“Heart-warming, sensual, beautifully written.” –Ali Hazelwood, New York Times bestselling author of The Love Hypothesis
Two imperfect people. One year under the sun. A love story you won't ever forget.
Rowan McKinnon doesn’t believe in love. With a botany PhD, two best friends who embrace her social quirkiness, and some occasional no-strings sex, she has everything she needs. But she hides deep wounds from the past—from a negligent mother, and a fiancé who treated her like a pawn in a game. When an academic setback leads Rowan to take on the restoration of an abandoned vineyard, she relishes the opportunity to restore the grapes to their former glory.
She does not expect to meet a man like Harrison Brady.
An obstetrician profoundly struggling after losing a patient, Harry no longer believes he is capable of keeping people safe. Reeling, Harry leaves Los Angeles to emotionally recover at his parents’ new vineyard in Pennsylvania.
He does not expect to meet a woman like Rowan McKinnon.
As their combative banter gives way to a simmering tension, sunlight begins to crack through the darkness smothering Harry’s soul. He’s compelled to explore the undeniable pull between them. And after a lifetime of protecting herself from feeling anything, for anyone, Rowan tries to keep things casual.
But even she can’t ignore their explosive connection.
"A lushly drawn portrait of two people with a magnetic, soul-deep connection." - Rachel Lynn Solomon, New York Times bestselling author
"A gorgeous love story full of lyrical writing and raw emotion." - Jennifer Probst
"Soul satisfying, sensual, and unforgettable." - Libby Hubscher
Jen Devon is a lifelong lover of love stories. She writes vivid, cinematic romances about imperfect people finding their perfect match. A former ecology academic and adjunct professor, she now works in the Internet tech industry and dreams of writing full-time. An avid gardener, photographer, gamer, and unapologetic nerd, she’s also a mom of five (three kids, two rescue mutts) and lives in central Ohio with her engineer husband.
It truly matched with each expectation I have about a well written-heartfelt- intense love story! This is such good recipe for angsty- second chance romance novel: A sweet- lovely family Events take place at spectacular vineyard ( reminds us of Russell Crowe’s Good Year and Keanu Reeves’ A walk in the cloud) Two adorable, broken characters still deal with their past burdens, struggling to move, connecting each other to heal: balanced angst and dramatic confrontations Steamy, pant melting moments blended perfectly with tear jerking chapters Less cliche, more unique and heartwarming conjunction
Overall: I’m so happy to be introduced to Jen Devon! I think Harry and Rowan’s stories will stay in my heart for a long time! I’m looking forward to read the future works of her!
Special thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for sharing this digital reviewer copy with me in exchange my honest thoughts.
LOVED IT LOVED IT LOVED IT!! LOVED THE STEAMINESS, LOVED THE STEM REP AND THE BOTANY TALK, LOVED THE EMOTIONALLY UNAVAILABLE MC AND THE PINING LOVE INTEREST, LOVED THE HEALING AND THE INCLUSION OF ACADEMIA AND THE SECONDARY CHARACTERS!! I HOPE WE GET MANY MORE BOOKS SET IN THIS WORLD!!!
Disclosure: I was given a free ARC from the publisher!
"Bend Toward the Sun" by Jen Devon is a Romance and Women's Fiction story!
Rowan McKinnon has a PhD in botany, two loyal besties, and prefers relationships with no strings attached. Too many lingering memories of a 'not-so-great' mother and a 'game-playing' fiancé have left her emotionally spent and distrustful of love. What Rowan doesn't expect is meeting someone like Harrison Brady!
Harrison is an obstetrician who is mentally and physically distraught over the loss of a patient. He doubts he's capable of being the doctor he always thought he could be. He leaves his work and his failing relationship in L.A. behind for his parent's new winery in Pennsylvania. The physical labor of rebuilding the winery for opening is sure to help clear his mind and heal his soul. What Harry doesn't expect is meeting someone like Rowan!
An undeniable connection happens between these two people but...
Rowan's counting on the challenge of restoring the grapevines of the abandoned winery to their original glory to keep her distracted from the pull she feels toward Harrison. She wants to keep things casual!
Harry soon discovers that it's not the physical efforts of rebuilding the winery that's having the biggest impact on his frame of mind and perspective; it's Rowan. He wants things to start getting serious!
Will Rowan be able to resist Harry's persistence? Will Harry be able to break-through Rowan's walls?
The writing of this novel is bright, descriptive, and emotional. I enjoy all the characters and feel they all contributed to the family dynamics of this story. However, I want to know more about both Rowan and Harry and I need more details about their families. It didn't feel like enough was offered for this family centric novel.
I read the digital copy and listened to the audiobook choosing to switch back and forth between the two formats. The audiobook has two narrators, Erin Mallon & Chris Brinkley, who give a unique voice to each of the main characters. Erin happens to be one of my favorite narrator's, so listening was a special treat for me! With the digital copy, the visual experience of reading the printed word will always be comforting to me!
Although it was a pleasant experience to both read and listen to this book, there wasn't anything unique to this story and, as a result, nothing new and different stood out to me. An enjoyable read but a little too reminiscent of the 'Hallmark Channel' to me. If that's your preference, I do recommend it as one for you.
Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martin's Griffin (widget) for a free DRC, and McMillan Audio for a free ALC of this book, and Jen Devon. It has been an honor to give my honest and voluntary review.
Rowan and Harry meet in a most unexpected way. They somehow find themselves face to face, as Harry catches her in a joyful game of hide and seek. Rowan is the type who likes to be known as a winner and won’t go down without a fight.
Instantly you can see the connection between these two characters as destiny draws them together at Harry’s family vineyard.
For me, this book was reminiscent of a hallmark movie. Just too syrupy-sweet for this reader. It appears I’m in the minority here so if you’re looking for a lovely romance, this should be a perfect fit for you.
Bend Toward the Sun is one of the most lusciously written romance debuts I’ve had the pleasure of reading. When I think of authors with lush prose whose words have had an impact on me I think of Talia Hibbert, Kennedy Ryan, Lucy Parker, Therese Beharrie, Kate Clayborn, Sherry Thomas, Cara Bastone, and Lisa Kleypas. I’m thrilled to add Jen Devon to this list of authors. She takes you on an emotional whirlwind with Rowan & Harrison’s sweeping love story and it’s worth every single moment.
Bend Toward the Sun is for all the angsty romance readers out there. Rowan and Harrison come with heavy baggage, which makes their relationship intense, but also healing in the best possible way. They are both reserved with their feelings and could be quite guarded with their hearts. They’ve been burned by past relationships and are carrying their respective grief. Reading stories about morose characters who learn to be vulnerable and give love a second chance never ceases to make my heart soar. So, I was giddy for every crumb of Rowan and Harry’s relationship.
Readers will love Rowan and Harry and sympathize with them. Rowan was mostly raised by her loving grandmother who passed away when was still young. Then she entered a relationship with a toxic man who took advantage of her. As a result, she keeps people other than her close friends at an arm’s length and doesn’t think she’s deserving of love. In a sense, she’s led a lonely life, so when she’s wholeheartedly embraced and smothered with love by Harry’s family, I was here silently hurrahing. She deserved to find a family who saw and valued her, flaws and all.
Harrison is an equally compelling character who you really just want to give a hug to. At the start of Bend Toward the Sun, he has retired to his family’s new vineyard, leaving behind his job as a doctor in LA following the loss of a patient. He is grieving, dealing with insurmountable guilt, and second-guessing his abilities. Harry’s grief could be overwhelming and you will cheer on him to find the kind of undying love his parents had for each other.
The sparks between Rowan and Harry are immediate. The chemistry and the energy they have around each other is evident. But they both want very different things out of a relationship: Rowan wants something temporary while Harry is looking for forever. This causes clashes but the intensity of their feelings are too magnetic. Soon enough, these two can’t stay away from each other. And wow! I shipped them so hard despite foreseeing some of the angsty moments in their relationship. We all know I love tormented characters in tumultuous relationships, so I devoured the book. I love the way Jen Devon writes romance. Her strength lies in writing the little moments that make a romance special: the shared glances, touches, and romantic gestures. The physically intimate scenes are also heavenly. They are steamy and passionate.
One interesting and unique element of Bend Toward the Sun is botany. I know what you must be thinking. How is botany in a romance not boring? Jen Devon writes Rowan’s passion for botany very intentionally. Obviously, it’s Rowan’s job and dissertation research, but I like to believe that it played an even more symbolic role in her life as it helps her find Harry (they meet in a greenhouse) and her found family (she accepts a job maintaining the family’s new vineyard). Be ready to leave this book feeling like a mini botany expert!
Bend Toward the Sun is easily one of my favorite reads of 2022. I can’t wait to see what Jen Devon has in store for us, especially with all the sequel-baiting of the future couples in this one!
Content notes: loss of patient, loss of grandparent, neglect, grief, depression, on-page sex, emotional abuse by a romantic partner (past)
Relationship disclosure: Jen Devon & I are mutuals on social media
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for this ARC. This doesn't influence my review
If my shelving of this book doesn't tell you enough, perhaps the fact that I was able to savor the first half should help, but after that, the fact that I was able to tear right through this - sacrificing precious sleep - and actually distracting me for once (lately) should tell you everything you need to know.
I kept thinking how I would write this review once I finished. The book was lush, but grounded; terribly romantic without being saccharine; it successfully built characters that had believable hang-ups without sacrificing the enjoyment by wanting to yell repeatedly at them (and I should mention features the prickly-only-wants-casual-defensive heroine clearly in her own way. Not a favorite element for me(commitment phones), but as you'll see, it worked here). Their mistakes were human, and like the winery where this takes place, they breathed life and made me feel them.
Look the best books have setting well integrated and sex that advances the plot and I do think a debut author deserves to stand on their own. Layer on this intense internal conflict that only gave me flashes of claustrophobia because of everything else this book was grounded in, and these incredibly romantic scenes, not to mention THE ACTS OF LOVE. That said, I do wonder who inspires Devon because there are these echoes of my favorite authors that I couldn't shake. Not in a negative, rip-off way, in that way that reminds me that this book is what I've been searching for.
