Spring Into Fresh Start Romances

Join These Characters Finding and Rediscovering Themselves

Yay for spring! The season of fresh starts, flowers, rebirth, and pretty colors. A time to bloom, grow, and shine. So we thought we’d highlight some of our favorite books featuring fresh starts or characters who reinvent themselves in one way or another. 

What are your fresh-start recommendations? We’d love to hear them!

For more reviews, please visit our Reviews page and find your next read. 

Ziggy is the youngest in her family, youngest on the USWNT, and tired of her teammates and family treating her like a baby. She’s ready to kick ass on the field and in life, and to graduate from the kids’ table at family get-togethers. Sebastian is her brother’s self-destructive best friend and hockey star who desperately needs a reputation rebuild to keep his sponsors and his job.

So Ziggy needs some edge, Sebastian needs a reboot, and the duo decides to fake a friendship, redefine themselves, and get the type of exposure each wants. From the start, they both want more but won’t give in; Sebastian knows he needs to get himself together and Ziggy knows she can’t push him too hard.

This story is the sweetest! Sebastian is a priceless gem and Ziggy is pretty cool too. I loved seeing a tall, athletic, and determined heroine, and watching Sebastian grow into an amazing person. There’s not a ton of emphasis on Ziggy’s soccer career; a game or two, and references to her travel and practice schedule, but not getting into the weeds. The Bergman family is lovely—just so many great people!

P.S. No super annoying third-act breakup. Woohoo!

Rating: 5
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Slow Burn, Athletes/Sports, Fake Relationship, Friends to Lovers, Opposites Attract
Pair With: Wines that sponsor women’s soccer and other women’s sports. Consider Jacob’s Creek, which sponsored the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

This book was wild!

Kacey is an absolute wreck. After being in a car accident that killed her parents and her boyfriend, her life spirals downward and she cares about almost nothing. Until her creepy uncle goes after her little sister, who’s still in high school. So they get out of Michigan as fast as they can and escape to Miami to start a new chapter.

They end up in a slightly sketchy apartment with mysterious and sexy neighbor Trent on one side, and kind single mom Storm on the other. Kacey’s heart is closed to love, but she can’t seem to shake Trent or keep herself from letting him in. Their relationship wasn’t your typical romance–there’s definite tension, some awkwardness, rocky moments, and something (or many things) unsaid between them. Until everything hits the fan…

Ten Tiny Breaths was riveting from the start. Even if I didn’t love every moment of it, I was feeling something the entire time. There’s a lot more to every character than meets the eye, and nothing is surface-level. Kacey has some major demons, as does Trent, and every character has something meaningful to add.

Rating: 4
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Fresh Start, Escape, Proximity, Found Family, Secrets, PTSD/Trauma
Pair With: Miami club drinks

Seeking escape and freedom, Raff and Penn find it . . . with each other on this medieval road trip romance.

In 1360 England, Penn and Lily’s powerful families are forcing a marriage neither wants. Penn finds a way to escape the keep into the nearby woods, and of course the woods soon swarm with people looking for him. Lily’s brother Raff, who’s known for tracking and survival abilities, is among them. And he finds him, but mistakes him as a servant. Penn, who also has no idea who Raff is, and begs him to take him along to freedom and find him work somewhere else.

Each had been seeking freedom and solitude, but start realizing it’s easy to be around each other. And each is hoping the other feels the same way, but there’s much uncertainty and doubt. Yes, this part of the story can get a little slow, but these characters needed the time and pages for the relationship to really build and grow. The journey illustrates the growing tenderness, depth of feelings, and personalities to shine. 

One Night in Hartswood kept my attention—the combination of the characters’ sweetness, guessing when and how the secrets would come out, and wondering how the author would resolve all the conflicts really worked. The resolution was clever, though following these two genuinely good people and seeing them end up happy was the best reward!

