Our Fall book club is here and since our summer book club post, I’ve read so many more small town romance books and book series in my quest to find more books like our beloved Virgin River series, so this season’s book club is filled with goodness!
Virgin River Season 2
If you, like me, were a fan of the first season of Netflix’s delightfully romantic hit series Virgin River, you’ve no doubt been waiting pretty impatiently for Jack, Mel and our favorite Virgin River inhabitants to return to the small screen for Virgin River season 2. Luckily the streaming service & the official Virgin River Insta account finally announced that Virgin River season 2 will be hitting Netflix on November 27th, 2020, which is just one short month away!
And even though we all have to wait a month to see Virgin River season 2 on our screens, not all hope is lost because not only are there now 21 books in the beloved Virgin River book series for you to enjoy until then, but book 21, Return to Virgin River was recently released by writer Robyn Carr a couple of weeks ago after an 8 year break since she published Book 20. So if you, like me, have read all 20 of the previous Virgin River series books and/or all of Robyn Carr’s other amazing contemporary romance book series like the Thunder Point and Sullivan’s Crossing series, there’s finally some fresh small town romance goodness to devour. Woo hoo! I just finished reading Return to Virgin River last week, and you can read all about what I thought of it below. Spoiler alert: I loved it. Obviously.
Missed any of my previous blog posts about the best books that are like Virgin River? Just click the links below for all of my recommendations and reviews!
But first, if you’re new here or loved the Netflix show and are excited for Virgin River season 2 but have yet to read the Virgin River books, I did an extensive break down of the entire 20 (well now 21) book series on the blog earlier this year so you know what to expect from the books that inspired the show. Summary? It’s amazing. Beyond amazing. I listed my favorite of the now 21 books in the series in that post if you feel like you’re not game for consuming all 21 books, but I’m completely serious when I say that I truly loved them all. The rustic, small town world of Virgin River and its tough, funny, smart, altruistic and totally hunky inhabitants whose page-turning and deliciously steamy love stories fill up these books pretty much saved 2020 for me.
What’s more, if you’re looking for other books and literary worlds to tide you over until Virgin River season 2 hits Netflix in November, you’ll absolutely love Robyn Carr’s Thunder Point series and Sullivan’s Crossing series, which I dedicated two other book club blog posts to so you can hear all about what to expect if you jump into those (linked both of those posts above for you). Both are delightfully similar to the worlds of Virgin River and include everything I loved about that series, with some really fun departures, new characters, twists and turns that make them so much fun and completely romantically fulfilling in their own right. In the blog post that I covered the Sullivan’s Crossing series in, I also included a pretty comprehensive list of other contemporary romance series I’ve loved, not written by Robyn Carr, that are really similar to the Virgin River series. So basically you’ve got plenty of book action to get lost in to forget about the fact that you have to wait a month to binge Virgin River season 2 on Netflix and the general fact that 2020 hasn’t exactly been the coolest year ever.
As mentioned, Robyn Carr did all of us VR fans a huge solid and released a much-hoped-for 21st book in the Virgin River series a couple of weeks ago called Return to Virgin River, which is aptly named because not only has it been 8 years since Carr has released a new Virgin River book, but in the book we really do get to return to the world of Virgin River in the most perfect way, with appearances from so many familiar characters and a whole lot of small town love to fill us all up. Of course, this book focuses on two new central characters/lovebirds and returns to Virgin River several years down the road from where we last left it in book 20, which feels totally appropriate and so fun. Jack, Mel, Preacher and the gang are all a little bit older and their lives evolved, but not so much so that they feel incredibly altered or unfamiliar.
As a VR fan, one of the things that really filled my heart right up about this book is that Carr let’s us all enjoy our favorite seasons in Virgin River throughout the story – fall and the holiday season – so we get the best of that the town has to offer like a Halloween bash, Mel’s yearly assembly of Thanksgiving supply baskets for friends in need and the traditional decoration and lighting of the Virgin River Christmas tree that the whole town comes out to watch. It has exactly the kind of Virgin River magic I’ve missed so much after finishing the first 20 books, and the love story between our two central characters is so sweet. A hefty number of our old Virgin River favorites and lovebirds of Virgin River books past make an appearance (even if it’s brief), so Carr makes sure we know all of the characters we fell in love with over the course of the previous 20 books are still alive, thriving and up to all their old tricks. I don’t want to give anything away about how this new Virgin River story unfolds, so I’ll just leave it at I loved it, I devoured it and it was so fun to get to return once more to my favorite fictional mountain town.
In addition to Return to Virgin River, I’ve burned my way through so many more seriously good romantic books and series that are similar to the Virgin River world, and even stepped out into some other contemporary romance sub-genres that have been a really wild and surprising ride. Below I’m listing all of the books I’ve loved this season that are similar to the Virgin River books, and also given you a peek inside that new contemporary romance sub-genre I accidentally stumbled upon that made me feel like my previous heat meters were way off. Happy romantic reading, friends!