I appreciate that both characters are open and communicative but not in a perfect, soft way that is becoming so popular currently. Sometimes it was selfish, righteous, and flawed. Sometimes it was uncomfortable or entirely breathtaking. The fact is, the dynamic feels very realistic to me. Sometimes I didn't love a metaphor ("took my mouth like a battlefield" was particularly off for what I believe the author hoped to convey), sometimes it was bogged down in them a little. Still, the book clearly pushed all these evocative, emotional buttons and I stayed up till 2 am reading it.
Harry is an absolutely appealing hero. The way he is characterized makes my heart sing-an arachnophobe dealing with the aftermath of losing a patient for the first time. He's believably entitled, believably lacking the internal resilience in many ways of a person who hasn't faced much hardship, and though at one point a character points out that Rowan (the heroine) is stronger than him, I treasure his vulnerability.
Rowan is a prickly free-spirit who very carefully guards her personal connections. She's awkward (or at least she tries to say she is), grounded, hilarious, and charming. She's a botanist, just another way I think Devon crafts the delightful work of character building and integrated setting but also gives us Rowan's vulnerabilities and softness. While Harry is soft with people, Rowan is at best in her openness to everything but people.
The opening scene gave me the impression that I would love this book. And indeed, it is filled with these swoon-worthy moments instigated by both main characters. This review most certainly shortchanges a lively set of secondary characters. I just adored this debut; the author, for me, echoed different pieces about what I love most about my favorite authors-with perhaps less polish, but you will still forget you are reading a debut. That was enough to get me to write a review on Wednesday morning. 4.5 rounded up.
From beginning to end, Bend Toward the Sun is romance - a beautiful, emotional, angsty love story that will melt and break your heart. It's been awhile since I read a straight out romance story that didn't rely heavily on humor to help carry the plot. If you're a fan of romance with second chances, friends to lovers and broken hearts, this one's for you.
Botanist Rowan McKinnon has been burned by love . . . badly and has vowed to never let anyone close enough to hurt her again. Dr. Harrison Brady has also been damaged in love, but he believes in love like his parents have and is searching for a forever relationship. What he can't bring himself to do is doctor again. A painful loss has him doubting his own abilities. He retreats to his family's new vineyard in Pennsylvania to lick his wounds and regroup. When Harry meets Rowan, sparks fly and he's sure he's looking at his future. Rowan recognizes danger when she sees it, and she knows Harry is a dangerous man she needs to avoid at all costs if she's going to stay in control. However, that's hard to do when she hires on to help the McKinnon's get their vineyard off the ground and up and running. The vibes between them are magnetic, drawing them together like moths to a flame. Ground rules are laid - friends with benefits only. No feelings. Period. How long do you think that can possibly last?
Bend Toward The Sun is beautifully written, showcasing a lonely woman with no family as she's welcomed into a boisterous, loving family like she's always wanted. The story is paced out over a year, and the author does a great job at keeping the pace up and readers interested over this long time frame. Devon is a obviously a master at writing beautiful prose while delivering the high angst, heartfelt romance between two people who are at different places on their journey to forever. Emotions run high as Rowan continuously spurns Harry's efforts at moving toward a real relationship. Tears fall as Harry struggles to accept the fact that love may not be able to fix everything, and he may never break through the walls built around Rowan's heart. His family fills out most of the support cast and they're everything a large, loving family should be - open, welcoming, emotional rocks.
While the plot line is quite simple, the characters do the heavy lifting in Bend Toward the Sun as they learn to live with loss, accept what's gifted freely and bend toward the light, leaving the darkness behind in search of true happiness. I truly believe stories like this are rare in today's romance. Bend Toward the Sun runs the gaumet of emotions carrying both readers and characters on a journey of highs and lows on the way to happily ever after. Fans of pure romance will love this one. Special thanks to St. Martins Griffin for an arc of this book. Reviewed at Cross My Heart Reviews
2021 Winter Bingo (#SnowInLoveBingo❄️): Job You Want(ed)
I generally have restrained/low expectations for debut romance novels, but BEND TOWARD THE SUN blew me away. Honestly, there isn't much of a plot besides what's mentioned in the blurb (I say this as a compliment), so I'm not going to bother summarizing the premise. You don't need me to regurgitate or spoil plot points.
All you need to know: there is yearning of two people unable to resist each other's magnetic field. It's a deliciously angsty book featuring messy, grieving characters. I loved it. One of the more romantic books I've read in recent memory.
I realize BEND TOWARD THE SUN doesn't come out for another eight months (sorry!), but definitely add to your TBR if the premise sounds appealing. Recommended for fans of Cara Bastone and Kate Clayborn.
A few disorganized comments:
1) I am amused by the (not one, not two) THREE obvious setups for sequel bait. Love it. Never change, romance authors.
2) I am the Queen of Bitching About Bad Pacing, so I'll give this book its flowers. Yes, there is an (understandable and well-deserved, imo) third-act breakup, but the reconciliation isn't abrupt and the story doesn't end straight away. Hallelujah! Overall, I was really impressed by the pacing — the book spans an entire year, and the gradual friendship-to-benefits-to-lovers made me believe that the MCs would last as a couple. The end scene was a perfect full-circle moment to the meet-cute.