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Secret Identity, LGBTQ+, Road Trip, Forbidden Love
Pair With: Wines from Seneca Shore Wine Cellars, Medieval Wines of the Finger Lakes

Lou is trying to rebuild her confidence after her divorce from her gaslighting ex-husband, Phil, and trying to support her middle school daughter, Edie, through it all. She jumps at the opportunity to chaperone Edie’s summer music camp in Italy, and it doesn’t hurt that Edie’s sweet and sexy music teacher will be there. Nick was a child music prodigy who endured a lot of emotional trauma and now spends his days teaching kids to play beautifully and believe in themselves. Now everyone’s in Italy and there are lots of feelings going around…

You can feel the tension and pull between Lou and Nick from the beginning, get lost in the stunning backdrop of Lake Garda, join the characters in growing together, and enjoy everything that blossoms in this book. They are both lovely people struggling to jump over the hurdles in their lives and helping each other along the way. Nick might be one of my new favorite book boyfriends—he’s so sweet, loving, sensitive, kind, and has the hot teacher vibe down pat!

Lou and Nick’s biggest roadblock is their struggles with confidence. Lou’s ex-husband spent twelve years systematically undermining her self-worth, so it’s taking a LOT for her to move past it. She wonders how such a sexy, talented, younger man like Nick could have true feelings for her.

Nick grew up with parents constantly fighting over his music and his massive stage fright issues, kids mercilessly bullying him, and a huge meltdown that ended his stage career: he wonders how someone as beautiful and dynamic as Lou wants to be with him. 

Even though you want to punch Phil just about every time he appears on the page and you want to tell Lou to get over the hold he has on her, the good parts are so good, the character growth is fun to see, and Edie is a sweet and wise-beyond-her-years character. The ending is perfect.

Rating: 5
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: New Beginning, Fresh Start, Travel, Italy, Forbidden Love, Teacher-Parent, Divorcee, Single Parent
Pair With: Lake Garda, Italy wine.

Spoiled L.A. influencer Piper pulls one shenanigan too many, and gets herself shipped off to a Washington fishing village to learn some responsibility and discover her roots. Where she meets hot, salt-of-the-earth sea captain Brendan. There’s some initial hate and suspicion, but that quickly melts into attraction and maybe even love? 

Piper finds ways to fit into the village and generate goodwill wherever she goes, even if she doesn’t truly believe it. Brendan wakes up from a fog and discovers Piper just might be the woman of his dreams. The scenes are hot, and the side characters really add to the story. It Happened One Summer pulls their two worlds together masterfully, lets the characters exorcise some demons, and leaves room for some laughs too! Highly recommend. 

Rating: 5
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Opposites Attract, Small Town, City Woman v. Small-Town Man, Fresh Start, Widower
Pair With: Washington wines

Tough-as-nails lawyer Louisa spends her life working and stressing at a good old boys’ law firm that’s never going to acknowledge her worth, and she’s finally had it. The final straw comes while she’s actually trying to enjoy a break at a local Renaissance faire. Luckily, her sweet cousin introduces her to the faire’s fantastic traveling band, the Dueling Kilts, and they welcome Louisa—now Lulu—her into their lives and let her tag along for a little while.

Dex is the playboy of the band who has a different woman at every stop and doesn’t take love seriously. He notices that Lulu’s different from the women he knows, most of all because she’s not falling for his charms and has clearly friend-zoned him. Or has she?

As they’re cooped up together, Lulu sees parts of Dex he hides from the world and realizes there’s more to him than a happy-go-lucky hottie. And why not have a summer traveling fling with a hottie she’s also starting to like?

This book was super cute and lots of fun! I liked it way more than I thought I would, and loved the Renaissance faire settings and all the characters. The author revealed bits of Dex and Lulu at a time and let us get to know them as they were getting to know each other. Type-A Lulu adapted to the faire scene and found a niche for her skills and personality, and Dex really came alive with Lulu and the rest of the group as the summer went on.

