Book Review: Home at Summer’s End by Alys Murray

Book Review: Home at Summer's End by Alys Murray

Home at Summer's End by Alys MurrayTitle: Home at Summer’s End

Author: Alys Murray

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication date: October 15, 2020

Genre: Romance

One Sentence Summary: Fake relationships never work out the way they’re supposed to, but local beauty Rose and actor Cole are determined to do it right and not fall in love.

Well, I did it again and didn’t start with the first book. Though, with a book series like this, it isn’t strictly necessary to read them in order; they’re more or less standalones, though it’s still nice to know the background on the surrounding characters. In this case, Home at Summer’s End is the last book of the Full Bloom Farm quartet. But I really wanted to read it because I found myself in Rose just from the book description. While I would have liked to have gotten to know her sisters and friend via the first three books, I can’t say I was disappointed because Rose and Cole just drew me in.

The Plot: A Beautiful Fake Relationship

Rose Anderson is the oldest Anderson girl. As Hillsboro, California’s resident nice girl, she’s a romantic at heart who has been hurt by love, but that doesn’t stop everyone in her life from believing she won’t be fully happy without a man in her life. Cole McKittrick just quit a popular TV series and his Hollywood perfect girlfriend just dumped him, so he’s glad for the escape to small town Hillsboro, where he starts filming an upcoming romantic movie in two weeks. The only problem is, he has no idea how to be a romantic lead, so a friend from Hollywood, who just happens to be Rose’s matchmaking best friend, sets him and Rose up.

The rules are simple: they’ll pretend to be in a relationship (with some strict ground rules) so Rose can get everyone out of her hair and Cole can get his ex-girlfriend back. It makes perfect sense to both of them since Rose will also be helping to mold Cole into the perfect romantic lead and teaching him all about romance. There’s no way this could go wrong. After all, the rules are rigid.

Home at Summer’s End is such a sweet romance. Not light and fluffy, not trope-y, not cute. Just sweet. Since Rose is an avid romance reader, she knows all about how fake relationships never, ever work out, so does her best to make sure hers is a success. I loved that the typical romance tropes were addressed throughout the novel and how hard Rose struggled to make sure they didn’t fall into any of the normal traps.

It follows the standard pattern in a romance novel, but never shies away from casually dropping in how this is supposed to happen at this point in a relationship and that could never happen because this wasn’t a romance novel. It somehow managed to transplant me as a reader from the pages of a book into the lives of two very real people. Written with a light, deft hand, Home at Summer’s End managed to avoid everything I hate in romance novels (the formula, the tropes) and present a very sweet, very clean story about a couple who know they’re not allowed to fall in love. The only quibble I had was that Rose’s reason for everything felt a little weak and she blew up a little too much at the end (when things typically go south), otherwise I really enjoyed most of this book.

The Characters: The Sweetest Couple, and a Loving Family

Rose is the entire reason why I wanted to read Home at Summer’s End. She’s the nice one who is the only one not bothered by her single status. She has an amazingly loving, if amazingly meddlesome, family, but loves them anyways. Though she runs the family’s flower shop, she’s a bookworm at heart who has probably read every romance novel and who loves every romantic movie ever filmed. She’s sweet and, as the oldest child, puts everyone else first, but is finally realizing she’s kind of done with that, and this last setup with Cole will be her last. I loved that she’s a romantic at heart, though past hurts have her carefully guarding it.

Cole is a man of two faces. As an actor he presents a carefully cultivated bio and face, one that may or may not be the truth. As a man, he just wants to prove himself while keeping his secrets close to home. He didn’t exactly come off as a swaggering, good looking actor, but that’s what made him charming. He was deeper than his actor persona, and the chapters from his perspective showed his depth and his ever-conflicting feelings about everything. I didn’t find him to be especially swoon-worthy, but he did make me sigh a few times.

And then there’s Rose’s family and her best friend Annie. They’re all cozily paired up and overzealously involved in Rose’s love life, or lack thereof. But they all have hearts of gold and are perfectly charming. If a bit too overly involved. I loved how close they all were, how much they cared about each other and only wanted the best for each other. Annie and Rose’s sisters Harper and May have their own significant others and their romances are hinted at throughout the book, but their stories are the first three in this series.

The Setting: A Small Town in Northern California

Home at Summer’s End takes place in a small town in Northern California. Being from a big city in Southern California, I struggled to believe there could be a small town in California, but thinking of wine country helped. I just replaced the vineyards with Rose’s family’s sprawling flower farm. It was delightful and charming. I liked that it actually didn’t feel particularly Californian, but was geographically placed close enough to Hollywood that it could be believable.

The small town charm is everywhere in this book. Everyone knows everyone else, but there’s still a very secret pie recipe. There are only so many date spots, but Rose and Cole make the most of all of them. It was cute and cozy, though it never felt stifling. I loved that it was small, but there was still breathing space. There were enough eyes looking over Rose and Cole’s shoulders, but it was possible for them to keep secrets close to their chests. Overall, a delightful location.

Overall: A Sweet, Clean Romance

Romance is far from my preferred genre, and I almost passed on this one, but I’m really glad I read it. I just saw so much of myself in Rose. It’s rare for me to find that, so I couldn’t let the opportunity to review this one pass me by. I’m so glad I did because it did its best to turn the typical romance tropes on their heads, and I honestly couldn’t stop reading. Rose and Cole were beautiful and perfect, and I desperately want to reread their story because it was that sweet. Overall, Home at Summer’s End is both probably a fitting end to the series and a really sweet, tender romance that failed to get my eyes rolling at the ridiculousness. While it does fall into the formula, the lines felt a little more blurred and I could almost believe I was reading the story of a real couple. I did like the ending, but, once that last quarter hit, it started to feel too predictable and I felt like I’d been tossed into the romance novel formula, which was a little jarring since the rest of the book had been a dream.

Great if you enjoy: clean romance, nice girl characters, male actor leads, stories with strong family ties, small town settings, fake relationships trope

Not great if you’re looking for: steamy romances, bad boy male leads, strong and sexy females, formulaic romances, typical romance tropes, light and fluffy reads

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups

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Thank you to Netgalley and Bookouture for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Head over to the Bookshelf to check out my reviews of books from the Big 5 and self-published, indie, and small press books.

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