3) As someone who attended the same college as Rowan and also lived in Philadelphia, this book hit way too close to home, lol. I do appreciate the Pennsylvania rep, 'cause we rock! Even though I had no idea we had vineyards so close to the city. 😅
4) I simply will never get tired of "orphaned/lonely heroine is welcomed into the arms of hero's boisterous and adoring family." Bonus points for heroine trying to avoid that love for as long as she can, because she doesn't think that she's deserving of it (or because it'll hurt too much when the relationship ends). As I said: the angst is exquisite.
5) I didn't know a thing about botany before reading and now I am obsessed with grape caretaking and reviving damaged vineyards. No idea how accurate the science rep is, but it was very accessible and interesting to readers unfamiliar to the topic. Also: that greenhouse ("too nice?") sex scene was very hot and I need more botany books now, please.
Disclaimer: I received a free e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
This is such a remarkable book, one that breaks with a number of trends, both in terms of popular traditionally-published contemporary romances, and in terms of what I expect from a debut. Not everything worked for me, and I'll talk about that too, but mostly I found this to be a bold and assured story from a new author who I think is going to fashion a unique place for herself within contemporary romance.
The first thing I loved about Bend Toward the Sun, especially in light of it being a debut, is that it doesn't have a big, splashy, hook-y premise. It is fueled entirely on the emotions - and emotional baggage - of its two MCs. Rowan has just finished her PhD and is floundering, and finds herself in a temporary job at the new Brady family vineyard. That's where she meets Harrison, an obstetrician who recently lost a patient, and is back at home struggling with lingering trauma and depression. I think in a different book, the setting (a non-traditional workplace) or the characters (one MC's large family) would have been played as part of a flashy premise-turned-external obstacle to romance. But this book lets its setting be an actual setting, and its characters develop as characters, and not just fodder for hijinks. And my goodness it excels at both. The setting, in particular, is SO vivid I feel like I've actually spent a summer night at this vineyard. (This is kind of a random observation, but the author is remarkably good at creating a sense of place via touch and smell, and not just what things look like? It's an immersive sensory experience).
Also, this book is angsty. Properly, truly "fighting and pining and yearning and making each other cry and hurting each other not because we're cruel but because we're each a little broken" angsty. It's hard to make sweeping statements about what's popular and selling in "romance these days" because - to pick just one facet of the genre's vastness - indie romance is out there offering some of just about anything one could look for. But my sense as a reader who shops for books a lot is that, in traditionally published romance at least, we're in an era of high rom-com popularity. Many of which I've read and enjoyed! But I love variety, and I love a book that knows that any tone, well-executed, is better than trying to dress up in a tone that doesn't fit the story or writing style. This is angsty, and it leans in hard to that. When my heart wasn't busy having every ounce of feeling squeezed out of it, it was very happy.
That being said, I did have one issue and it's kind of a big one - although the fact that I got emotionally involved regardless is a testament to this book's strengths. To me, the pacing of the romantic connection between Rowan and Harrison felt... off. Especially at the beginning. For such an emotional book, the early beats of the romance were focused on physical attraction (fine) and a sort of mystical "I just feel so drawn to this person" (which only works for me if the prose describing that feeling is infused with its own unique magic). I wanted Harrison and Rowan to talk more. I wanted to know why they were drawn to each other besides inexplicable magnetism. Their moments of connection felt episodic, almost set-piece-like, and for long stretches I didn't feel like any individual interaction moved them forward, or taught them about each other. The sex scenes, similarly, were very grounded in in-the-moment physicality, where I wanted a bit more emotion, a bit more personality from them. (I know part of Rowan's character is about avoiding romantic attachment, but there are plenty of non-romantic feelings a person can feel about sex). Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't care about these two by the end, so something must have gone right.
My other issue I'm going to put under a spoiler tag, in part because it's mildly spoilery and in part because it will probably be borderline non-sensical for people who haven't read the book yet.
Also, the story was very white and very straight (I know Rowan's descriptions of sex as a biological imperative towards procreation are supposed to be a flimsy excuse, and grounded in her characterization as a botanist, but regardless I could have done without it).
The writing, though. The writing is gorgeous. I'm not sure about the etiquette of posting quotes from ARCs? So maybe I'll come back here and add some later. But suffice it to say, there are some achingly lovely expressions of love, and longing, and loneliness. I'm really glad I read this book.
Disclaimer: I received a free e-ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
I enjoyed this incredibly well-written book immensely, and I think it's an impressive writing debut. Jen Devon's words evoke amazing imagery in their descriptions of meadows and vineyards and bodies of water, and the way her characters express their thoughts and feelings throughout the story truly brings life to the book. The intense, highly emotional story of two broken people, Bend Toward the Sun is one of the best books I've read this summer. The author has a gift for beautiful, quality, evocative writing and I am looking forward to reading more of her work in the future. This audiobook edition was narrated by Chris Brinkley and Erin Mallon. Their performances were top-notch. Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC audio copy of this book in exchange for my own, unbiased review.