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Opposites Attract, Proximity, Musician, Road Trip
Pair With: Renaissance Faire fare. Consider Renaissance Vineyard and Winery.

Cass has nothing going in her life but a boring job and terrible love life, so when she learns she’s inherited her estranged and presumed-dead dad’s yacht in Panama, she takes off with little hesitation. She quickly finds out that dear old dad left her with a steep marina bill she has no money to pay.

Archer likes his small-town life in the Canadian Rockies, but when he visits Panama, he’s surprised to find he likes the tropics even more. He wants to stay longer but has to find the money to extend his adventure.

Thus, a plan is hatched, with Cass and Archer starting a charter business to take tourists around the beautiful islands and reefs. They agree to keep it professional; he’s not looking for a relationship and she’s been burned too many times. . . .

Shelter by the Sea is a fun, breezy read with likeable characters and a laid-back vibe. The idyllic tropical setting dominates the book, in a good way, and made me daydream about escaping to a quiet life in the tropics working on a boat all day. Cass and Archer’s attraction is instant, though they try to keep it at bay, and it’s fun (most of the time) to watch their relationship with each other and their surroundings develop. There were some frustrating points with Cass’s indecision and fear of being left again, but overall a really nice story in a captivating setting that makes me smile when I remember reading it.

Rating: 3.8
Steam: Medium
Tropes: Proximity, Instant Attraction, Business Relationship, Tropical Setting
Pair With: Your favorite tropical drinks or a light summer white or rosé.

I liked this so much more than I thought I would! I was prepared for a stereotypical small-town, grumpy-sunshine romance, but there were plenty of quirks and fun storylines that made What Happens at the Lake unique.

Smart and successful pharma researcher Josie needs an escape after a mental breakdown, and what better place than her inherited house in “America’s Friendliest Town”? And everyone is so friendly to her except broody next-door neighbor Fox, who’s a walking contradiction. He’s rude and glowering, yet goes out of his way to help Josie with her renovation projects and is the local hero to a bunch of kids.

The characters are so endearing, and not just Josie and Fox. The town’s residents are sweet and classically gossipy (here’s where the small-town stereotypes come in) in such a fun way—almost never mean-spirited. Josie and Fox’s pain comes from legitimate and heartbreaking places, and are not your stereotypical problems, but together maybe they get a fresh start and a chance at true love. They keep getting closer to breaking through, but there’s always something in the way. BTW, great chemistry too and some definite spice.

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Small Town, Grumpy/Sunshine, Opposites Attract, Fresh Start
Pair With: Laurel Mountain wines.

Sasha and Finn, two strangers suffering from massive burnout at their jobs, find themselves thrown together at a crumbling British seaside hotel. Both recall its grandeur from their childhoods and decide it might be the best place to take a break, find some peace, and enjoy the nostalgia.

Only Sasha finds Finn rude and off-putting while he finds her high-maintenance and snotty. What a beginning . . . but they start finding strange messages on the beach and unwittingly puzzle them out together. The more they’re together, the more they are forced to question their assumptions and confront their feelings for each other and what they want out of their lives.

So many things to say about The Burnout. First, it was hilarious. Sophie Kinsella has such a witty and fun sense of humor, and I found myself laughing and often reliving certain situations, and picturing them perfectly. From Sasha running away from the nun and the god-awful happiness committee woman from her job to the embarrassing scene in the food shop (you’ll just have to read), this book had so many funny moments.

Second, the characters were such fun even if a bit ridiculous. The personality and banter among all of the characters—hotel staff, other guests, the surf instructor—kept the book light but also provided enough that you felt like you really knew them and you’d definitely want to stay at this hotel.

Third, it was off-balance for me in terms of focusing too much on one character, Sasha. There’s just not enough insight into Finn. Part of that is the natural effect of single-perspective first person. Everything is from Sasha’s point of view and there’s little effort to really understand where Finn is coming from, how he feels, what’s going on with him. The author could have developed his character more and made it a richer story, but I really can’t complain too much.

