These three books don’t necessarily have anything in common besides the fact that they’re all perfect for the Flowers prompt on the #SpringIntoLoveBingo board, which I’ve admittedly already filled. But I said I wanted to review every book I read this year and I’m mostly failing so I thought I would try a new method of doing that. Today that looks like reviewing one review copy, The Road to Rose Bend by Naima Simone, and two backlist titles, Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand and Work for It by Talia Hibbert.
The Road to Rose Bend by Naima Simone
I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of The Road to Rose Bend by Naima Simone from Netgalley (although I actually listened to the finished copy via Hoopla). The short version of this review is that I was extremely invested in this story and managed to squeeze in time for a full 11 hour audiobook (there’s also a short story) into one day (admittedly I listen at double speed), which is very rare. But, the ending was much too abrupt and I am left with being like WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? And that’s not just because we exit the book before a major life event happens, it’s also because we really don’t get to see Sydney and Coltrane together after the big gesture. So, do I want to believe that of course they work it out and there’s an HEA? Yes, absolutely. But I’m barely persuaded about an HFN because this book is angsty, without enough time after the conflict to breathe.
Let me back up though and tell you what this book is about. Sydney returns to Rose Bend pregnant with her ex-husband’s child. She left town about eight years ago and it was a couldn’t wait to get away type of situation. Her older sister died when she was young and her parents have, in Sydney’s eyes, always resented her for her sister’s death. So Sydney isn’t exactly anticipating the warmest of welcomes. But the first person she actually encounters is her childhood best friend’s older brother, Coltrane. They run into one another at a church because Coltrane has just been visiting the graves of his wife and son. There is a lot of grief going on in this book. There is also the fact that Coltrane does not know how to handle the fact that Sydney makes his body come alive. He has feelings and he’s a good person, but he also doesn’t quite know how to not shut down emotionally when things get hard.
I feel like I’m making it sound like I didn’t enjoy this book, which is not true! I actually really liked both characters and just wanted to wrap them in bubble wrap. But there were things about it that just didn’t quite make sense and I couldn’t convince my brain to turn itself off enough to fully immerse myself into the book and forget logic. It never helps me when one of the characters is a lawyer and I disagree with their legal advice either. But, as always, Naima Simone is a brilliant writer and she’s particularly excellent at the sexy times. Despite Coltrane’s insistence on using “baby girl” as his preferred term of endearment, I thought the sexy times were top notch.
CWs (may contain spoilers): pregnancy, off page death in childbirth, still birth, death from cancer (childhood, off page), toxic relationships with parents, divorce, mean girls who are grown women, mentions of racism (challenged)
Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand
Does this book arguably overuse the words blush and growl? Yes. Did I care? Not even remotely. Laura Florand is a brilliant genius and I adore basically everything I’ve read from her (thank you, Aarya!) and this book was no exception. My beloved Matt is a silly man who has so completely entwined his sense of self-worth with the Valley where his family’s legacy goes back generations as they grow roses that are used in fancy perfumes. He is a gorgeous man, grumpy and stern, but also so silly and intoxicated when we meet him. He’s… precious. And then you have Layla who is understandably bewildered by Matt at first and alarmed at his overly familiar way of responding to her at first. She is a singer who just won her first Grammy, but she’s lost all of her song-writing ability. The creative well is empty and she is overwhelmed. So when she finds out about a house that she inherited in this Valley, she sees an opportunity to escape and seizes it. This means that she now has a part of Matt’s Valley and he… does not respond to this well.
All that to say, this book, the way these two adorably precious people are so drawn to one another is just… perfection. Like… look at this quote:
“But I like that about you, the way four hundred years of history and five million tons of earth were put on your shoulders and you said, ‘Yes. I’m strong enough for that.’”
I just loved everything about this book. It’s so soft. But also a little dash of angst thrown in. Honestly, if you’re a Lucy Parker or Kate Clayborn fan and you haven’t tried Florand, you should.
Work for It by Talia Hibbert
Speaking of books that are soft with a dash of angst thrown in, Work for It had me tearing up multiple times because Talia will always do that!! She is the Queen of Soft but Angsty and this book leaned fully into that title. Work for It follows Olu, who after being blackmailed with pictures of him in a sexually intimate situation with another man, is really struggling to “get back to normal.” Of course, trauma doesn’t really let us return to “normal” so that isn’t working out so well. Olu decides escaping to a small English town is a good solution for the time being and winds up in the same village as Griffin. Griff is a mountain of a man who is so accustomed to being on the outside and… well, he’s just really lovely, honestly.
Both Olu and Griff are lonely. I think Talia does an excellent job, as always, with all of the feelings. So many feelings. And the cast of characters? Excellent. I mean, Griff literally starts the book feeling this way: All my things are one-time things. No-one ever keeps me. First of all, MY HEART. Secondly, how are you not supposed to love him? Meanwhile, you’ve got Olu thinking this: And for the first time in a long time, knowing I’m a mess doesn’t make me angry. It just makes me sad.
Ultimately, while Work for It isn’t my favorite Talia novel (fierce competition there, tbh), this book gives off such strong “This is Me Trying” vibes and a little bit of “Invisible String” vibes that I couldn’t not love it. The mental health representation was excellent as always and all in all, I loved this book a lot. I am less pleased that now I am down to only having one Talia book left to read.
Have you read any of these books? Let me know!