☀Bend Towards the Sun by Jen Devon may be the angstiest romance I've ever read? Maybe barring a Kennedy Ryan?
I've been pondering my thoughts for SO LONG because I have all of them and cannot put into words how lush and captivating this angst fest was. SO romantic, yet also tore my heart up a bit; stay tuned for more I need a re-read.
I'd describe Bend Towards the Sun as a Nora Roberts found family and just good, decent men meets Kate Clayborn's lush writing and emotions.
Thank you to @macmillanusa for the early copy, and cannot wait for Jen Devon's next!
Do check CWs for this one, the big ones are death (woman after childbirth, described on page (minor character), blood, trauma & PTSD, spiders
I just absolutely adore this romance; it is now maybe one of my top ten ever favorite contemporaries, maybe top ten ever?? I know big words! The way the author plays with the length of time, allowing her main characters to BREATHE and find each other while fumbling with their personal pains is so lovely (and necessary). And whew, it devastates me when Rowan comes back and Harry has left. Just mop me up and wring me out.
I finished this about a week ago, but I was so overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of this book, that I needed to sit with my thoughts for a few days. Well here we are, and I still don't have the words to do this book justice, but I will try.
If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be: PERFECTION 🙌
"Bend Toward the Sun" is easily one of the most well-written books I have ever read. It has found itself firmly on my "favorites" list. Never before have I highlighted so many passages while reading (I want to share some of them here, but there are rules against sharing quotes from advanced copies.. boo 👎).
I found myself stopping often while reading, to read something aloud to my husband, saying "Do you see how beautiful this is?!?!" "Do you see how talented this author is!!?" I was utterly BLOWN AWAY. The author took such meticulous care with her words. Her metaphors and descriptions are just... 👏👏👏 out of this world . And the characters, oh my heart. Rowen and Harry are now one of my favorite book couples. Their story, their love, it is everything I want in a romance novel.
The pacing, the M/F POV, the 3rd person narrative (my favorite), the spice (just the right amount), the slow-burn of the romance. The chase. The pining. The emotional baggage each of them brought to the story. The healing and recovering. The growth of the characters. Just brilliant. All of it.
There was not a single flaw in this story. I loved every single word of it. 1 million stars for "Bend Toward the Sun" 🎉 Bravo!!!! Jen Devon is now at the top of my autobuy list.
Thank you NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for my gifted e-copy in exchange for my honest review. 💕 This was such an enormous pleasure to read and I'll be buying a physical copy on pub day. ☺️
I had to mull over what I would say about Bend Toward the Sun, by Jen Devon. I don’t appreciate reviews that start out telling me what a book is not, but what it’s not is what made me adore it. It is not a contemporary romance shoehorned into a romcom format. It is a straight-ahead full-blown romance and I cannot tell you how much I have been craving this. Give me a bit of angst. Give me the terrifying swoop of helplessness when the hero realizes he is toast. Give me the heartache and the bliss and the singular confusion of the moments before you give your heart away. Don’t hide it behind jokes we don’t need or references to pop culture that no one will remember in ten years’ time. And I am predicting we will still be reading this book in ten years’ time.
Anyone who knows me, knows I am a fool for skillful prose and Jen Devon has made me giddy. To my great delight, Bend Toward the Sun is a beautifully written book as well as a compelling romance. The two don’t always align these days, so when they do, it’s magic. Devon’s command of prose keeps it lush and evocative without tipping over into purple and saccharine. That she’s set this romance in a vineyard not in California made the wine geek in me so freaking happy. I also loved that this is an adult romance. These are grownups here, folks. Characters you can trust will continue to grow and learn and deepen in love long after you’ve finished the book and moved on.
I cannot recommend this book enough and would also give it to that friend who makes disparaging remarks about romance novels without ever having read them. This will shut them up because they will be too busy doing a second read to open their mouth.
This book was DIVINE! Atmospheric, hilarious, and deliciously steamy, I was absolutely blown away by this debut. Full review to come closer to release but add this book to your TBR immediately, you won't want to miss it
Angst-lovers, this one’s for us. It’s the exact kind of story I’ve been missing. Gorgeous writing, layered characters, great angst. It made me laugh out loud and it made me cry…is there anything better? I don’t want to say too much about it because it was such a magical reading experience. Rowan and Harry snuck into my heart from their meet-disaster of a beginning. (This made for the best full circle moment by the end.) Rowan won’t risk a serious relationship and Harry doesn’t know how to do casual. They kept getting in their own way, which made my heart clench. What made the romance for me was the little things they would do to show their love, even when it wasn’t obvious to themselves or the other person until months later that that’s what was happening. That made for such a satisfying payoff. I’ll never see the same way again.
Internal conflict drives the plot, which fed my soul. There weren’t any emotionally manipulative external conflicts to move things forward or tear them apart. This was a huge relief. So often would-be angsty romances fall into those traps and they never work for me. Not so here. Rowan and Harry put up enough roadblocks all on their own but the thing is, there’s never a doubt about why they’re responding the way they are or that they’ll be able to learn from their mistakes. I had such a hard time putting this down because I needed to see how it would all come together.