Rating: 4
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Questioning Assumptions, Corporate Burnout, Proximity, Escape, Fresh Start
Pair With: Champagne on the beach (even in winter in England…). Check out Bubble & Flute’s post about top beach champagnes.

Pieces of Us is a fun, easy book where you really like the main characters and the annoying ones don’t overshadow or hijack the whole story. Autumn needs an escape from NYC and a fresh start after a nasty divorce (where her dad is still on her ex-husband’s side). What better place than the small-town California pier she bought online on a drunken whim?

So off she goes to the west coast, and immediately runs into whale boat captain Griff. He’s romance-book hotness personified–tall, built, strong, outdoorsy, kind, thoughtful, loving, tortured–everything a gruff romantic hero should be. Autumn is smart, tough, beautiful, kind, loving, a great businessperson–everything a modern woman might be. They click instantly, but she’s in no place for a relationship after her failed marriage and he has his baggage too.

They agree to just be casual friends with benefits, but soon realize there’s way more to it than that. They way they grow and come together is lovely, the small ocean town idyllic. The other characters a bit Hallmarky, but there’s definitely too much spice for Hallmark!

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Fresh Start, Small Town, Divorce, Friends-ish to Lovers, Instant Attraction
Pair With: California Coastal Wines

Antonia needs to get away from her meddling family and ex-fiancé, so why not take the honeymoon in Ireland by herself, catch her breath, and start again?

Aiden’s still licking his wounds from a failed relationship and needs some time and space to work on a presentation and get closer to securing tenure. So they each end up in the quiet village of Tully Cross, and all plans go out the window.

The beginning was a little slow, with the prior relationships dragging for longer than necessary—enough of Antonia’s jerk ex-fiancé and Aiden’s snotty ex-girlfriend already! But then come the meet-cute scenes (love!) at the grocery store, pub and cottages. My favorite? The way they fell into a sweet affection once they realized they liked each other. Also, the relationship wasn’t perfect but in a non-annoying way—Antonia and Aiden are together and happy, but also have normal-person arguments and legit issues they need to work through. And the end? Perfect!

Rating: 4
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Escape/Fresh Start, Proximity, Solo Honeymoon, Small Village, Cheating Ex, Limited Time Frame
Pair With: Irish whiskey or beer

If you want two people needing a fresh start in an historical romance, and a lot of spice, look no further than Charlotte (Lottie) and Nick in Lisa Kleypas’ Worth Any Price. Charlotte’s been hiding for years as a servant to avoid her family selling her off to a creepy child-molester earl. Said child-molester hired Bow Street Runner (and former criminal) Nick to track her down and bring her back.

But when Nick finds her, the bad boy can’t stay away from her and can’t explain it—he only knows she’s his and he’s never letting her go. Suddenly, they’re married and it’s a whole new world, especially when Nick learns he’s going from criminal to detective to viscount. Fresh start indeed.

Worth Any Price is a spicy, sexy, sensual book, plus so much more. They’re hot for each other from the start and there’s a little of everything in the bedroom, but the depth of feelings and the characters’ growth brings so much more. They stick with each other and support each other in so many unexpected ways. I read this a while ago, but just thinking about it makes me want to dive right back in.

Rating: 4.4
Steam: High
Themes and Tropes: Fresh Start, Reinvention, Forced(ish) Marriage, Opposites Attract
Pair With: Regency Wine

Such a powerful, beautifully written masterpiece! Soledad thinks she has it all: three amazing daughters, a lovely home, devoted friends, and…a monster for a husband. When the FBI raids their home and she learns how much the dirtbag embezzled (and then discovers he’s also cheating on her), her world completely crashes, and this stay-at-home mom has to figure life out FAST.