Heat Meter: 🌶🌶🌶
Dialogue: Casual, Realistic, Fun, Funny, Relatable
Characters: Brawny, Complicated Cowboys, Driven, Self-Sufficient, Relatable Women, Fiery Cowgirls, Complicated Matriarchs/Patriarchs & Family Dynamics
Setting: Rural Oregon
Vibe: Cowboys/Cowgirls, Ranching, Complicated/Complex Family Dynamics
I talked all about this series in our Summer Book Club post that included a comprehensive list of some awesome contemporary romance series that are like the Virgin River series, but since that post went up three more Gold Valley books have been released, and I loved them all so I had to list them here! The latest releases that I’ve read since the Summer Book Club post are The Bad Boy of Redemption Ranch, The Hero of Hope Springs and The Last Christmas Cowboy and I loved all three equally!
Two of the things I love most about Maisey Yates’ writing is that her dialogue is always so fun, funny, relatable, realistic and heartfelt and she writes women so honestly, so accurately and so sharply. It’s like all of the women in the Gold Valley series, with all of their varying personalities, backgrounds and emotional complexity, speak to the complexity within all women, which I really love. Each chunk of books in this series has focused on a few different families that ranch and mingle (in the most complicated ways) in the same small Oregon town of Gold Valley, and the latest releases in this series focus on the Daniels family. This family is actually a mashup of siblings, cousins and friends, brought together on Hope Springs Ranch by tragedy in their youth. This entire series is actually a spinoff of another series I absolutely loved by Maisey Yates, the Copper Ridge series, so there’s so much more to love where this came from and I talked all about that series in my Summer Book Club post if you want to know more.
As was the case with the earlier Gold Valley books, I’ve particularly enjoyed the romantic relationships and pairings in this series and these latest releases in the series are no exception – the chemistry between the central characters/lovebirds in each book in this series has been out of this world! And although the romances and the adversity these characters face can be tangled and sometimes thoroughly heartbreaking, their way of life, their general altruism and their basic understanding of what’s important in life is so simple, and that’s darned charming. Also, it should be said that now that I consider us officially inside the window of the “Holiday Season,” The Last Christmas Cowboy is the perfect book to give you all the romantic, happy holiday feels.
Gold Valley Series Books in Chronological Order
A Cowboy for All Seasons (4 Books in 1 by Maisey Yates, Nicole Helm, Caitlin Crews & Jackie Ashenden)
Heat Meter: 🌶🌶
Dialogue: Casual, Realistic, Relatable
Characters: Complex/Relatable Women, Cowboys/Farmers, Friendly/Helpful Neighbors
Setting: Rural Oregon
Vibe: Ranching/Farming, Cowboys, Complex/Complicated/Relatable Women, Complicated Family Dynamics, Small Town Simplicity
Oh man did I love this book. Well, it’s actually four books in one collection, and I loved every single one of them. This book or collection of books was written by four different author friends, all of whom I absolutely love independently. I originally stumbled upon this fearsome foursome while making my way through all of Maisey Yates’ books, and since reading this collection, I’ve proceeded to make my way through so many amazing series’ these author besties have written. Through reading this collection I also realized that this is a common marketing tool used by contemporary romance writers – they team up with authors friends that have a similar writing style and create collections or series together with the idea that a reader who loves one author and is burning through their books will find their way to said collection or series and then discover new similar authors to love. Since then, finding these collabs has been a really useful tool in easily finding my next author to explore. So fun!
So what’s this one all about? This particular collection of four books by Maisey Yates, Caitlin Crews (also goes by Megan Crane), Nicole Helm and Jackie Ashenden is about four female cousins, once as close as sisters when they were young, brought back together by the passing of their beloved grandmother. Their grandmother left behind a handwritten request to each cousin to spend one season at the family farm in Oregon before it goes up for sale. Each book focuses on a different season on the farm, a different cousin’s story and of course, the romance that inevitably ignites with the hunky guys they run into while there. One of the things I loved most about these four books is that these women are all really unique in profile, with complex and complicated backstories and romances that I really connected with. And of course, the romances are as steamy and lovable as they get, with each set of central characters getting their own special brand of chemistry thanks to the varying writing styles of each author.
Heat Meter: 🌶🌶
Dialogue: Casual, Realistic, Fun, Funny, Relatable
Characters: Brawny Ex-Military Men, Tough/Determined/Complex Women
Setting: Small Alaska Fishing Village
Vibe: Rustic Small Town Setting, Altruistic Intentions, Brawny, Complicated Ex-Military Men, Tough, Determined, Relatable Women
This series was such a surprise in the best way possible. I already knew that I was a fan of Megan Crane (also writes under the name Caitlin Crews) and had liked all of the books she’s penned that I’ve had the chance to read, but just based on the synopsis I was weary that this series might veer into extreme cheese territory. And while of course this series features HEAs at the end of every book and some delightfully dramatic and unrealistic storylines, as does every contemporary romance book mentioned here, I actually felt that the characters in this series were the most similar to the characters in Virgin River books of any of the similar series I’ve read since reading the Virgin River series. The two central characters/lovebirds in each book were complicated, tough, relatable and extremely lovable, the setting and dynamic within that tiny seaside Alaska town where these books take place was rustic, practical and full of small town charm, and Megan Crane/Caitlin Crews does dialogue like no one else, which is one of the barometers with which I judge or connect to any contemporary romance novel. Trust me – not all dialogue in this genre is created equal and when an author nails it every time, they stand out. Crane’s is always realistic in tone and delivery, always relatable and always injected with just the right amount of humor for levity.
