On Hart's Boardwalk
Samantha Young returns to one of her most beloved couples, Nate and Liv of Before Jamaica Lane, and dares to ask: what happens after happily ever after proves a little less charming than you thought it would be?
Ten years after their marriage and fourteen after becoming a couple, Nate and Olivia “Liv” Sawyer have two daughters, two busy careers, a nice house in the suburbs…and a somewhat dull, yet active sex life. Liv misses their spontaneous sexual acts and the physical affection. To make matters worse, the family is changing as her daughters age, and as she reaches for Nate she worries his affection for her is waning.
Nate recognizes that things are different now, too; no more spontaneous morning quickies, and no alone-time. He’s been gradually less affectionate since his childhood friend, Peetie, died in a car crash, an event that’s made him more withdrawn and thoughtful, and pulled him away from Liv. She worries he’s cheating. He’s angry she’s not supportive. They have a screaming fight until the kids break it up.
Everyone else in their circle of friends notices the tension. As a fortieth birthday gift to Liv, they’re booked on a trip to peaceful Hartwell, Delaware where they’ll hopefully resuscitate their spark. Inspired by the magic of its historic Hart’s Boardwalk – a place where local legend says if two people walk over its planks and they’re truly in love then they’ll stay together forever – the two begin to find one another once again.
The new setting seems to agree with them as they begin to engage in acts of bonding both daring and sweet – running naked into the icy ocean, learning new secrets about one another, and roleplay-related sex. But will the thrill last after the trip?
This is one of those books that simply doesn’t work when divorced from the context of its series. I came to On Hart’s Boardwalk without having read Before Jamaica Lane first, and in doing so felt like I was missing out on a lot. There are plenty of cameos, awkwardly introduced and done away with, and because of this, fans of both series might enjoy the proceedings more than I did. But walking in blind, I found the characters and their relationship to be unappealing, even though the smokiness of their physical chemistry made sense.
On Hart’s Boardwalk is brutally realistic about what it’s like being married for ten years and dealing with middle age head-on. Watching two people bellow at one another and threaten divorce is brutal to read about, but it isn’t romantic. Liv comes off as a selfish, whiny cliché who wants her husband to talk about his feelings; Nate is one of Those Alphas, who blames his wife when he doesn’t feel emotionally supported and tells her he’ll spank her if she calls herself ugly. I warmed up to them by the middle of the book when they started to soften up toward one another, and it was charming to hear about how they’d positively changed one another over the years, but that brutal beginning makes it hard to invest in their romance.
And it’s a shame, because the last half of the novella is a very nice exploration of both their romance and the connection that has kept it alive and stable for so long. But the short length doesn’t give the characters time to earn this, leaving the experience of reading it a frustrating and unfulfilling one.