This post includes reviews of the following books in the Split Rock Ranch series:
Something Undeniable (#1) | Something Unexpected (#2)
Something Undeniable (Split Rock Ranch Book 1)
I’ve been shying away from age-gap romance stories lately, but this new author has been on my radar, and I didn’t mind diving into this one when she asked me to read an ARC of the follow-up. Novellas can be a tricky length for a story, especially when they also incorporate significant jumps in time, but Maxwell packs a full romance arc into the pages with well-developed main and secondary characters to set up the full world of this series. It starts with an adorable teen crush that Micah has for ranch manager Ryan, but when it could have gone down the road of cliché, Maxwell shifts perfectly in a way that is romantic and steamy without sliding into the territory that can make age-gap relationships feel icky.
I was honestly startled by the direction the story took afterward, progressing in a manner that I didn’t expect. However, it worked perfectly for the characters, without sacrificing conflict, and brought them to a place where they could meet on equal footing as adults in a story that still manages to be entertaining and softer on the angst spectrum. Overall, this was a short and sweet novella that works as a complete stand-alone if you’re not inclined to read the next in the series. But I definitely will be, now that I’m invested in these characters and looking forward to following them past their nominal happily ever after.
Something Unexpected (Split Rock Ranch Book 2)
There is a small moment in this book where one of the main characters contemplates poly relationships, reevaluating his initial assumption that they occur because the original pair was “missing” something and acknowledging that a third can bring something new to a partnership that was already complete. This is the heart of the dynamic that develops between Micah and Ryan, the couple established in the first book of this series, and newcomer Nick. Though this book can be read as a stand-alone, I’m glad that I got to experience that initial love story and already met the lovely found family of secondary characters that exists in the world of Split Rock Ranch.
Maxwell does an excellent job of setting up expectations with the mystery surrounding Nick’s arrival to the ranch but placing that tension firmly in the realm of the external plot. For readers (like me), who are sensitive to that sort of thing, there is never an associated sense of tension with the blooming attraction between him and Micah – there is no cheating in this romance. I appreciate the care that creating this delicate balance took, especially since I thoroughly enjoyed the “harmless” flirting that they engage in. A slight criticism is that I wish Ryan’s POV had been established earlier in the story, but once that kicked in, I knew I was in for a wild (and enthusiastic) ride between all three of these men. In a way, the mature and ongoing communication between the established married couple regarding their interest in Nick was just as hot as the numerous spicy (but never contrived) encounters between all three men.
The truth that emerges regarding the external plot was both more frustrating and more tragic than I expected, which was only a bonus in the long run. This simultaneously had me more invested in how the outcome might be resolved while also allowing me to continue to cheer for a happily ever for Nick, despite his role in events. Maxwell could have so easily taken the simpler route, but the care taken with crafting this storyline made me unable to put this book down as all the secrets were revealed. In the end, I was entirely satisfied by the happily ever after none of these characters expected (but definitely deserved), and I’m already looking forward to the next relationship teased for this series. Maxwell is a newer author I will be adding to my watch list for more excellent stories.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.