I just finished reading Secondhand Heart by Kristen Strassel, and I found it sexy, surprising, and touching. It got me right in the feels.
I took a liking to the main character, Daisy, right off the bat. She’s got a great attitude with just the right touch of snark. She’s not afraid to say “fuck” when she wants to, and she’ll get right up in someone’s face when they need to be put in their place. I also felt bad for her, learning early on that she’d recently lost her husband and was overwhelmed by the pity and pampering everyone was directing at her when she really just needed some time alone. I also found it refreshing that Daisy wasn’t your “typical” romance novel heroine. I’ve read a number of romance novels lately where the main character has a perfect body, perfect hair, and is generally unattainable in every way. It usually makes me feel like the author is trying to write an idealized version of reality in order to fulfill some fantasy. Daisy, on the other hand, refers to herself as “chubby” in the opening chapter, and throughout she comes off as a more realistic, ordinary woman. She struggles with her body image throughout the story. I found this easier to relate to as a reader.
I lost some of that relatability when the male love interest, Cam, was first introduced. He’s immediately described with a focus on his unattainable hotness:
“The faded denim made his thighs look amazing. Who the hell checked out thighs? Well, if you saw these thighs, they were worth checking out. On The Spotlight, Cam had been an overgrown, almost goofy kid, playing a role. Doing what he was told. Now, on this tiny stage just feet away from us in this club, it was obvious he was all man. All smoking hot man.”
This seems to be a common, and in my opinion overused, romance novel trope. Even though the female lead is an ordinary woman, her love interest is “smoking hot” and the initial attraction is all physical (combined with the fact that he’s a somewhat famous musician, and wealthy enough to own his own bar/nightclub). As a male reader, I get a bit uncomfortable reading such a description, because it makes me feel like these stories set an unrealistic standard for male beauty. I tend to hear people complain more about unrealistic media portrayals of female beauty, but it happens with men too. It made me wonder whether Cam would turn out to have other, more worthwhile character traits to explain Daisy’s interest in him (intelligence, personality, a sense of humor, kindness, etc.). These things didn’t factor into the initial attraction, so I made a point to watch carefully as I read on to see if they’d come up later on.
By about halfway through the book, it seemed like the entire basis of Daisy and Cam’s relationship was their sexual attraction to each other. Daisy even acknowledges this at one point when she says, “But everything with us is about sex.” The fact that she acknowledged it made me pay even more attention to the development of the relationship. Between the earlier focus on physical attraction and the later development of their sexual relationship, I was curious to see if there would ever turn out to be something more between them, something emotional and serious and worth building a long-term relationship off of. Most of the second half of the book focused really well on addressing these issues, and Cam started to develop a lot of depth. It was enough that by the end of the book, I was thinking of him more as a kind, caring, chivalrous kind of guy, rather than a rich piece of man-candy. I still couldn’t relate to him in many ways, but I did end up liking him by the end.
A secondary plot in the book followed the main character’s sister, Ev. Ev is pregnant and about to get married, and there’s some hints of jealousy between her and Daisy. This leads to some conflict between the sisters that adds more tension to the main Daisy/Cam relationship, though on one level it was underutilized. This is because Ev’s fiancé, Roger, is almost never seen. He’s referred to regularly, and Daisy always describes him in unflattering ways, but the reader doesn’t get to meet him. As a result, I could never quite tell if Roger was actually a jerk, or if Daisy was being too hard on him because of her own biases. He finally appears on the page during a tense high point in the story, a moment charged with a lot of emotion. But it was hard to connect with Roger in that moment, because it was the first I’d seen of his character. Roger actually ends up being the catalyst of a key turning point in the story, but at the same time, I felt like I never got to know him. I would have liked to see more done with his character, considering how crucial Ev was to the story and how big of an impact this turning point has on the final chapters of the book.
Aside from the story and the romantic relationship itself, I also considered the overall writing style. The prose and the voice of the main character were very strong. Daisy has a lot of sass, and her voice in the story comes off as very genuine and down-to-earth. The only issues I had with the writing itself were 1) A handful of typos and formatting errors that cropped up every other chapter and 2) Not enough use of “he said/she said” dialogue tags to make the speaker clear (80% of the time, context clues indicated who was speaking, but there were plenty of times I got lost and wasn’t sure who the speaker was). These issues didn’t detract from the story, but they were a bit distracting. Which is a pity, because it’s a beautiful story, with amazing characters and some twists that you will never see coming.
If you like romance, country music, and down-to-earth girls who know how to live life the way it should be lived, I definitely recommend Secondhand Heart. It’s on Amazon in ebook and paperback, and you can find it on Goodreads.
You can find Secondhand Heart on Amazon.com, along with Kristen’s other books, Because the Night, Night Moves, and Seasons in the Sun.