Tag Archives: second chance romance

Josh and Gemma the Second Time Around by Sarah Ready

Standard
Josh and Gemma the Second Time Around by Sarah Ready

Ready, Sarah. Josh and Gemma the Second Time Around. Swift & Lewis, 2023. 352 pp. ISBN 9781954007437 $15.99

*****

Josh and Gemma made a baby, and now they are about to get married. Gemma hasn’t been feeling well for days, but chalked it up to excitement and nerves. Apparently their hippie-dippie hypo-birthing class instructor–who in a moment of getting real has the foresight to warn the assembled couples that everything is going to change–fails to mention warning signs of pre-eclampsia. Gemma passes out in the new gazebo in her parent’s backyard on the verge of saying her vows. Josh’s voice begging her not to leave him is the last thing she hears. She comes to three months later.

After her sensory-deprivation coma, Gemma is super-sensitive to sound, light, and people. Her short-term memory is shot and she can no longer multitask. Down 30 pounds, she’s lost her bangin’ curves–and her ability to feel emotion. According to her doctor, that’s not abnormal, and while some things lost may return over time, here’s another reminder that everything changes, and she should prepare for a new normal. The medical details and recovery are accurate.

Oh, and Gemma’s never even met her daughter Hope. It’s a lot to bounce back from. Josh, on location for the filming of the sitcom based on his popular webcomic Grim and Jewlie (based on their relationship), isn’t even on the same coast when she opens her eyes, and his relief is tempered by her admission she doesn’t think she loves him anymore. She doesn’t feel anything. He’s determined to make it work, and while it’s what Gemma wants too, there’s a lot of fear, and a lot of doubt from friends and family that their relationship could continue. To complicate matters, her old boss Ian, who is now the most hated man in America, shows up in her rehabilitation center, where he claims to be a volunteer, now that’s he’s out of a job. He is a self-centered jerk, and must have been so much fun to write; it’s certainly a joy disliking him, but like all of the characters, he, too, is multi-faceted.

Gemma’s description of glimpses of the light she’s lost, the stars that shine through, and her journey to find the sun again is damn poetic. I found a few issues, like repetitive descriptions and word usages, that closer editing might have caught. The drama high but realistic: I wasn’t sure they would actually make it through, and I wasn’t sure that Ian wasn’t a figment of Gemma’s imagination at first (honestly, I was hoping the whole thing was just another stress-induced nightmare.)

Ready writes with both dark humor and optimism, a healthy dose of realism and a lot of hope (and not quite enough Hope!). Gemma works through her trauma, and helps heal Josh’s and Ian’s as well. Like in the first book, quotes precede each chapter. This is an incredibly satisfying sequel that I devoured in one sitting.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #JoshAndGemmaTheSecondTimeAround from #NetGalley.

Miss Matched by Wendy Million

Standard
Miss Matched by Wendy Million

Million, Wendy. Miss Matched. Wattpad, 2023. 368 pp. ISBN 9781990259593. $17.99

** 1/2

Wattpad is not quite self-published, but close to, and has the quality I expect from the platform. This dating app gone wrong tale is a second chance romance. Tayla has been matched by Soulmates Reunited (at an exorbitant fee) with her ex, and wants her money back. She agrees to give Simon another chance if he will refund half her fee. He wants to bring the company down on it’s knees for false advertising, and taking women’s life savings on a promise of something that may not exist–he’s been matched by the service four times as the only soulmate for one lucky woman, and one match is not taking no for an answer and there is a restraining order involved.

Told in alternating points of view, there is drama, humor and tension, and the book is well-paced, but nothing particularly stood out in terms of character growth, setting, language or writing.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #MissMatched from #NetGalley.

The Make-Up Test by Jenny L. Howe

Standard
The Make-Up Test by Jenny L. Howe

Howe, Jenny L. The Make-Up Test. Griffin, 2022. 336 pp. ISBN 978-1250837868. $16.99

***

Two Ph.D candidates compete for a potential research job–and one another’s affection in this grad school romance. Competitive medieval scholar Allison gets into the Ph.D program of her dreams, but so does her ex,Colin, and they are both selected as TAs for a favorite and revered professor: but only one will be selected to go with her for a trip and research opportunity of a lifetime. Allison is still holding a grudge, and Colin isn’t always nice, but he steps up for her in an emergency and redeems himself and their relationship.

I really loved the academic setting and found the trials and tribulations of grad school believable. Literary allusions and clever banter abound, but I did not find either character particularly mature or likeable. Still, I’m a fan of smart books and plus-size protagonists; there is fatphobia from Allison’s dad, but it’s shut down very well.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheMakeUpTest from #NetGalley.

