At the heart of every small town is a community—neighbors who have watered each other’s plants for years, friends who have grown up together and family businesses that have proudly hung signs on Main Street. These three romance novels capture the homespun charm of creaky porch swings, bake sales and softball games, as well as the sweet thrill of falling in love with the whole town watching—and usually cheering.
SWEET SUMMER NIGHTS
Moonlight on Butternut Lake by Mary McNear is the next entry in the best-selling and emotionally rich Butternut Lake series, and it’s a nuanced story of healing and second chances. Badly injured in a car accident, Reid Ford retreats to his brother’s cabin at the lake, still confined to a wheelchair and struggling to recover physically and mentally. Mila Jones is the home health aide hired to care for Reid, but Mila is fighting her own battle—on the run from her abusive husband, moving to Butternut Lake is just the first step in her plan to make a new life for herself.
As the story opens, Reid is gruff and resentful but proud, and Mila is skittish and fragile but determined to make a better life for herself. From the beginning, they’re wary of each other—Mila is intimidated by Reid’s stubborn temper, and Reid is startled to find that the pretty aide has a surprisingly strong spine. But as the summer blooms around them, the walls they’ve built start to come down—and the tight-knit community serves to rehabilitate them both in different ways.
Love is the last thing on Reid and Mila’s mind when the book begins, which makes their tentatively growing friendship sweetly satisfying. Workaholic Reid is surprised to find himself thinking about a relationship rather than a quick fling, and Mila is stunned to learn than she can still trust—both herself and others—at all. Suffused with all the magic of firefly-lit summer nights, this entry in the series is especially heartwarming.
A NOVEL LOVE
Emma Cane’s Ever After at Sweetheart Ranch is the next book in her popular Valentine Valley series, and it’s as warm and welcoming as spring itself. Cane writes extended family well, and the novel includes many characters readers have already met while it explores the story of a writer and a rancher who make an unlikely but wonderful couple.
Lyndsay De Luca is a dedicated schoolteacher who plays trumpet in a jazz band and writes fiction in her spare time—a true geek, in Lyndsay’s own words. Will Sweet is her polar opposite, a cowboy who thrives on Colorado’s wealth of outdoor activity and has never met a woman he couldn’t charm, at least briefly. More than their temperaments stand between them, though. Will was in love with Lyndsay’s best friend, until an accident took her far too early. And Lyndsay’s mortified to realize shortly before her first book is due to come out that her hero bears an overwhelming resemblance to Will.
For Lyndsay, it’s going to be hard enough to publically own up to the steamy book simply because of her job, and she can’t imagine what will happen if Will finds out he was the inspiration for the swaggering, sexy hero of her book. In Cane’s hands, the story plays out with humor and compassion as Lyndsay learns the real thing might be better than the fantasy, and Will discovers that love is a risk worth taking more than once.
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART
An ex-con and a waitress find everything they didn’t know they were looking for in The Closer You Come, by longtime paranormal romance favorite Gena Showalter. This novel is the second in her first-ever contemporary series and follows the Original Heartbreakers, three men raised as foster brothers who settle in quiet Strawberry Valley, Oklahoma, for a fresh start.
Showalter hits the mark with this series. Newly out of prison, Jase Hollister is a deliciously hot bad boy with the kind of emotional wounds that will melt even the hardest heart. Brook Lynn is scrappy, stubborn and struggling not only to make ends meet but to keep her wild sister, Jessie Kay, in check. Jase and Brook Lynn meet when she finds her reckless sister in Jase’s bedroom, and the sparks never stop flying.
Showalter takes a refreshingly straightforward approach to Jase’s history and Brook Lynn’s struggles, including the implants she needs to modulate her hearing. Showalter’s gift for snappy, realistic dialogue and electric sexual tension are on full display here, and the community spirit that helps to bring the couple together makes this book everything a small-town romance should be. The next book in the series promises to be just as satisfying—and sexy.
Amy Garvey is a freelance editor and the author of several romances and two novels for young adults.