Tropes in romance novels are honestly some of my favorite things. If there was enough time in the world, I would like to devour every single book with a fake relationship because it is the greatest trope in the history of the world. But there are some tropes that I just really don’t like. That said, I’ve found some books that include the trope I hate that I actually have really enjoyed. Today, I want to discuss my five favorite books with a second chance plot line. Second chance in this post is specifically referring to people who were in a romantic relationship in the past that ended for some reason. I could do a separate post on second chance where second chance means, they kind of tried in the past, but didn’t quite make it, but books that do second chance that way usually don’t bother me.
First, let’s talk about why I don’t like second chance stories as a general rule. I think it boils down to two things. One) I am already skeptical of men because of my job, my life experience, and, you know, the internet. Two) In my personal experience, giving someone a second chance does not work out so well, perhaps because the times I’ve seen this happen have been when people haven’t actually grown at all during their time apart. Regardless, these two combine to make me feel like it’s incredibly hard for heroes who have messed up to really make it up to the heroine. Is that true for heroines who are the ones that messed up? Probably? But right now I’m blanking on a book I’ve read that fits into that category. Anyway, all that to say, at the end of this, I want to talk about why I think some of these books have worked for me.
1. Hate to Want Youby Alisha Rai
If you’ve been here for a while, you know that Hate to Want You is one of my favorite books of all time and tied with Hold Me by Courtney Milan for my favorite book of 2017. I think when I read this book, I had read A Gentleman in the Streets and Serving Pleasure by Alisha, which was enough to make me go ahead and pick this one up even though I was skeptical. And obviously, I did not regret it.
Nico and Livvy broke up at the end of high school, but have been hooking up in secret for one day a year for a decade. Except this year. Livvy didn’t text Nico any coordinates, but now she’s back in town. Their families are rivals due to events, but the pull between the two of them never really went away.
For me, personally, Nico’s reasons for leaving Livvy the way he did and the way Nico and Livvy both changed and grew while they were apart, while remaining essentially the same made this book work for me. The pull between them made it feel inevitable but it was clear that both of them were actively making a choice to risk it all again. Everything about their relationship, from the angst to the banter, had me feeling like even though their HEA at the end of this one was a fragile one, it was one that would last. And because this is book one of a series, we get to see the two of them navigating some of the next steps. It was great.
2. Rock Wedding by Nalini Singh
Nalini Singh has quickly become one of my favorite authors, which you, um, maybe have noticed. This particular book is the final of the Rock Kiss series and is great fun for many reasons, not the least of which is that it contains Molly and Fox’s wedding, which meant we got to see Charlotte and Gabriel, who are my absolute favorites. It also contains a second chance romance between Sarah and Abe. We know that Abe was an addict, who had a few different stints in rehab, but for whatever reason this time it seems to have stuck. Sarah is his ex-wife, who he married a little young, and they divorced because Abe essentially accused Sarah of being a gold-digger and not good for anything but sex. He didn’t mean it, but you know, you don’t get to say things like that.
Encountering Abe and Sarah several years after their divorce when Abe has already done the work to get sober and be a person capable of maintaining a healthy relationship really helped this book work for me. He’s also aware of how badly he messed up and knows that Sarah doesn’t owe him anything. The way he handles courting her again was really great, honestly. It felt respectful. I think sometimes it can come across as like, listen to the person saying no and respect that because otherwise you’re trash.
3. Rookie Moveby Sarina Bowen
First of all, I love Leo Trevi so much. You may know that Sarina Bowen writes sports romances and this one is no exception. Leo Trevi is a hockey player who gets transferred to the Brooklyn Bruisers, which just so happens to be coached by his first love’s father and she herself is the team’s publicist. And in Leo’s very first press conference, he shuts down some rude talk about Georgia, which, of course, the press hears. So basically, I was in love with Leo from the first page.
I would say this is a second chance romance where neither party is really at fault for the original end of their relationship. Georgia was sexually assaulted on a college visit and didn’t cope well with that and ended things with Leo more or less because of that. This was just a high school relationship that kind of came to an end and now that the two are meeting again as adults? Everything is different, except for their attraction to one another. While my high school relationship is not rekindling ever, I can get behind reading about ones that do occasionally.
Honorable Mention: I actually really like Pipe Dreams, which is also in this series and is also a second chance romance. It’s a little more like Hate to Want You, in that understanding the hero’s actions made it significantly easier to forgive him (for both me and the heroine).
4. The Understatement of the Yearby Sarina Bowen
I was trying very hard to not do two Sarina Bowen books, but um, that was impossible. This is from a different series than Rookie Move, so it’s fine. Still a hockey romance, this book is set in college. Michael Graham plays hockey for Harkness College and is caught off guard when his high school flame, John Rikker, walks into the locker room. Where Rikker is out, Graham stuffed himself back in the closet after a particularly traumatic experience he and Rikker had together.
I do not begin to know how it feels to be a gay man, but reading this book, I couldn’t help but empathize with Graham. I tend to be pretty understanding of characters who make decisions out of a trauma response, honestly. But also, Rikker is such a genuinely good guy that I just followed his lead with forgiving Graham. I’m not sure this book is as good as Him by any means, but it was one where I could understand where the characters were coming from and why they acted the way they did.
5. The Day of the Duchessby Sarah MacLean
I have an entire review of this book that I wrote pretty immediately after reading this book for the first time. I’ve linked it to the side, if you’re interested. If you aren’t aware that I adore Sarah MacLean, hello, yes, I adore her. This book had me hesitant because we got to spend a few books hating Haven for his actions against Sera. But because I trust Sarah, I went into this book optimistic.
And I really loved this book. The problem is, I still don’t like Haven. But Seraphina really came into her own before this book even started and watching her choices and challenges to Haven was everything I could have possibly wanted. This book, to me, was more about the power of sisters and of going after what you want than it was a love story. But in the end, because it’s a romance, Sera chooses to be with Haven, who did make steps to transform into a reasonable and decent human.
I wanted to end with this book though because I think it transitions well into talking about what works for me in terms of second chance and what doesn’t.
Ultimately, for me, one of two things needs to be true in a second chance. The relationship needed to end not really because of either party’s bad actions or there must have been some precipitating event that was outside the control of the parties. Otherwise, there’s often not enough groveling in the world that can get me to believe in a couple’s HEA.
So, what do you all think? What kind of second chance romances work for you? Do you love them all? Hate them all? Let me know in the comments below!