These mini-reviews are all second-chance contemporary romances. Those of you who know my reading preferences might be surprised to learn that I liked and recommend all of them. One of them is maybe cheating a bit, but I'll get to that in the post.
I read all four of these in the last month and have determined I require most of the following criteria:
- A convincing reason the couple separated.
- That obstacle must be surmountable and not something that will come up again. If they've already broken up once, I will not settle for a Happy for Now ending.
- Equal amounts of suffering for both characters. I hate when one character has been miserable for a decade and the other was happily pursuing their dreams. (If both are happy in the interim, that's fine!)
- Some kind of flashbacks or enough exposition that we get a good feel for the foundation of their relationship. This is my preference for novellas, too.
With those very me-specific requirements in mind, here are my reviews of Jana Goes Wild, Happy Place, The Seven Year Slip and Snow Place like LA! I also wrote about Julie Soto's debut, Forget Me Not back in May and I think the same list above applies to that book, which is probably why it worked so well for me.
Ratings are based on whether or not I recommend them to fellow readers - DNF (Did Not Finish), Pass, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), Read It, Read It Soon.
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One reason I love Farah Heron's books is that her humor really works for me. The other is because she writes "unlikable" heroines, but they're not all the same archetype. Kamila from Kamila Knows Best is a bubbly, extroverted take on the titular character from Austen's Emma in the line of Clueless. She's what people think of when they think vapid rich girl, and Heron did a fantastic job dissecting and countering associated assumptions and biases. Jana, on the other hand, is introverted and prickly. We see in Kamila Knows Best that Jana is known as the perfect daughter and has been pitted against Kamila their whole lives. In reality, she's being crushed by the expectations of her culture, family, and her work as an international nonprofit development consultant. When she falls for Anil while they're traveling for work, she falls hard. That is, until she learns that he's still married... and she's pregnant.
Fast forward a few years and Jana and Anil are successfully co-parenting a vibrant almost-kindergartener. Having a child outside of marriage and with a married man no less, has made finding work in the often faith-based development field difficult for Jana, not to mention the gossip and judgment she experiences in her family and community since she moved back home to raise her child.
She's never forgiven Anil and that process is central to both Jana's personal growth and the relationship arc as a whole. It's not easy as a reader to forgive Anil either, but Heron spends the time to convince us (and Jana) that their relationship can work. It's interesting how she walked right up to the line of true cheating and doesn't quite cross it. For some people, the betrayal will be too much, however. Anil was definitely not as separated as he said so there is marital infidelity, but he was literally not able to find his then-wife.
All this is set against the backdrop of a destination wedding and two week safari trip to Tanzania. The Indian-Canadian Muslim community to which Jana, Kamila, Rohan and Anil belong largely immigrated to the Toronto area from Tanzania and the experience is important enough to them culturally that it makes sense Anil would want to be there for his daughter's first time visiting. I appreciated that though the two MCs sniped at each other a bit, it was never in front of or about their daughter. I also appreciated that they already had such a good co-parenting arrangement that there wasn't any pressure to get back together "for the good of the child."
By the end, I had experienced a whole roller-coaster of feelings about the relationship and I was surprised to find myself rooting for the two of them to get together. Big lies are a hard sell, but Farah Heron made it work.
Audio notes: Soneela Nankani handles the narration of this single POV audiobook with aplomb. She's a fairly popular narrator, which means I've heard her perform several young adult and adult romances. Nankani was able to make this book, and Jana's voice in particular, feel distinct from Kamila's. Jana is a more cautious and reserved person and Soneela Nankani conveyed that well. I think she also used her notes from Kamila Knows Best because the voices for Kamila and Rohan sounded familiar. Always fun to hear.
Content Notes: on-page sex, family pressure, sex-shaming, mother has been telling people for years that Jana and Anil were married, alcohol, marital infidelity
I read this book on audio thanks to Hachette Audio but also purchased a print copy for my local library.
Emily Henry ratcheted up the angst in Happy Place, a second-chance romance between two people who fell in love in college and fell apart due to distance, family obligations and people-pleasing. Happy Place spends a lot of time in the past, allowing readers to watch the characters meet, try not to fall in love, fall in love anyway, then grow together as young adults and then full adults with careers and ill parents and all sorts of complicated and conflicting needs. We see why the relationship fell apart, slowly and then all at once, and we can truly believe they've been despondent without each other for the last several months. They are reunited at the last ever annual beach trip their friend group has gone on for nearly a decade. Turns out neither of them wanted to tell their friends they split up, so now they're in the same room (only one bed, of course) and having to fake it for the whole vacation. There's a strong End of an Era vibe to the book, which is the perfect backdrop for a novel about two people desperately in love with each other but trying to say goodbye.
As always, your mileage may vary, but for me Emily Henry continues to be one of few mega-popular authors for whom I understand the hype.
Audio notes: I read this in both audio and print, mostly because I wanted to see if I still enjoy Emily Henry's writing without the influence of Julia Whelan's incredible voice acting. Turns out I enjoy the writing either way, but Whelan always manages to make me sob and like it, so I'm going to keep recommending the audio.
Content Notes: parental death (MMC), parental illness (MMC), grief, discussion of unhappy marriage of parents (FMC) and sister moving out as a teen, FMC is a surgeon and there's related discussion of hospital stress and burnout, on-page sex, alcohol and pot use
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.
I'm now convinced Ashley Poston should only write adult romance from now on. Her books are beautiful, somewhat melancholy and just weird enough to keep my attention. The title of this one says it all: the FMC inherits her aunt's magic apartment and follows the same path as her aunt, slipping back in time seven years and falling in love with someone who lives there. I really wondered how Poston would handle the timeline and how she could possibly pull off an HEA, but she did both very well. I can't say too much more about the plot without spoiling things, but the FMC works in publishing and the MMC is a chef. They meet because he's renting the apartment from the FMC's aunt while she and her aunt are on one of their many lengthy international trips.
Overall a slightly magical read with big feelings that will work well for fans of The Lake House. (Without prompting, I pictured Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, though they don't fit the character descriptions. No regrets.)
Why do I consider this a second chance romance? Because of the time slip, it's a second chance for the MMC, even if it's not for the FMC. In the present narrative he's been waiting for her for seven years. The ways in which he's changed in the meanwhile and his expectations/hopes for their future feel a lot to me like those we find in more traditional second-chance romances.
Content Notes: on-page sex (somewhat vague), suicide, grief.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.
This novella was a hit of serotonin on a grumpy day. The love interests worked together on the set of the film in Murphy and Simone's first coauthored book, A Merry Little Meet Cute, and spent a blissful month together before a misunderstanding split them. Fashion designer/costumer Luca has some abandonment issues, so when Angel left for art school in Paris without explanation, Luca blocked him after just a couple of days. Now they meet again at a party in Los Angeles and find their intense attraction hasn't dimmed. These characters are a lot younger than me, so I hand-waved the big miscommunication trope by focusing on their relationship hangups and communication issues. Snow Place Like LA is short, steamy and has a thoroughly satisfying (if maybe overly convenient) HEA. It's a delightful escape from reality.
Max Meyers did a great job with the narration. I just listened to another book he performed and I'm adding him to my preferred narrators list.
Content Notes: on-page sex, sex work, ghosting, alcohol, family and small town homophobia (not on page)
I borrowed this audiobook from my library.
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