So what’s this one all about? I really don’t want to give up any of the fun of you discovering the delight of this series on your own or being turned off by a description that could never do the fun of this series justice, but essentially the Alaska Force series is about an elite group of burly, ex-special forces dudes who’ve decided to form a band of badass do-gooder mercenaries based in a remote little fishing town in Alaska called Grizzly Harbor. As is tradition in the world contemporary romance, each book focuses on a different guy, his special skill set and of course, the woman who steals his heart. Now if you’re thinking that this sounds a little bit too cheese for you, don’t be deterred! This series is pure fun and I loved every single one of the character profiles cooked up by Crane in these books. Not only that, but like I said the dialogue is realistic in tone and injected with the perfect amount of humor to add levity to each storyline. Also, the chemistry between the two central characters in each book in this series is off the charts charged. Off the charts!
Alaska Force Series Books in Chronological Order
Heat Meter: Some books are 🌶🌶 and a couple of the books are 🌶🌶🌶
Dialogue: It varies between the books, but in general it’s casual, realistic, steamy, fun and even funny sometimes
Characters: Cowboys and Tough, Determined, Fiesty Women
Setting: Rodeo stops all over the U.S. and even a little Australia thrown in there
Vibe: Cowboys, ranching and the rodeo scene from start to finish!
The American Extreme Bull Riders Tour series is another one of those series of books that are all written by different authors instead of just one author. But they’re all tied to the same setting/theme – the American Extreme Bull Riders Tour/the rodeo. So basically trials and triumphs of the tough-as-nails cowboys/bull riders on the American Extreme Bull Riders Tour and the equally spirited ladies they meet (or re-meet) and fall in love with. I will say that while I loved a lot of these books, not all resonated with me. As always, whether I liked one of the books or not probably comes down to whether the romance between the two central characters struck a chord with me, if I found the two central characters likable/relatable, and the writing style of that particular author, not whether the book was well written or likable in general. So there’s that.
Here’s the thing about this series, though that I should warn you about. A lot of the books in this series are actually part of another series by that particular author, so if you find yourself really liking one of the books and want more of that author/character/world that character comes from, it’s a little tricky because the book you just read may actually be book 5 of 10 of that other series. So basically you may have inadvertently landed right in the middle of that series, which can be kind of a bummer if you, like me, love reading a series from start to finish for contextual depth.
On that same note, though, this is another series that can help you find some wonderful new authors with huge libraries to get lost in. Which I love!
American Extreme Bullriders Books in Chronological Order
A Foray Into the Motorcycle Club Romance Sub-Genre
Ok so in the world of contemporary romance, there are several of sub-genres of romances that are extremely popular. Cowboys, military, billionaires, motorcycle clubs, etc. Because of that and because I typically make my way through one author’s entire catalogue before moving on to another author, I inadvertently found myself diving into the world of motorcycle club romances thanks to another 4-book collection by my favorite writer besties Megan Crane, Maisey Yates and Jackie Ashenden, The Deacons of Bourbon Street. And let me just say that my introduction to this contemporary romance sub-genre by way of this extremely spicy 4-book collection was a wild ride to say the least. Like crazy crazy crazy and definitely not even close to tame.
This sub-genre is an entirely different beast from the typical cowboy or mountain town contemporary romance novels I was consuming. In general, these stories are structured the same way as any of the other contemporary romance series’ I’ve read, with HEAs at the end of every book and a focus on the romance that evolves between two new central characters in each book, but they’re definitely grittier in general than any of the other contemporary romance series I’ve read before them. Some of the American Extreme Bullriders Tour books were grittier than the rest, but the MC romance novels are in a league of their own. If you’re familiar with the show Sons of Anarchy, then this world and the grit that comes with it will feel really familiar to you, but if you’re not, you’re in for some seriously spicy surprises! Because of that, these are definitely a slight departure from my quest to find more books like the Virgin River books, so I won’t go into full summaries for each of the MC romance series I’ve read. That said, below are the ones I’ve enjoyed, in order of my most to least favorite. Full disclosure: now that I’ve read these, I kind of feel like my Summer Book Club heat levels are no longer valid. Kidding! Kind of.
Heat Level: 🌶🌶🌶🌶
Heat Level: 🌶🌶🌶🌶
Heat Level: 🌶🌶
Heat Level: 🌶🌶
Heat Level: 🌶🌶🌶🌶
Are you excited to watch Virgin River Season 2? Let me know in a comment below!