In a Jam reminded me why I fell in love with romance novels. It's beautifully written, with dedicated arcs for both of the main characters and a hard won romantic arc that somehow feels epic and down-to-earth at the same time.
Kindergarten teacher Shay is at a turning point in her life when her step-grandmother dies and leaves her the sprawling New England tulip farm where she spent her high school years. When her fiancé leaves her on their wedding day, Shay's long-buried feelings of abandonment resurface and the odd inheritance clause in her grandmother's will doesn't seem so bad: in order to inherit, she must live at the farm for one year and get married.
When she arrives in town, she's surprised how much has changed since she left. For one thing, her former best friend Noah has expanded his family's farm into a diversified enterprise that makes everything from dairy products to jam to bread. When they were younger, they dreamt of leaving town and never coming back, so she's shocked to see him a pillar of the community, successful businessman and... father?
Noah has been his niece's guardian since his sister began serving a lifetime prison sentence. No plot moppet, the foul-mouthed six-year-old is a fully developed character and her relationships with Shay and Noah are similarly developed. I appreciate that Canterbary put in the work.
Big-hearted Noah is the growly giant lawyer-turned-ecological-farmer of my/everyone's dreams. He's grumpy because he feels Shay left him behind--even though he only left his NYC lawyer job and returned home because his father passed away.
There's too much plot to stick into a review, but Noah offers to marry her "for the will" and she falls as hard for him as he did for her all those years ago. There's so much pining and tension, it's delicious. The steam level is standard Canterbary, which means there's plenty (and it's hot and intense) but it doesn't completely run the story. Shay and Noah both have a lot to work on and they truly work for their HEA.
There's jam and goats and lots of love for educators and farmers. There's acknowledgment of the ways in which small towns are difficult for anyone who doesn't fit in and the healing and forgiveness aspects really spoke to me.
In a Jam is on the long side for a contemporary romance, but it doesn't feel that way. I read this on audio and Jason Clarke and Kit Swann really nailed it. Clarke especially got Noah's growly bits, but the humor and sadness and soft moments were gorgeously narrated by both. Swann's treatment of Shay's self-doubt and general sense of being unmoored was beautiful. While I'm sure it's a great ebook, I strongly recommend this on audio.
This will be on my Best of 2023 list for sure.
If you'd like to pick up a copy, In a Jam is available at Amazon (it's in Kindle Unlimited) and Audible.
Content Warnings from the author: absentee parent(s), brief mention of parent death, brief mention of parent chronic illness, mention of incarceration, mention of temporary foster care placement, reference to teenage teasing/bullying (not detailed, not explicit), brief incidence of fat-shaming, living with a neurodivergent child.
From me: Shay was kicked out of boarding school in part because after months of acting out, she became pregnant (at 15 I think?) and had an abortion. She told Noah in high school and he has always supported her decision.
The incarceration Canterbary mentions is related to a drug trafficking incident in which the child's mom/Noah's sister accidentally killed a border control agent. There is an on-page prison visit.
The child and Noah are both in danger in a storm.
The fat-shaming may be brief, but there are several incidences.