Romance is one of my favourite genres, and clean, sweet ones are my preference. Over the last few weeks I listened to two of these, and read the other two. I enjoyed both formats, and all of the stories. They are all very different from one another, but all had great characters and well-developed plots. I like when there are serious issues interwoven into the story, and I found that in all of these. I recommend them all.

Sweet Laurel Falls (Hope’s Crossing #3) by RaeAnne Thayne, Claire Christie (Narrator)

Published September 25th 2012 by Harlequin HQN, October 4th 2022 by Harlequin Audio

4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Hope’s Crossing Series has been published over the last ten years, but they have recently been published as audiobooks. I am going back and listening to this sweet, small town, romance series by RaeAnne Thayne. Sweet Laurel Falls is the third in the series. In this book we meet Maura McKnight-Parker, a mother who is still dealing with the death of her youngest daughter in a car accident. Her older daughter, Sage, has returned home from school with a man in tow, her father. Jackson Lange never knew he has a daughter, as he didn’t know Maura was pregnant when he fled Sweet Laurel Falls years earlier for school, and never returned. Laurel just happened to run into him at a guest lecture, and the well known architect was quickly identified as her father. Sage has told her mother she plans on taking time off school for awhile, and Jackson wants to stick around and get to know his daughter. Can they be together in this small town without rekindling old feelings?

This was a quick, sweet story with some angst, secrets and forgiveness. Maura, Jackson and Sage are all great characters, relatively well developed and very relatable. Sage is an emotional, hormonal young adult, and I quickly figured out what her secret was, but there was more than I had deduced. I have not read the first two books yet, so I have missed some of the background dealing with the car accident and the links to the previous stories, as well as some character information, but I had no problem enjoying this story. Harry Lange, is the richest and most detested man in the small town, but he is now Sage’s grandfather, which brings out a kinder side to him. Themes of grief, single parenthood, absentee fathers, unplanned pregnancy, greed, reconciliation, family discord and more are all dealt with in a realistic and compassionate way. I will continue to catch up on this series. Claire Christie narrates this audiobook. She is another new narrator to me, and I enjoyed her voice. She gave the various characters their own voices using tone, expression and emotion to add much to this story. I do recommend this audiobook.

Built to Last by Erin Hahn, Narrated by Lisa ZimmermanKale Williams 

Published October 18th 2022 by St. Martin’s Griffin, OrangeSky Audio

5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Built to last is a second chance romance, but so much more. Shelby Springfield, Cameron Riggs, and Lyle Jessup have a very complicated past. They were all co-stars on a television series as teens, and there was a bit of a love triangle. Shelby and Cameron were each other’s first loves, but Cameron is spooked by those feelings and he leaves to go to school. Lyle swoops in, and he and Shelby become an item, for five years until he dumps her for her best friend. Who does she call, Cameron. Cameron has a great career as a National Geographic photographer and documentary maker, but he packs up and takes a rickety plane to LA when Shelby tells him she needs him. Knowing she is living a toxic life, her leaves her a note saying she has to get out of LA, and takes off again, before he can act on his attraction to his former love. Fast forward ten years. Shelby works with her father on home renovations, specifically restoration, as well as owning her own furniture restoration business. Enter Lyle who wants to stir the pot. He is now a director and offers Cameron and Shelby a pilot to make a home renovation show. When Shelby asks Cameron if he is interested, he can’t help but come on board, even though he knows nothing about renovating homes.

This was a great story, and I enjoyed it more than I had expected I would. I love home renovation television shows, but this was more about relationship building, coming home, second chances, and finally standing up for yourself. The TV pilot was Shelby’s chance to show the world that she wasn’t that messy party girl anymore, but had landed on her feet and had a successful business. She wasn’t pining over Lyle, the one who dumped her. Cameron is finally ready to face Shelby and all the feelings he has for her, even ten years later since their last meeting. Lyle is just a mess. He is a bit of a narcissist and wants to make Shelby and Cameron look bad, to make himself look self-important. Family plays a huge role in this story as well. Neither Shelby or Cameron have healthy relationships with one of their parents, and we see them come to terms with that in the story. I have to say, Shelby’s mom is a piece of work, enough said. This story pulled me in from the start and I was invested in seeing where Shelby and Cameron would go with their lives. There is a lot of baggage to unpack, feelings to share, emotions that need to be explored and finally they can both move on. The romance took a bit to develop, which I liked, but eventually it happened and there were some open door bedroom scenes, but overall, this was a story I recommend to those who enjoy a nice, fun romance. I liked that the audiobook was narrated by two performers, Lisa Zimmerman & Kale Williams. The story is told by both main characters, so having both a male and female narrator, it gave the story a more realistic telling. If you enjoy audiobooks, I suggest you give this one a try.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

