I usually will write reviews one book at a time. After all, that’s how we read books most of the time, right? Oh, sure. There are folks out there who will have two or three books going at once. But, often those books are completely unrelated. A biography while commuting on the train or bus. A romance on the bedside table. A mystery next to the recliner in the living room. They aren’t connected. It’s easy to compartmentalize them.
But, with a series, it’s different. The books inform each other. The primary characters remain constant. Unlike sequels, it’s not really necessary to read books in a series “in order” to know what’s going on. Yes, it helps. But it’s not absolutely needed. However, reading the books as they’ve been released makes for a fuller experience. So, whenever possible, that’s what I try to do.
Because I’ve been a bit remiss in writing reviews this year, I decided to experiment with combining my reviews for the four books in this series into one blog post. We’ll see how it goes.
Melissa Brayden has now written two series for Bold Strokes Books: the Soho Loft Romance series and the Seven Shores Romance series. (You can see my reviews for the Soho series HERE.) I’m a big fan of the Soho series. I have them in paperback, eBook, and audio. All told, I think I’ve gone through the series about 10 times (combining all formats). They’ve become comfort books for me.
With the Seven Shores books, Brayden has, in my opinion, really upped her game. (I don’t have these books in paperback, but I do have them in eBook and audio formats. I’ve gone through this series about 3 times – once reading, twice listening.) This series shows how Brayden has grown as an author. And, let’s be honest, she’s always been a good author.
Eyes Like Those
The series starts with Eyes Like Those. It opens with an introduction to Isabel Chase – hopeful screenwriter, recently unemployed restaurant server, and vociferous fennel adversary. Yay! She gets a call from a friend who has gotten her a chance at a dream job – writing for a hit TV show in Hollywood. Off she goes to California, where she meets Taylor Andrews – show runner extraordinaire. She gets the job. Yay, again! She has about a week to go back to New Hampshire, pack up her stuff, and get back to California. She moves into the Seven Shores apartment complex.
This is where we meet Autumn, the owner of the coffee shop next door, The Cat’s Pajamas; Hadley, the resident “girl next door” who has difficulty swearing and sees the good in everyone and everything; and Gia, the world-ranked professional surfer. Here, in the first few chapters, we have met all of the major players. A nice move on Brayden’s part – the reader is introduced to everyone right along with Isabel. And we learn more about Isabel via the others’ “getting to know you” questions. Yes, a nice move.
The romance between Isabel and Taylor is nicely played out. It builds at a nice pace. There are a number of obstacles that these two need to deal with as their attraction grows. They try to fight it…until they just can’t fight it anymore. Brayden, however, is excellent at saving that one, huge obstacle until just the right time. Fortunately, she’s also excellent at helping them navigate the obstacle to a happy ending.
Hearts Like Hers
The epilogue for Eyes Like Those tossed hints our way to let us know who would be the focus of the next book. Sure enough, chapter one of Hearts Like Hers starts with Autumn. (The first two words are actually the character’s name – Autumn Primm.) For those who read Eyes, we immediately know who Autumn is in the larger story. However, Brayden quickly goes to work setting the scene. Soon, Autumn and the rest are front and center. She introduces the characters again and quickly puts them all in conversation so that their individual characteristics are brought forward and help to clearly define them.
We’re also introduced to Kate Carpenter in the first chapter. Though Kate is in Oregon, rather than California, it’s made pretty clear that she’ll be running into Autumn. She’s heading to California to get away for a while, to regroup. What we know about Kate at this point is minimal. She’s a firefighter. Something happened. Everyone calls her “hero”, but she rejects the title. It’s clear something is bothering her. Kate is a mystery.
As the new resident at Seven Shores, Kate quickly meets the group of friends. Autumn, of course, is the first person she meets. It’s a quick meet-cute, but it has an impact. The need for coffee brings Kate to The Cat’s Pajamas with some frequency, thus keeping the interactions between her and Autumn in the spotlight. For these two, the attraction and romance moves at a quicker pace. But here’s the caveat: neither feels like she is in a position to pursue a serious relationship. So, to Autumn and Kate, that serious relationship is off the table. Until it’s not.
Once again, Brayden comes up with the great obstacle that tears our couple apart. Being a romance, though, they find their way back to each other. What’s really great here is the way Kate is fully integrated into the Seven Shores world. She gets drawn into Ms. Pacman tournaments with Gia and Isabel. She goes to Breakfast Club with the group at The Cat’s Pajamas. She even helps out at the coffee shop. Her connection with the entire group makes the separation – from the readers’ perspective – even more difficult. Kate isn’t just losing out on love, she’s losing out on a fulfilling life. Thank goodness for the HEA!
Sparks Like Ours
The third book in the series, Sparks Like Ours, puts the focus on Gia Malone. Chapter one starts with Gia on the ocean, surfing like she knows how. And she does! The stage is also set for soon-to-come introduction of Elle Britton, her biggest rival on the surfing leader board. Elle was mentioned in the previous books, but she was never actually in the stories. So, the set up was there for Sparks early on.
