Heat Factor: There is so much sex that even people who prefer high heat books might think there’s a lot of sex
Character Chemistry: It’s that sort of mellow, adult clicking together that might involve struggle but not much drama
Plot: Wealthy woman in her 40s winds up romantically involved with a more working-class hero in small town Maine, which irks the obnoxious wealthy man who can’t deal gracefully with not getting the girl
Overall: For readers who enjoy stories with older protagonists, lotsa sex, and a relaxed, meandering story
Notes on the Series
These three books all share an overall mellow vibe and meander along for a long time. While the heroes are definitely out of the standard KA “manly man” hero mold, they don’t get to macho extremes of the heroes in her other series.
Be warned, Ashley does not shy away from sex at all, so much (but not all) of the emotional intimacy in the relationship stems from the physical intimacy. She also typically doesn’t have her protagonists engage in a lot of ridiculous, angsty behavior, so once they finally get to the point that they’re ready to commit, her protagonists will have pretty solid relationships and the drama comes from elsewhere. It’s nice to see characters having bad experiences and being able to rely on the support of a trusted partner.
I also appreciated that all of these protagonists were solidly in their 40s. While I typically get super stressed out about books that make me feel like characters wasted a bunch of time that they could have had together if they just hadn’t made bad decisions years before, there was something comforting about the idea that these protagonists were able to have a beautiful romance and happily ever after after having a whole other adulthood, good or bad, but at least not perfect, in the past.
Josephine has been the executive assistant of a famous photographer who works largely in the world of haute couture for more than 20 years, globe-trotting, networking, and pining for her employer. When she returns to Magdalene for her grandmother’s funeral, she is shocked that her grandmother bequeathed her to a man she’s never heard of in her life.
Jake Spear is a former professional boxer who now owns a boxing gym, a strip club that supports the cost of the boxing gym, and is a single parent to his three children. He is in no way in Josephine’s league, but once she’s bequeathed to him, Jake holds on with both hands as Josephine decides to take some time exploring her roots and the house she inherited from her grandmother.
Josephine is extremely hard to like at first. She’s stand-offish and snobby after living in a world of wealthy, posh adults. When Jake asks her to honor her grandmother’s wishes and just meet him for dinner one night, she agrees, knowing she’s going to stand him up without a thought for the fact that 1. He’ll be waiting for her at the restaurant like a chump in a small town where everyone knows him and 2. He has to sort out child care in order to have this dinner in the first place. (Tangent: I absolutely hate it when characters do this in books. It is such a jerk move.) But, after Josephine apologizes to him, Jake doesn’t give up. His super normal and boisterous family is like a splash of cold water on her previously staid and extremely orderly life. Picture: She eats specific fancy varieties of Camembert for dinner with bottles of expensive wine. He makes Ro-Tel dip for football nights with his family and drinks domestic beer.
This is as much a story about Josephine coming to terms with all of the hopes and dreams and traumas of her younger self as it is a romance. It’s also a little bit about Jake challenging Josephine’s ideas about…everything (she does eat the Ro-Tel dip, after all). Their argument about Jake owning a strip club, for example, is pretty on par in terms of KA “let’s take a different look at something we’re usually biased about.” But Jake and his family aren’t 2-dimensional, so even though the story is pretty long and at times super sad, the HEA that Josephine finally gets is beautiful.
Amelia Hathaway has made a huge mess of her life. When her husband left her for another woman, she opted to engage in a scorched earth policy of retribution, and her children got caught up in it as well. After her ex-husband managed to get sole custody and took their kids to live in small-town Maine, she realized just what her bitterness was costing her, and moved to Maine to start over and make amends. Her sole plan is to demonstrate her stability and caring, and win back her children’s love.
Mickey Donovan wants both everything and nothing to do with his attractive, wealthy new neighbor, so after he comes to her rescue on her first day in town, they begin a somewhat rocky relationship as she befriends his children while the two adults navigate their feelings for each other in the context of everything else that’s going on in their lives, which is a lot.