This has such a strong sense of place. The way Devon wrote about flowers, plants, grapevines, and nature had me rapt. I wish I could go visit the vineyard and book a stay the bed and breakfast once it’s ready. Similarly, the secondary characters were just as well-developed as Harry and Rowan. The Brady family was absolutely wonderful. I will never tire of a watching a big loving family embrace someone who believes they’re unlovable. People feeling like they don’t belong or like there’s something fundamentally wrong with them is my catnip. Between Harry’s family and Rowan’s friends, there is some exciting sequel potential. Fingers crossed Temperance and Duncan are next.
I had a few nitpicky issues but I ultimately didn’t care because I loved the story that much. It is worth noting this is a mostly white cishet book so I hope that will improve going forward.
My angsty soul is thoroughly satisfied and grateful to have read this. Jen Devon is a refreshing new voice to watch. I’m looking forward to whatever she writes next.
Characters: Rowan is a 30 year old white woman with a botany PhD. Harry is a 30 year old white obstetrician. This is set in Vesper Valley and Philadelphia, PA.
Content notes: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, past death of obstetrics patient , past intimate partner violence , past infidelity , recent divorce , past weight loss (due to depression), past death of grandmother/primary caregiver (FMC was 12), past child neglect (FMC’s mom was emotionally and physically distant. Once her grandma died, she had no loving presence in her life and had to fend for herself), arachnophobia, HIPAA violation (), pregnant secondary character (off page delivery), sheep gives birth, on page sex, edging, alcohol, inebriation, pipe (secondary character), cigar (secondary character), STD joke, gendered insults, brief gender essentialist language, ableist language, mention of past substance abuse and car crash for MMC’s brother (uses cane for leg injury), mention of FMC wanting to “snort” MMC’s scent “like a drug”, reference to FMC’s dad leaving before she was born
Disclosure: I received a free advanced copy from St. Martin’s Griffin in exchange for an honest review.
This seemed like the perfect book for me. It had an old rickety vineyard in a small town with two characters brought together with very different tragic backstories and was filled to the brim with overwrought descriptions of the farm and plants and even the dang fog. Total catnip to my purple prose Hallmark movie season of life.
Unfortunately, this book was not perfect for me. The first star I deducted is because Rowan (the female main character) was too much of a moldy cactus type where she had boundaries and million foot tall walls around her heart or some shit but never clearly expressed any of these to Harry (the male main character) and she instead came across as closed off and mean and disrespectful. I simply did not believe she had enough positive characteristics or was hot enough for Harry to try so hard and fall in love with her immediately because besides the being really into plants thing she basically had zero? A lot of the prickly pushiness Rowan had was romanticized towards the end and all she needed was to see Real Romantic Love to heal her! Girl, please.
One of the worst things Rowan did was never call Harry by his preferred name and instead she called him Harrison until about 60% of the book wherein she switched back and forth between Harry and Harrison depending on how she felt towards him. This is not cute and it is not romantic even if the author tried to explain it away at the end as Rowan's grandma saying nicknames are for people you love. Tell that to anyone who has ever played a sport ever. And a preferred name is not the same as a nickname! Respect the names people ask you to use for them as much as you'd respect the pronouns they ask you to use. Simple as that.
The other star was deducted because half the book is overly horny nonsense. Harry was popping boners everywhere and at one point Rowan felt up Harry's crotch while they were in a s'mores line at a family dinner where children were present. Why couldn't one of Rowan's thousand mysterious boundaries been about appropriate sexual behavior? Now s'mores are ruined forever.
I received an ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
Some books just find a place in your heart and burrow down deep. I knew from the first few pages that this debut from Jen Devon was going to be special!!
The story takes place over the course of a year on a newly purchased Vineyard. The Bradys are a big, boisterous Italian American clan excited to try a new adventure and middle son Harry, an almost OB, has come home from California to help and heal after a traumatic experience. During a game of family tag he runs into Rowan, a socially anxious botanist trying to finish her PhD who is more comfortable around her plants than people. Together these two build a beautiful friendship but the sparks are undeniable and irresistable!
This book is steamy, has oodles of heart, wonderful found family, strong female friendship, amazing women in STEM and mental health rep and will both make you cry and laugh in equal measure. I could go on and on about how much I absolutely adored this story and each and every one of the characters but you really just need to experience the Bradys for yourself.
Much thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin's Press and the author for an early digital copy in exchange for my honest review!! Highly recommended for fans of Chloe Liese, Mazey Eddings, Ali Hazelwood and Susannah Nix. I cannot wait to read the next books in the series featuring Rowan's two best friends and the brothers who love them.
I have no idea why we aren't talking about this book more. What an absolute treasure! I am such a huge proponent for equally broken characters looking to heal, and falling for one another along the way. It takes a special talent to have two fully fleshed out characters with full backgrounds (and to do in it a way that is entertaining and engaging) let alone to garner an emotional investment in them both. Equal parts sharp and soft, SMART, and so very loving. The care in this story is beautiful, the writing is lovely. I will read whatever she writes forever.
Bend Toward the Sun was not quite what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a sweet romance (it is), but it’s also really emotional and angsty. It straddled the line between romance and womens fiction and I felt a bit blindsided by the level of grief and pain in the main characters' lives. I definitely recommend checking the CW’s below.
