new word to most people, but that word sets the tone of the chapter. This action mimics the love for words found in this story. Love & Kerosene is touted as forbidden when really it’s more forced proximity than anything. As her FMC, Anneliese, and her MMC, Lachlan, live together as a means to renovate Lachlan’s childhood home, their attraction becomes undeniable. What begins as an agreement to preserve history evolves into finding each other’s soulmate when it is least expected. The angst you expect from Renshaw is here; the difficulty of Anneliese and Lachlan’s situation is another common characteristic of Renshaw’s romance too. I loved Lachlan’s journey from wanting to burn down his family home due to its representation of his familial trauma to falling madly in love with Anneliese. Even more, Anneliese’s acceptance of the reality of her relationship with her dead fiance, to her evolving attraction and interest in Lachlan draws you into her story. Lastly, Love & Kerosene has secrets throughout it, and Renshaw is careful to draw them out. One area I’d love to see Renshaw work on is her pacing. In her last few romances, I’ve noted a quick resolution to a careful plodding of story arc points. Lachlan and Anneliese’s ready acceptance of their love for each other feels rushed even though it comes late in the story. I think there were other steps that could have been taken before they decide to spend forever together. That aside, from the start of the story to its end, I was captivated by Winter Renshaw’s Love & Kerosene.
Tropes: Workplace romance; billionaire hero/MMC; undercover boss; resilient, tenacious heroine; found family
From its title, Annika Martin’s Butt-dialing the Billionaire (BtB) is fun. If you’ve read any of her Billionaire series, there is a common motif: grumpy or sullen billionaire who is fairly alone in the world meets a willful heroine who is out to “teach him a lesson” or challenge him to be a better person. Since the heroine belongs to a larger friend group, the anchor for this series, the billionaire finds a family. In BtB, Jaxon, the MMC, finds his family in the place he least expects, a crumbling company owned by his family where he has gone undercover to find out the identity of the person who he heard mocking him on a company conference call. It is here where he finds himself and his humanity. Here are the reasons you should grab this one quick:
You’ll laugh at the banter between Jaxon and his FMC, Jada. From the moment they meet, even though they don’t care for the personality of the other, there is an instant attraction. Jaxon “Jack” loves to say the most unpopular thing to Jada simply to get a rise out of her, and it acts as kindling to the fire of their chemistry. Martin uses their love-hate attraction to build their allure. When it cannot build any further, an explosion of $exual attraction drops you into the middle of their story.
Be ready to dislike Jaxon for most of the book. In fact, as far as first impressions of Martin’s billionaires (who are generally jerks) go, Jaxon aka Jack is a difficult one to like. It isn’t that he is simply grumpy or stubborn; he’s also entitled and somewhat spoiled. Thankfully, the space of the workplace as well as his connection to Jada humanize him. But it takes quite a bit of time and space in BtB for you to appreciate his characterization. Obviously, Jaxon’s background plays a large part in his character development, and Martin reveals it carefully, deftly developing his story arc. Simply know that by the end of the story, he will probably be one of your favorite Annika Martin billionaires.
Obviously, Martin’s talent is crafting FMCs who are independent, decided, intelligent, and headstrong. Along with their friend group (one of my favorite aspects of her Billionaire series), a character such as Jada exists to showcase the power of women to change their worlds when those worlds aren’t positive. Even more, Jada is the emotionally mature character of BtB, so she carries the lion’s share of challenging Jaxon. She becomes the impetus for his evolution and reads as the strongest character in the story. Any time an author gives power to women in the story when their environment leaves them powerless is a boon for women.
The ancillary characters simply add layers of humor and guidance for Jada and Jaxon as they fall in love. Annika Martin creates casts of characters that you can’t help but adore, and she’s done it again in BtB.
Annika Martin is a guaranteed rom-com read for me. Hands down. She writes MMCs who make it hard to love them at first, but by the story’s end, after the FMCs have done their job, they are the swoony heroic heartthrobs you were hoping for from the beginning. Butt-dialing the Billionaire is the perfect afternoon read to make you laugh and swoon.
Tropes: insta-attraction; rock star hero (MMC); sunshine heroine (FMC); opposites attract; found family
“All people were just walking wounds trying to find home and happiness.”
Heidi Hutchinson’s Lost Track is another revelation in the SmartyPants Romance world. It’s one of those reads whose brilliance creeps up on you as the story progresses. You should know something about me to understand why I love this book. I discovered a few years ago that my husband is on the spectrum. For decades, I’ve lived with someone who processes the world in ways different than me. It has been both a revelation, but also heart-breaking as I am working on accepting some aspects about him that don’t make my life easy. When people such as Penny Reid, Stacy Travis (authors whom I’ve read who have written characters like this), and now Heidi Hutchinson craft characters so indelibly different that you can’t help but fall in love with them, it elevates your reading experience. Hutchinson gifts us with Sunshine Capone aka Dave, which challenges us to reformulate our expectations about MMCs. It asks us to consider that people are different, that the typical idea of a romantic hero is reductive, and accepting and falling in love with a character such as Dave, one who can be messy, but lovely, who can have fraught boundaries that complicate his relationship with his FMC, who isn’t easy to pin a label on (in doing so, you can’t fully capture the power of his representation in the book), broadens our world. Reading a character such as Dave challenged me. Each time I encounter someone who is neuro-divergent, honestly, it gives me hope that I can one day reach acceptance about my husband’s own neurodivergence.
