Review – Love After All (Hope #4) by Jaci Burton

love after all by jaci burtonPublisher: Jove
Publish date: March 31, 2015 (TODAY)
Reviewed by: Marlene
How I got this book: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

High school math teacher Chelsea Gardner has the perfect plan. She’s tired of dating all the wrong men, and after years of frustration, she’s developed a foolproof list of requirements for finding “The One.”

Bar owner Sebastian “Bash” Palmer finds Chelsea beautiful, smart and fun, but he thinks her list is ridiculous and unnecessary. Intent on proving Chelsea is looking for love in all the wrong ways, he offers to help her find the “perfect” man.

Chelsea knows Bash isn’t the right guy for her—he barely meets one of her criteria—but there’s something about the charismatic man that has her yearning for things that are most definitely not list approved.

Because sometimes, a relationship that looks totally wrong on paper can turn out incredibly right…
*Blurb taken from Goodreads

Love After All explores three fairly common romance tropes in an interesting story involving characters with a lot of heart.

OK, so it’s obvious I liked it, but what is it?

The title “Love After All” fits to a T (also the tees that the hero frequently wears fit pretty awesomely too). This is combination of the “sex into romance” trope and the “friends into lovers” trope rolled into one.

Chelsea Gardner is a high school math teacher, and has been for about ten years. She’s excellent at her job and loves it. She’s also built a good life for herself in Hope with her friends as he support network. But her friends have been busy finding their happily ever afters, Jane with Will in Hope Smolders, Emma and Luke in Hope Flames (reviewed here), and Molly and Carter in Hope Burns (reviewed here). Chelsea is oh-so-happy for her friends, but she wants that same kind of happiness for herself.

And the guys she’s been dating have not so much been losers as just not right for her. So she decides to make a list of the qualities she needs in a perfect man. Of course everyone tells her that there is no such thing as a “perfect man”. (There’s no such thing as a perfect woman either, but that doesn’t need to be on Chelsea’s list.)

Unfortunately for Chelsea, the man who sets her heart (and other parts) fluttering gets absolutely no points on her “perfect” list. Bash Palmer owns the local bar, No Hope at All. He loves teasing Chelsea, but is completely aware that Chelsea is looking for a relationship, and he’s only interested in casual flings. But since he and Chelsea are part of the same circle of friends, they keep circling around each other. And even though Bash knows about, and teases Chelsea about, her infamous list, he can’t resist playing with fire.

They drive each other crazy. Chelsea wants Bash, but knows he isn’t into  anything except owning his bar for the long haul. Bash wants Chelsea, but knows that he isn’t what she’s looking for in the long term, and he isn’t interested in the long term.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Bash. He’s just not the suit-wearing, non-sports-loving, fancy restaurant liking, non-camping guy with a 9-to-5 job that Chelsea thinks she wants. But she doesn’t feel any sparks when she dates some perfectly nice guys who fit her list to a T.

She decides that her off-the-charts chemistry with Bash is responsible for her inability to click with anyone else. So she works her way around to another trope that has an interesting way of starting a romance – she thinks that if they have sex and “get it out of their systems” she’ll be able to move on to someone who will be perfect for her.

The only problem is that that particular idea never works. You can’t unring that bell, you can’t un-know what you know. And what Chelsea and Bash discover is that the sex is pretty much perfect.

They can’t get enough of each other. Even more, they can’t get over each other. So Bash offers something that he swore he’d never do again. He asks Chelsea to try this dating thing that they keep avoiding. And it’s all fantastic. They have a terrific time together, both in and out of the sack. It’s all fantastic, until they make the marvelous mistake of falling in love with each other. Then they nearly throw it all away.

While I talked about three tropes at the beginning, these particular storylines are used frequently and for a reason – done well, they make a terrific love story. They work pretty darn well in Love After All.

Unlike the previous book, I did not want to shake Chelsea until her teeth rattled. While the things on her list may sound superficial, Chelsea herself isn’t. She’s not a 20-year-old making a list with no basis in reality – she’s a woman in her early 30s who has figured out what does and doesn’t work for her. She also happens to be naturally inclined to make lists. I can see where she’s coming from, even if I personally find her method a little odd.

And she’s right about Bash at the beginning, in a pretty important way. Bash has only had casual relationships, but LOTS of them, for quite a long time. He was married and divorced pretty young. It was a mistake that he refuses to repeat, so he always keeps things casual.

Whatever one may think of the items on Chelsea’s list, she is self-aware enough to know that she is looking for a relationship and not casual sex. Bash hasn’t done anything except casual sex in years. He’s a terrific guy, and a good friend, but he’s been pretty clear that he isn’t relationship material.

Everything changes when one of his exes stomps into the bar and hands him a chihuahua. The human bitch only got the dog to impress Bash. Now that he’s out of her picture, she wants shed of the dog, and drops poor Lulu in Bash’s lap – almost literally. He renames the poor little thing Lou and gives her a home. Surprising both himself and Chelsea. He may have thought of himself with a dog, but always something big. Lou is a little tiny thing who thrives under Bash’s care. She thinks she’s a big dog and she’s adorable.

The more Bash falls in love with the dog, the more that Chelsea sees that there is a LOT more to Bash than she thought.

In addition to the romance, one of the great features of this story, and the Hope series, is the way that it focuses on women’s friendships. It’s not just that it is great to see what the characters from the other books are doing, but these women love and take care of each other, have fun together and support each other and occasionally give one another a kick in the pants when it’s needed.
In the end, I liked Love After All better than either Hope Ignites (reviewed here) or Hope Burns, but not quite as much as the first book in the series, Hope Flames.

I give Love After All a very solid and enjoyable B.

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