When I started this book, my first question was, what is Mickey going to think when he learns that this woman who’s becoming maternal and friendly with his children managed to alienate her own? Answer…not really what I should have worried about. In this book, it was Mickey who needed a minute to get over himself and Amelia who needed the space to grow a backbone and realize her value as a person. Josephine may have been unlikeable for her snobbery, but Amelia is unlikeable not because she was a harridan after her husband left her for another woman, but because she lets people walk all over her, thinking it’s what she deserves because ATONEMENT. I was so happy when she woke up and asked for some respect.
Because both Mickey and Amelia have children and ex-spouses and turbulent pasts, and those exes are still in their lives. This is very much a story about family and making family work so that people who matter can be happy. It also addresses some gender equality issues because Amelia is unbelievably wealthy (she has three (3!) trust funds), and while Mickey is an heir to a fortune his parents made, he insists on making his own way, refusing to use his inheritance, so he really has to struggle with how he envisions himself as a provider for his family when Amelia can just snap her fingers and spoil everyone easily. I didn’t think I’d like this book, but at the end of the day it was really nice.
The Time in Between
Cady Moreland, newly widowed, moves to Maine to honor her late husband’s last wish – that she make amends and rehabilitate her relationships with two formerly important men in her life: her biological brother and Coert Yaeger, the man with whom she shares an extremely complicated past.
Coert has become the Magdelene town sheriff, has a daughter because his ex tried to keep him around by poking a hole in a condom, and has moved on with his life since Cady got engaged to another man the minute she found out he had been working as an undercover cop when they were together in Denver in their early 20s.
If ever there were a case for young and dumb, these two managed an ace in the hole. Coert was working undercover when he met Cady, who was trying really hard to make a good life for herself by getting promoted in the gas station where she was working so she could get promoted from there and so on. It wasn’t much, but it was a plan. Coert was interested in Cady from the beginning, but also Cady’s best friend from school, as well as that friend’s boyfriend, were into some super shady drug stuff, so Coert realized he could use Cady as his in to bring down a drug ring, and even if he wasn’t totally comfortable with it, his boss told him it was the right thing to do. So, naturally, when everything imploded, these two in their early twenties went bonkers, and there went the next two decades.
This second chance was hard to read because the choices that Coert and Cady made when they were young were really frustrating, but Ashley does a good job of navigating how and why they reacted the way they did (not least because they were young and dumb and lies were involved). Once Coert realizes that Cady didn’t dump him for an old millionaire because she was a gold digger, these two are able to work through their past and their present (which is nowhere they thought it would be when they were planning for forever in their 20s), so that the possibility of a future is available. It’s a calm and not super dramatic second chance romance resolution, which feels a little more natural than some of the dramatic reveals we usually get in second chance romance.
A few final thoughts
I noted that these protagonists are all in their 40s, and as you can read, children factor in all of these books. I typically like the way Ashley addresses parenthood in her books, and this series is no exception. The protagonists are all coming from slightly different places.
Josephine thought she wanted one life when she was very young, but she made choices to get away from her past, and in doing so she made a different life for herself that was not at all child friendly. When Jake, who has three children with two different women and multiple divorces under his belt, absorbs her into his family, Josephine is able to process that once she did want a family like that, but now that she’s too old to have children herself, she’s fortunate enough to be able to have Jake’s children.
Amelia and Mickey both have teens, so they’re interested in creating a blended family and don’t feel any need to try to have children together. Having four teenagers who are all going through stuff is quite enough.
Cady and Coert used to dream of having children together, and that seemed lost. Coert suddenly has a five-year-old because his ex deceived him, while Cady bypassed the option for children since she only got married because her husband couldn’t legally adopt a woman in her 20s, and then she refused to divorce him because being married to him was the only way she could have guaranteed access to take care of him when he was sick and dying. But when they get back together, Coert and Cady still really want to have a baby together, so in this story we also get to see a couple choosing to have a baby later in life.
So anyway, I guess my final thought here is that the romances were lovely, but I also appreciated that Ashley took pains to think about different ways that these protagonists could really have fulfilling HEAs that worked well for them, even if their lives didn’t turn out to be all rainbows and unicorns like they expected in their 20s.
Buy Now: The Will | Soaring | The Time in Between | The Whole Dang Series
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Working Class Heroes / Fancy Pants Heroines