The Road to Rose Bend by Naima Simone
April 27, 2021, by HQN Books
Review by Melanie
You might suspect, upon glancing at this rather bucolic cover, that this is a quiet, peaceful, drama-free romance…and you’d be wrong. This series starter introduces us to the town of Rose Bend, a charming little town nestled in the Berkshires that has all of the small-town coziness of a Hallmark Channel movie. But that’s really where the similarities end. Unlike the aforementioned Hallmark movies, this book is chock full of drama, sex, and painful backstories for both the male and female main characters.
One of the things I really appreciated about this book is the fact that each chapter had an alternating POV so as a reader, we were able to get inside both of these characters’ heads. This was especially helpful because both Sidney and Coltrane are messy, with incredibly painful pasts and having some insight into their thoughts was a good way to track their character growth.
Sidney is recently divorced and pregnant, the result of an ill-fated one-night stand with her ex-husband. I really liked that the divorce wasn’t because of some cheating drama or that he physically abused her. No, she married young and realizes as she grows into her identity that somehow, she’s lost who she is in the marriage. Stuck in a marriage that increasingly feels devoid of love, she divorces her husband and finding herself single and pregnant, returns to her hometown after a 8 year absence. She’s got a very difficult relationship with her parents, much of it related to her sister who died years ago from cancer. I really liked Sidney’s story although I will say that some of the resolution at the end felt a little too hasty to me. But more on that later.
Coltrane has an even more difficult and heartbreaking backstory. He unexpectedly lost his wife and baby in childbirth two years ago. After contemplating ending his life, he has thrown himself into his career, which includes a law practice and being the first Latino mayor of Rose Bend, in an effort to distract himself from the emotional trauma of his loss. Cole’s pain is a living, breathing thing, and watching him navigate his feelings of loss and guilt and try to balance it with his burgeoning feelings of lust and attraction for Sidney are done really, really well. One of the things I really loved about his particular storyline was also his relationship to his family. Unlike Sidney, who has a very shaky relationship with her parents, Cole’s family is tight knit, his siblings and adopted parents are a supportive force in his life and his late wife’s parents also continue to be a presence in his life. I loved the family aspect of this a lot because it was critical to Cole working through his pain and grief and learning to let go and love again.
If I have any complaints about the book, it has to do with the end of the book. It just really felt very abrupt to me after the dark moment. First of all, part of the dark moment involved Sidney’s ex husband and while I don’t want to give it all away, I will say that the resolution of that storyline felt very sudden and almost anticlimactic. Secondly, the big dark moment between Sidney and Cole also felt like it deserved more time on the page. 5 days had passed between their big fight and the grand gesture scene and overall, that felt really rushed to me. I do also think that this book would have benefitted greatly from an epilogue. Epilogues aren’t a must have for me but in this particular book, Cole spends much of the time trying to avoid falling in love, both with Sidney and her unborn baby, due to his personal losses. I think I would have liked to have seen a down the road scene where Cole finally has the family he was too scared to reach for. As this is a series starter, I do hope the next one in the series, which features Cole’s brother, gives us a glimpse into Sidney and Cole’s HEA.
Aside from the rushed ending, I did enjoy this book a lot – the characters were endearing and the side characters were mostly all wonderful. And despite what the cover may indicate, the book also featured some high heat, which is pretty typical for a Naima Simone book. If you’re into small town romances with some sexy times and drama thrown in, this book would totally fit the bill.
Final Grade – B+
Content Warnings: off page death of hero’s parents in a car accident, off page death of family member to cancer, loss of wife and child at childbirth, racism, mean girl bullying, suicidal ideation