Overall I enjoyed Bend Toward the sun, but the pacing was on the slower side and sometimes the level of plant/scenery detail felt overwhelming. I was often confused by the actions of Rowan and Harry and would go from loving how tender they were together to being annoyed. I may not have agreed with their choices, but the book captured these imperfect people navigating love and life in an honest and real way. We all have tempers, baggage, and are not always our best selves. This is a messy and complicated love story between two messy and complicated people. The sweet moments had me swooning though and I was pleasantly surprised by how spicy the book was. I loved the overall message of forgiving and loving yourself and the secondary characters were fantastic - especially the Brady family. A few hints were dropped about possible future books featuring the other Brady siblings and I’m definitely intrigued by Duncan and Temperance.
CW: Death of patient (emergency delivery resulting in maternal death (not a main character) - past but is a significant part of the story), grief, arachnophobia, anxiety, panic attacks (on page), parental neglect and abandonment (past), death of loved one (past), cheating ex (past), gaslighting
*I voluntarily read an advance review copy of this book*
Disclaimer: I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Is there any greater feeling than a book living up to the expectations you have for it? I don't think so. I hoped that Bend Toward The Sun would be the kind of introspective, moody love story that I crave. I am a self-professed angst monster but there have been very few new releases that have really fed me. This book absolutely did! I even almost teared up (one of the highest compliments I can give a book, trust me).
There's a lot that I love here, but one of my favorites is the way Devon uses small actions and gestures to explore how people care for each other. Neither of the protagonists are very good at communicating their feelings with each other so the little things they do to communicate their love become so important. Their journey is less about being able to say those three words and more about learning to recognize the ways the other reaches out. It's subtle, but it packs such an emotional punch. I'm not sure I'll ever look at pancakes and a glass of pulpy orange juice the same way.
This is a quiet book and moves slow in some ways. There's not a lot that *happens* compared to a lot of the so-called rom coms coming out of romance imprints these days. That style really works for me--I get to focus on the characters and their burgeoning relationship without the distractions of plotty hijinks. If that also sounds like your cup of tea, I highly recommend giving this story your time. Of course, it's not perfect. I have a few quibbles (the biggest being diversity on page; other than a passing mention of someone's queer family member we never meet and a minor character described only as "brown," everyone appears to be cishet and white). But I still love it. It gives me FEELINGS.
Overall rating: 4.5 Hannah Angst Scale™ Rating: 4 Content notes: grief, past death of grandmother/parental figure, maternal mortality (Harry is an OB who lost a patient to birth-related hemorrhage), PTSD (Harry experiences flashbacks and panic attacks), parental neglect, past psychologically abusive relationship (Rowan's ex emotionally manipulated and gaslit her), infidelity (not by either protagonist, unless you consider cheating which I personally do not), minor character becomes pregnant and gives birth off-page, reference to past car accident due to driver under the influence, divorce, arachnophobia, on-page alcohol use, on-page sex, descriptions of non-life threatening injuries and blood
There is so much to enjoy in Devon's debut novel, not least of which is an unusual setting of Pennsylvania vineyards and the project of creating them from the ground up. The botanist heroine, Rowan, is reluctantly enticed into a start-up family business where a large, loving, raucous family earnestly put their entire savings and efforts into creating their own wine-making farm. A charming and sweet hero is certainly part of the enticement. I enjoyed the opening chapters as we see the heroine struggle with delaying her own claustrophobic academic career goals for what feels like a healthier option to be working outdoors with nature and potentially jump-starting a romance with one of the family's sons.
The middle of the book bogged down a bit though, and for me, it became mired in one of my least favorite romance tropes: the commitment phobic half of a romance relationship. Rowan has many Issues and it takes much of the book to unravel them. The hero, Harry, has the patience of a saint as he tries a number of tactics to break down Rowan's defenses and just enjoy life and his love for her. This is a book where the hero falls for the heroine very quickly and stays committed to their love, even in the face of some chilly dismissals and hurtful rejections. As much as I wanted to understand Rowan, I admit to feeling impatient too many times and also to feeling sympathy for the angst-ridden hero. I know if the roles had been reversed, I would have wanted the heroine to walk away much sooner. This also isn't a book with much plot, and so I do think that if I had been more enamored with the heroine's psychological journey from emotionally damaged to a more emotionally grounded person that she gradually becomes by the end, I would have enjoyed the story more.
Still, the book offers lots of rewards in a lovely hero who knows what he wants and goes for it, a cast of appealing brothers and potential love interests for them, and a gorgeous setting that had me engaged in wanting to learn more about wine making. I do want to read this author's next book to see how she develops as an author.
From the first chapter, I was struck by the dynamic interactions between Rowan and Harrison, as well as the immediate swoon factor. This was a couple I didn't have to be sold on. The author nailed it in the first pages and I was expectantly excited for the rest of the story.