The differences between Gia and Elle are spelled out pretty quickly. Gia isn’t fond of dealing with the press. She just wants to surf. Elle, on the other hand, is a press darling. Her perception of Elle as “fake” keeps Gia at a distance. Gia gets along with other competitors on the tour, but Elle’s super-friendly, always upbeat personality just puts Gia on edge. Clearly, she can’t be that nice all the time. Right? As fate would have it, Gia and Elle are brought together via an advertising campaign. A campaign that capitalizes on their rivalry. As the title of the books imply, sparks fly.
Brayden once again does a nice job of building the sexual tension between the characters. No matter how hard they try, Gia and Elle just can’t seem to fight their attraction. Each finds some outside source to blame for even the slightest notion of feelings about the other. But when all is said and done, they have no choice but to explore the attraction.
Queue the obstacles! Queue the angst! Queue the conflict! All nicely done.
Love Like This
The final book in the series, Love Like This, finally brings us to Hadley’s story. Hadley, the ever- optimistic woman who loves a good theme party (with costumes) and Barry Manilow, has spent the last two years watching her friends find love. And here she is, reading a book. Poor Hadley.
Fortunately, we quickly meet Spencer Adair. (The back cover tells us that “Spencer Adair has a passion for fashion, but hates the fact that it rhymes.”) Elle briefly mentioned Spencer in Sparks Like Ours when Hadley brought up her search for a great clothing designer. Once again, Brayden sets it up early.
Right from the top, Hadley and Spencer are physically attracted to each other, but their personalities are remarkably different. As is their outlook on love and relationships. Hadley believes in forever love. Spencer believes in chapters. It makes for an interesting courtship. And, oh my dear goodness, do we learn a thing or two about Hadley!
What I especially love about this final book of the series is how Brayden has kept all of her characters true to form throughout. And now, we get a full picture. A character can make a comment and, without a dialogue tag line, we know exactly who says it…because, of course she did. Similarly, the secondary characters have remained throughout all four books – Larry Herman and his infatuation with Hadley; Stephanie and her one-liners as she simply walks through a scene. This book was, perhaps, the funniest of all of them. I spent a lot of time really laughing!
Brayden is a master of the epilogue and she doesn’t disappoint here. Since this is the last book in the series, it’s important to have a wrap up for everyone, not just Hadley and Spencer. This epilogue is satisfying. It answers the right questions, but also leaves tiny openings should Brayden ever choose to visit Seven Shores again later. (Perhaps a short story or a novella?)
Something needs to be said about the audio versions of these books. I’m rather particular when it comes to audio narrators. I take the oral performance of literature rather seriously. So, I often pay close attention when listening to audio books. I admit it…I judge. Yes, I’m a judgy audio book listener. And I’m not ashamed.
Melissa Sternenberg handled the narration for all of the Seven Shores books. If I were to go back to my university days when I was grading student performances, I would probably give Sternenberg a 93% – an A. Why a 93%? Well, I’ll tell you.
First of all, Sternenberg remains consistent throughout the series. She found the voices for the characters and, for the most part, stuck to them. (Kate and Taylor changed a tiny bit in the stories not their own, but it was negligible.) Also, she kept a good pace during the narrative sections. Sometimes I’ve had to adjust the speed on the audio to make a narrator sound more natural. Not so here. In addition, she was almost always spot on with the emotions of the dialogue and inner monologues. In general, Sternenberg has a pleasing voice that is nice to listen to.
Why not a perfect 100%? Well, there were a few things here and there that I just can’t let go. Yes, on the whole, Sternenberg maintained consistency, but she did slip – like the aforementioned changes for Kate and Taylor. There were some moments that the reading of a character’s dialogue didn’t match the description of the dialogue. (i.e., dialogue said with a little too much volume and intensity, followed by “she said softly.”) Finally, there were some mispronounced words that I simply couldn’t pass up – particularly the names of very famous people. Those few things pulled me momentarily out of the story.
Overall, however, Sternenberg is one of the stronger narrators I’ve heard. And, for that reason, if I see her name attached to an audio book, I won’t need to listen to the sample before purchasing it.
All-in-all, this is just a fun series. I loved hanging out with the Seven Shores gals. As I said before, Brayden upped her game. The characters were remarkably distinct from one another. The secondary characters were rich and wonderfully integrated into the story. The dialogue was crisp and witty. Brayden (and I presume her editor) did a nice job of tightening up the language. Many of Brayden’s favorite words and phrases were used much more sparingly here. I found myself laughing and crying along with all of the ladies during their respective stories. I even teared up a bit with Larry Herman.
As always, there’s just some damned good romance. Because, well, it’s Melissa Brayden. And that’s what she does. She writes some damned good romance. It’s so nice to lose myself in these stories. I hope you will, too.