Just Another Love Song by Kerry Winfrey

Standard
Just Another Love Song by Kerry Winfrey

Winfrey, Kerry. Just Another Love Song. Berkley, 2022. 336 pp. ISBN 978-0593333433 $17.00

****

This second chance romance about a hometown boy who made it big as a musician and the sweet girl he left behind hits all the right notes: cozy Stars Hollow vibe, gay co-worker, mixed race best friend, and a generally happy gardener with a house and a dog, who longs for a family and keeps burying that dream along with her seedlings because she can’t forget the one that got away… Hank and Sandy were high school sweethearts, but when her funding fell through, he went off to Berkeley and she remained at home to attend community college. She kept tabs on his career, and tried to date in a very small pool after their devastating split.

Their romance and breakup, told in past tense flashbacks, fill out the backstory at perfect intervals. In the present day, Sandy has given up her artist dreams for running a garden shop, volunteering, helping out her parents who run an inn, and assisting with an end of summer town festival. When Hank lands back on town and agrees to not only headline one of the weekend concerts, Sandy keeps running into him, and before she knows it, they’re soliciting donations and picking up creepy dolls together for an exhibition. The attraction is still there, but deeper and more adult, but Hank has a son (and presumably, a wife) so Sandy is sure that he’s off limits–and never gave her a second thought, but the truth comes out that both have found through the years that no one else measures up.

This novel has strong setting (Ohio!) with both pastoral rural details and a healthy dose of tidbits about famous Ohioians. Sandy’s longing is heartbreakingly palpable but there is a lot of humor in her voice and situations to balance out the angst. She has great (sometimes unexpectedly so!) female friends who have her back. And Hank is almost too good to be true but has some human mis-steps AND calls Sandy on her shit. There is some kissyface but love scenes are not heavy on the details, and the language is (to my recollection) also fairly clean, making this a cozy read that won’t cause too many heart palpitations for readers who prefer the sexy times happen behind closed doors.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #JustAnotherLoveSong from #NetGalley.

The Do Over by Suzanne Parker

Standard
The Do Over by Suzanne Parker

Parker, Suzanne. The Do Over. Avon, 2023. 384 pp. ISBN ‎ 978-0063216051 $16.99

***

On the verge of landing an executive position, Lily Lee, start-up consultant and empowering author, discovers she has failed her background check due to being a few credits shy of her diploma. She will need to return to Carlthorpe College, not just to make up a class, but to meet graduation requirements that have changed in the last ten years. This oversight also threatens her personal integrity and second book deal. Insult to injury is bumping into her college boyfriend Jacob Cho (the one that broke her heart, natch!) who is now a T.A. for one of her required computer science courses–unless she can get off the waitlist for statistics.

In the midst of the drama, Lily gets the opportunity to try things she missed out on and re-experience a frat party (attending doesn’t improve with age) and stocking up on road trip and dorm snacks, but adding to her stress is her first book simultaneously getting criticized, mansplained AND borderline plagiarized by a white dude intent on creating a series of feminist business books with his sister to both bury Lily’s work and use her for an “urban” edge.

Lily’s Korean ancestry helps to round out her characterization in terms of her relationship with (and expectations of) her family. Dialogue is sprinkled with Korean terms and she references favorite Korean dishes. I recognize it is not the job of the author to educate this white girl on banchan and translations, but I appreciated the effort and level of detail that Park went to.

Also appreciated are the details of Lily’s anxiety, which manifested in college, and which she still goes to somes lengths to downplay or hide until pressed. Luckily, relief comes in the form of a ride-or-die bestie, Mia, who keeps showing up on campus for support; her new roomie; Beth, a baker with a case of extreme positivity; and a puppy-ish group of young Asian students who form a study group. Lily is able to be real and honest and is accepted when she discloses her stressors and coping mechanisms, and coming clean about her mental health helps to direct her next work in progress.

The romance feels less central to the plot than Lily’s coming of age: standing up to the dean that could have prevented the credits mishap, disclosing her anxiety, confronting a privileged male, rethinking her career goals, and reframing her work. Amends with Jake happen too, but way late in the book, and not until after the two violate Title IX by falling into bed together (she was going to drop his class, then doesn’t) and then deciding to keep it professional. To my disappointment, sexy scenes are kept behind firmly closed (and locked) doors.

What stopped this from being a four-star book for me was that it was billed as a second-romance and there is a HEA, but I wanted more Jake and more steam. The author (or editor’s) choice to flashback to his devotion even as they are breaking up, in the form a promise no matter what Jake will always pick up when Lily calls, is placed way too close to her actually needing him to follow through on that promise. In another flashback, her reaction to his needing to follow through on the events that lead to her separation are immature. His apology for it ten years later seems unnecessary. He (immaturely) asks her to no be mad, to be happy — you cannot tell other people how to feel. At thirty-two, these characters should be a little more evolved.

One last bone to pick: the reference to women as females as though they are biological specimens is a personal pet peeve. It’s great Lily is the first lady to be a intern with the prestigious company Solv, but multiple times throughout the book there are references to humans as female (and not just by the statistician protagonist) that made me squirm and made the book feel dated in a time when we are evolving from gender as biology and sex as binary to a spectrum. Since I read this in ARC, it’s not too late to fix it.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheDoOver from #NetGalley.