Published August 1st 2022 by Berkley Books

4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is a romance, fantasy, and paranormal story that also deals with found family and new beginnings. Mika Moon is a witch living an isolated life in Britain, knowing she needs to keep her magic hidden. It is important not to mingle with other witches, as their powers will intensify and draw attention to them. She is an orphan, raised by strangers and now living alone. She has an online account, where she performs magic and “pretends to be a witch”. No one will take her seriously, will they? When an unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to “Nowhere House” to teach three young witches how to control their magic, she breaks all of the rules and goes. Once there, she becomes involved in the life of the three young witches, and several others, including Jamie, the handsome and scowling librarian of Nowhere House who would do anything to protect the children. He doesn’t want Mika there, but he finds her interesting and appealing.

This is a fun story, but it is also sad when you look at the underlying story of sadness, being orphaned at a young age, not belonging anywhere, and being afraid to be yourself. There was also humor, especially when dealing with the young witches, who do not have control over their powers. The characters in this story are delightful. I loved them all, with all their flaws, and foibles, especially the three girls. Eight-year-old Terracotta added a lot of humor as she plotted Mika’s demise. Jamie and Mika had chemistry and as the story progressed, he thaws toward her and they begin to care very much about each other, actually having an intimate relationship. There are some issues along the way with a lawyer trying to find his missing client, but all in all, this is a fun read about found family and some romance, all wrapped up in a fantasy/paranormal story, that I recommend.

Charmed by the Cook’s Kids (The Mountain Monroes #6) by Melinda Curtis 

Published June 1st 2020 by Harlequin Heartwarming

4 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Charmed by the Cook’s Kids is the 6th book in the Mountain Monroes series. There are presently 11 books in this series, so I have a few more to catch up on. The story begins with Grandpa Harlan leaving instructions in his will that his children, must fire all the grandchildren who are working in Monroe businesses. They are left the town of Second Chance, one that Harlan bought up and leased the businesses back to the residents for $1.00 per year. Each book is the story of another cousin, this one, Michelin chef, Cam. Cam was recently fired from the restaurant he had been working in since being fired from all the Monroe restaurants, and he is full of self-doubt. He heads to Second Chance to cater his cousin’s wedding. When he wanders into the Bent Nickel, the only diner/restaurant in town, he is appalled. He immediately begins to criticize the kitchen, the menu and the cook. As he realizes that he is going to have to get along with owner and single mom Ivy Parker, he slowly begins to change his tune. As he settles in somewhat to Second Chance, he becomes “friends” with Ivy’s children, which melts her heart. She doesn’t trust men, especially chefs, but will she be able to let her guard down for Cam Monroe.

This is another wonderful story in the Mountain Monroe series. There are clean, sweet romance stories, where you know there will be a happily ever after. As the series progresses, more and more Monroes make Second Chance their home, and they start businesses and have plans to actually make the town a place where they are getting a new beginning, families and happiness. Although Cam and Ivy are the main characters in this story, it is the kids that steal the show for me. From the humorous scene about “booger waffles” to a young son telling Cam to stop scaring him mom, it demonstrates that children often know more than adults realize. Ivy has been through a lot in her past, including the treatment of her ex-husband and his family, so it is easy to see why she is afraid to trust Cam. Cam has a huge chip on his shoulder, that gradually falls off after spending time around Ivy, her boys and other locals. I always enjoy seeing some of the characters that have been around since the first book and several make an appearance in this story. I am glad I picked this story up, it reminded me how much I enjoyed the first books in this series and that I need to get back to Second Chance to find out what happens to it once all the Monroe cousins finally make up their mind. If you are looking for a clean romance, one with great characters and some serious issues as well, then pick up Charmed by the Cook’s Kids, or better yet, start with the first book in this series and read them all.