Book Review: Heather Bay Series by Charlie Novak

This post includes reviews of the following books in the Heather Bay series:

  • Like I Pictured (#0.5)
  • Like I Promised (#1)

Like I Pictured (Heather Bay #0.5)

This novella is available as a free download via Prolific Works as part of the Your Book Boyfriend’s Boyfriend M/M Romance Group Giveaway 2022.

Novellas that act as a shorter prequel to full-length novels in a series are a bit of a mixed bag for me. Most times, the stories focus on side characters who enjoy a bit of insta-love and steaminess while all the upcoming main characters appear in the background. The number of names and characters without many distinguishing details often overwhelms me, which is why I tend to read these “prequels” only after I’ve enjoyed most or all of the full series. Conversely, Novak handles this introduction to Heather Bay with a deft hand. She identifies a few locations and characters in the town without being too heavy-handed about the role they will play in the future, leaving me looking forward to their stories as opposed to mostly confused.

As a result, this novella works entirely as a stand-alone story with a developing romance and solid happily ever after, featuring two protagonists I hope to glimpse around Heather Bay as future secondary characters. Anders and Bastian have an intriguing meet-cute that sets up a lovely, old-fashioned correspondence, which works well for the men. After all, their lives don’t appear to mesh at first glance, in which Anders is the quintessential introvert author stereotype, and Bastian travels all over the country with his extremely front-facing photography profession. Their relationship hits plenty of the grumpy/sunshine trope notes without verging into a contrived “opposites attract” sort of dynamic. I adored the tentative manner in which they make the jump from friendship to something more, and the “dark moment” is less of an overt conflict than a sense of poignancy as they both realize what they want out of building a life together.

Overall, the theme of finding one’s true home is the thread that ties their relationship together. I look forward to seeing whether elements of this theme work through the rest of the series. If this novella is anything to go by, I already know to expect more of Novak’s excellent writing and character development in a brand-new setting.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars.


Like I Promised (Heather Bay #1)

I don’t review much contemporary romance anymore, but certain authors will always be an exception. Novak is one of them because she always manages the perfect blend of comfort reading, a surprising amount of spice, and characters I want to know more about. It’s not necessary to read the novella that introduces readers to Heather Bay before starting this book (though I do recommend it), because this full-length novel does an excellent job of sucking us into the town and this series’ featured cast of friends. Everything is wrapped up in the familiar trope of a second-chance romance without many twists, but Novak’s lovely storytelling and unique characters never made me feel like I’d read a version of this book before.

How they encounter each other comes as a surprise to both Lane and Oliver right at the beginning of the story. Every bit of the angst expected from teenagers accompanied the end to their first relationship, but I immediately loved that neither man brought that drama into the present day. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it did give each of them the chance to put events into perspective. Thus, they are perfectly capable now of both being civil to each other and reminiscing about the past. The way this draws them together is expected, especially since neither is in denial about the mutual attraction that still exists. However, Novak hits the accelerator with the steam, using a low-key power exchange element to show that, if anything, Lane and Oliver are even more compatible as adults who have experienced time apart.

Neither man is particularly interested in hitting the brakes, even if they both acknowledge privately that indulging in this reconnection has the chance to blow up in their faces and leave even more hurt in its wake. This book could have been packed with angst, but Novak instead focuses on how an unknown future can cause heartache rather than active conflict. I assumed that the dark moment would end up being a typical “will he or won’t he stay?” but Novak doesn’t go that route. Ironically, the lack of angst made the progression of their relationship more interesting to me—even if their future together was not in question, I had no idea how it could look.

I was originally bummed to be leaving behind the lovely expanded universe Novak has already created in previous trilogies, but she doesn’t totally abandon her ability to drop the best sort of cameos. I already look forward to seeing at least one familiar face in a future book, but even better, I’m already totally invested in the potential romances teased by new friends in Heather Bay.

Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Published by J.L. Gribble

Author, Editor, Worldbuilder

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