This post includes reviews of the books in the Heartstrings series:
Write From the Heart (#1) | Heart For Sale (#2) | Heart Medicine (#3)
Write From the Heart (Heartstrings #1)
Contemporary romance doesn’t always have to mean a completely realistic setting or characters. In this instance, we’ve got talented, prolific, successful (and self-published) author Zane and young, hot (and practically tenured) professor Galen. Together, they solve crime! That’s a lie; this isn’t that type of book. Instead, they mutually crush on each other from afar because even though Zane is an older, nontraditional student nearing graduation, he’s still actively enrolled in a course taught by Galen. (Note that they cross emotional—and physical—lines while this is still the case, but Montrose managed to never make me feel uncomfortable about that by how she leaned into the escapism vibe of this entire book.)
While I didn’t necessarily buy Zane’s professional success (but again, escapism), I did adore the twisty sort of “meet cute” that reveals Galen to be an unknowing fan of his work. That thread, and their different perspectives of the publishing industry, provided an interesting not-quite conflict to up the ante of what would have otherwise been an entirely fluffy story. The big reveal comes from an unexpected source that was appropriate to the low-angst tone, and Galen’s harsh reaction is tempered by how it obviously stems from embarrassment rather than anger.
This story does have some hallmarks of being an early work by this author, such as the lengthy internal monologuing by both characters at the beginning that sets up all the necessary backstories. However, the aforementioned hook of Galen’s interest in Zane’s secret identity kept me invested in the narrative. Overall, this was a short, easy read that was perfectly enjoyable despite its “new author” hiccups.
Heart For Sale (Heartstrings #2)
This novella is an interesting mix of darkness and fluff and blends solid writing with slightly less-developed storytelling. Overall, definitely an example of an early author still developing their skills but showing tremendous potential. Montrose takes bigger risks here than in the first book of this series, but whether they pay off is a mixed bag. We briefly met Zane in the previous book in this series, and this one brings his family together with that of love interest Gael. Before that, however, this is a budding workplace romance that Zane feels is one-sided (and prohibited by his work’s rules anyway).
Zane presents his frustration in a sort of bitchiness that felt particularly overblown when combined with how much of a pushover he generally was whenever Gael needed anything. I did like the interesting external conflict and appreciated how it allowed the men to grow closer personally if not yet romantically, building strong ties of friendship between them before indulging in more. However, the miscommunication/assumption that makes up the dark moment of the romance arc was not too exciting and resolved rather quickly.
The true meat of this story is the drama of Gael’s family life, which I found much more engrossing than the budding romance between him and Zane. This is where both characters, and the surrounding secondary characters, truly shined. The darkness I mentioned previously takes place during this secondary external plot, but Montrose handles delicate topics so well that the angst of the primary romance arc is what ends up feeling more contrived.
Happily ever afters abound for the characters to deserve them. Unfortunately, one plot hole lingered: what happened to the rule about no office dating? That also gets resolved a little too neatly. This book is worth reading in the context of the full series but be warned that Montrose is still finding her stride as a writer.
Heart Medicine (Heartstrings #3)
One thing I really enjoy about the current wave of M/M romance is the shift away from the “gay for you” trope (which can be really fun when done well) to a more general acceptance that bisexuality is a thing, resulting in the much more authentic “bi awakening” trope. Montrose excellently handles what can be a fairly heavy topic in this low-angst novella by leaning into Leighton’s core caretaker personality already established through previous books in this series (though this one can be read as a stand-alone). Because this is a low-angst book, Leighton could have just rolled with his attraction to Alejo, but Montrose kicks it up a notch by allowing Leighton to be legitimately delighted by his connection with the other man, which makes it even easier to be swept up on the romance aspect of this story.
I’m still always a bit hesitant about romantic relationships that develop out of an unequal status quo, which includes the boss/employee dynamic. However, this is another area where Montrose uses character attributes to her advantage. Leighton and Alejo are aware of the potential pitfalls, but both men are such a good blend of chillness and maturity that I never really worried that entanglement would be the cause of too much conflict.
This story’s external conflict does stem from their workplace from a different angle, as Leighton and Alejo initially form solid friendship bonds over a terrible coworker. Montrose even makes her less of a caricature than she could have otherwise been by weaving the homophobic elements into a personality that has so many other issues that are all too real to anyone who has ever had to work in an office environment. The external threads tie up a bit nicely and predictably at the end, with no real dark moment for the characters. However, Leighton and Alejo each experience a subtle shift in character development that fits the shorter length of this story, which left this reader with a lovely sense of satisfaction.
I’ve enjoyed seeing Montrose’s development as a writer through this series and look forward to more from her in the future, both in additional contemporary stories and the paranormal series she is currently working on.