Even more, Hutchinson’s heroine, Sabine, is special. From her and Sunshine’s meet-cute to the found family of her life, she espouses the qualities that all of us strive to have around people who are different from ourselves. She is wholly accepting of Dave in all of his differences. She recognizes them as superpowers, not foibles. She redefines neurotypical in how she falls for him.
Add to all of this the beauty of Hutchinson’s prose. There are beautifully crafted sentences that belie the simplicity of her story. Even more, I love the moments when Hutchinson uses the lyrics of songs to evoke the strongest emotions of a character like Dave.
I became lost in Heidi Hutchinson’s Lost Track. Honestly, I didn’t want it to end. It’s an apt reminder to “see” people and love them just as they are. In doing so, “someone who chooses love is the best kind of person. Every time.” There is something incredibly special about Sabine and Dave, Hutchinson’s Sunshine Capone.
“I’m not your teacher,” I said. “Right now, I’m just the guy who’s supposed to make sure you don’t have to go back to fourth grade. And that means honesty from both of us. And trust.” I stood from the bench and held out my hand again. “You can trust me, Theo. But only make a deal with me right now if I can trust you the same way.”
It never occurred to me, as a teacher and then later as an administrator, to talk to kids like they didn’t have the same struggles as adults. They understood stress and fear and anxiety, albeit on a different scale, with different language behind it.
That scale changed as you grew up. Your responsibilities took on a different face, and you knew how to label those struggles. But to them—at their age—the responsibilities still felt like the whole world was pressing down on their shoulders. It didn’t help if the adults in their life pretended otherwise.
So I knew I’d won something big when Theo Rossman stuck his skinny arm out toward me.
He gave me a firm handshake, his cheeks turning pink when I returned it.
“You sound like Iris,” he said quietly.
My heart skipped unsteadily in my chest at his use of that name.
“Who’s Iris?” I asked calmly. So very, very calmly. I’d only met one person in Green Valley with that name. And as far as I knew, she’d never come back. Not that anyone had told me, at least.
“My sister. I live with her.” He tucked his hand back in his pocket, his face softening as he answered. His love for her, even if it wasn’t my Iris, was immediately clear.
Behind my ribs, I felt a hot squeeze of pressure while my mind absolutely fucking raced.
“I knew an Iris once.” I watched his face as I said it. “She’d probably be about thirty-two now.”
His eyes narrowed, mental calculations evident in his face. “I think that’s how old my sister is.”
My breathing was choppy, my lungs struggling to pull in enough oxygen. “The Iris I knew … her last name wasn’t Rossman.”
He kicked at a stick, so blissfully unaware that all my insides were jolting with unchecked pulses of electricity at the mere thought of it being her.
“Yeah, she’s my half-sister. She had a different dad, so she has a different last name.”
“What’s your sister’s last name?” I asked, fighting the urge to grab him by the shoulders and shake the truth from his mouth.
At the sound of a car, Theo’s attention was pulled to the parking lot. In an instant, he transformed. Wide smile and happy, bright eyes as he waved at the driver of a beat-up-looking SUV. “That’s her. Iris Black.”
I swiped a hand over my face and tried to check my breathing.
Check my pulse.
My ability to stay fucking conscious.
This was it. All the sleepless nights I’d wondered if I’d ever see her again. Wondered how I’d ever walked away from her, why I believed her when she said she didn’t have room for us in her life. If respecting her choice would damn me to a life that would always feel a little empty. Where every day held a slight edge of grief, something that might have worn down over the years but could still damage me if I caught it in the right way.
The last time I saw Iris Black, she wept as she told me to leave. That she couldn’t—wouldn’t—make room in her life for some great big destined romance. That she couldn’t—wouldn’t—believe that it was true.
The last time I saw her, I told her I’d love her for the rest of my life, whether she was in it or not. And I walked away all the same.
And there it was.
A gentle snap, a whisper-soft snick of something sliding back into place underneath my ribs. The shift of something that had been out of place since the last time I saw her. The realization came as quick as a thunderbolt and just as powerful. As I slowly turned toward the parking lot and she stepped out of the car, I knew this was the reason I’d come back to Green Valley.
It was her.
The one I’d loved since the moment I saw her.
Who I hadn’t seen in twelve years.
The one staring at me like she’d just seen a ghost.
About Karla Sorensen
Karla Sorensen has been an avid reader her entire life, preferring stories with a happily-ever-after over just about any other kind. And considering she has an entire line item in her budget for books, she realized it might just be cheaper to write her own stories. It doesn’t take much to keep her happy…a book, a really big glass of wine, and at least thirty minutes of complete silence every day. She still keeps her toes in the world of health care marketing, where she made her living pre-babies. Now she stays home, writing and mommy-ing full time (this translates to almost every day being a ‘pajama day’ at the Sorensen household…don’t judge). She lives in West Michigan with her husband, two exceptionally adorable sons and big, shaggy rescue dog.