Luckily she can count on herself and her friends, if not her husband. And the unlikeliest of people shows up for her—the man who investigated her now ex-husband and uncovered his trail of theft. She can’t deny her attraction to him, and everything he does screams “keeper,” but she absolutely cannot trust her own judgment anymore after being blindsided in her marriage. Plus, how can her daughters handle seeing her with the man who sent their dad to prison? And she needs independence, not another man.

Watching Soledad’s strength, determination, and courage as she finds her way and pushes through really captivated me. She hustles her butt off finding creative ways to give her daughters the support and love they need, and keep a roof over their heads. She discovers she’s so much more than her ex-husband gave her credit for.

She also finds she’s ready for love again, and maybe she can find it with Judah. Who is LOVELY. Is there a better man? I’m not sure. He’s raising two autistic sons and co-parenting with his equally lovely ex-wife in the most loving and thoughtful way. He doesn’t seem to have a selfish bone in his body, showing up over and over again for his kids and for Soledad. I just adore them together!

Side note: Huge lesson on never being dependent on a man (or anyone) when it could all disappear in a heartbeat no matter how secure you think you are.

There’s so much more to this book than the love story, and all of it is amazing.

Rating: 5
Steam: Low
Themes and Tropes: Divorce, Coparenting, Neurodivergence/Autism, Forbidden(ish) Love, Slow Burn, Friendship, Independence
Pair With: Wines that support people with disabilities including autism

All Emmy Ryder wanted was to get out of small-town Meadowlark, Wyoming. She went off to college and became a champion barrel-racer, but now she’s back and it feels . . . right? No one knows about the horrific fall that brought her back home and is keeping her from even getting on a horse again, and she’d like to keep it that way. She’s ready for a fresh start at home of all places. 

Former troublemaker Luke Brooks finally got his act together, running his own bar, working at the Ryder family’s ranch, and giving riding lessons. But then he sees Emmy—his best friend’s little sister—walk into his bar and his world is thrown. Luke grew up with an abusive family and found love and support he from Emmy’s—he’d never want to hurt them.

Luke and Emmy find themselves together on the ranch and start putting each other back together, finding friendship and maybe more.

Done and Dusted is a beautiful combination of friendship, attraction, and love. Luke remembers Emmy as nothing more than his (very overprotective) best friend’s sister, but now sees her in a different light—beautiful and sexy but also someone he cares deeply about and wants to know better, to protect, to comfort. He supports her and gets her past her fears, puts a smile on her face, and shows her genuine comfort and love.

Emmy also sees Luke as more than a troublemaker and player, but a devoted friend and a soul hurting from years of trauma. It’s lovely to watch their relationship develop; they’re friends first, battling the attraction they feel until they can’t resist anymore (and that is a fabulous scene). The spice is maybe gratuitous in parts but lots of like that. Overall, it’s a fun read and a beautiful story of two people lifting each other up and finding their way together. You feel the heat and tension, but also the underlying love and respect.

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium to High
Themes and Tropes: Small Town, Best Friend’s Sibling, Cowboy/Cowgirl, Western/Ranch, Fresh Start
Pair With: What you’d find in a dive bar

In Something Wild and Wonderful, Alexei and Ben find themselves hiking the Pacific Crest Trail—an exhausting feat that will take them over 2,500 miles and months to accomplish—each for different reasons. Quiet and awkward Alexei was disowned by his religious and conservative parents for being gay, and seeks to reboot his life and figure out what to do with it. Charming and outgoing Ben is tired of making bad decisions and choosing men who stomp all over him, and wants to clear his mind and convince himself he can accomplish this feat.

Something sparks in them from the beginning, but neither knows what to do and each has so much to work out. But what matters is how they make each other feel, lean on each other, believe in each other, and love each other through it all.

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: LGBTQ+, Coming Out, Close Proximity, Friends to Lovers, Traveling in Nature, Autism
Pair with: Beer and peach margaritas; Consider wines from Rock Point, which apparently donates a portion of sales during certain months to the Pacific Crest Trail Association.