The slower-burning romantic tension in the first third of the book drove the story forward, but there was a lull in the pacing of the middle portion while Rowan fights her true feelings for Harrison. All the while, the writing remained consistent and as the story entered its final third, it was an emotional race to the climax and ending. I honestly felt a rush of adrenaline as Rowan was bombarded with the truth of her feelings and her past. Both characters were at different times frustrating, but also lovely, and I understood their emotional reticence and conflict.
The last three chapters felt like a bonus when we got some beautiful time with Harrison and Rowan after their resolution. It was like having a prolonged epilogue. Just lovely.
Aside from the romance, I loved the dynamics in Harrison's big family. Parents, in-laws, four brothers, one sister, children, and the welcome additions of any and all who have tagged along. The banter, sparring, and teasing brought fun and lightness to some of the heavier moments of the romance.
Bend Toward the Sun was mature, immersive, and thoroughly developed. I’m looking forward to spending more time in the vineyard with this family when brothers Duncan and Mal get their stories.
“That ache you feel, still wanting more? I feel it too, but for me it’s about more than physiological release. We could do every sex act known to humankind, but if that is all I ever have of you, I will spend the rest of my life wanting more.” He dragged a hand over his mouth. “Christ, I think I already will.”
There's a large part of me that wants to rate this as 5 stars because both the story and the writing are beautiful, but the wordiness of the text holds me back from doing so. Still - this is a phenomenal debut, and I'm excited to read more from Devon in the future. It's a love story that centers around two people who need to love themselves again before they have any chance of a future together. I swooned over the determination of this hero, a man who is all in and unabashedly a relationship type of guy. He is book boyfriend-worthy for sure. I loved his persistence and unrelenting desire for the commitment-phobic heroine. While obvious desire sparks between them, they have very different opinions on what they should do about their attraction. Watching them slowly - agonizingly slowly - come together over the course of nearly a year was a fulfilling journey... if not a frustrating one.
The story follows Rowan, a botanist who has found herself temporarily staying at a vineyard. She's never experienced real love - romantic or familial - so spending time with a close-knit family has her vastly out of her element. At least it's only temporary. But the attraction that sparks between Rowan and Harrison feels familiar - she knows what to do with lust. Except Harrison refuses to give in to the physical side of their relationship. While they trade glances and tiny moments together on the vineyard, Harrison has his own healing to do. And he's never been a casual sort of guy, while permanence terrifies Rowan. As the two dance around their feelings, it's a battle to see who will surrender first.
Straddling the line between women's fiction and romance, this is a love story first and foremost, featuring two people who have some work to do on themselves. The tone is serious and somber for the most part, with a few lighthearted (and a few steamy) moments sprinkled in. Devon's writing really is gorgeous - there's a reason why so many readers are complimenting it - though I did find it to be a little dense and wordy sometimes. There are many descriptions of mundane tasks and situations around the vineyard that had me skimming on occasion. But every time Rowan and Harrison's chemistry sparked, my eyes were glued to the pages. I loved the bond between them, and the story itself is refreshingly different from the norm. Kinda frustrating, but I liked it. I sometimes struggle with third person perspective, so readers who prefer that might have an easier time staying engaged. It's not an easy or quick story, but it feels rich and full, making an impact by the end. It should also be noted that there are several potentially triggering elements slowly revealed throughout the story, so keep that in mind as you're reading. There's a whole lot to love about this, and the quiet, tender love story is truly a unique one. I received an early copy, and am voluntarily leaving a review of this emotional romance.
Rowan McKinnon is a botanist who prefers plants to people. Keeping flowers alive is something she understands. Keeping love alive is another matter entirely.
But Rowan’s jaded take on love is more a matter of nurture vs. nature. Not having the best upbringing and being scorned by a former love has understandably left Rowan a skeptic. Until she meets Harrison “Harry” Brady, that is.
Harry has had his own share of life’s setbacks. A doctor who has lost his confidence after the loss of a patient, Harry returns home, unsure of his future. And then he runs into Rowan.
While sparks instantly fly, at first the two try to fight their growing attraction. Both believe giving into their feelings is imminent, but what this means is up for debate. For Harry, Rowan signifies something serious worth exploring. But for Rowan, serious isn’t on her agenda. Can love bloom between two people who’ve been in the dark for so long?
Rowan and Harry’s connection works because their chemistry is palpable. Author Jen Devon crafts a love story heavy in angst, but well balanced with humor. The supporting characters help breathe life into this story as well. In fact, it would be great if there were future installments that zoned in on these characters as they too seem to have stories worth telling.
A debut novel that reads like anything but, Bend Toward the Sun plants the seeds for a talented writer, and gives romance fans something to root for, too.
Bend Toward the Sun is an emotional contemporary romance that I would also classify as part women's fiction.
The book is divided into 3 parts. There are two 3rd person POVs (Rowan and Harry). Much of the story takes place at a winery in rural Pennsylvania.
Rowan is a botanist and finishing her PhD. I loved her job. And I adored her friends Temperance/T.J. and Frankie.
Harrison Brady/Harry is an obstetrician from L.A who is part of a big family. His family was everything in this book! And the winery setting was amazing!
I was a bit frustrated seeing the characters running away from commitment. That part of the story went on too long. But the last part of the book was definitely the strongest. And overall I did enjoy the book.
Thanks to SMP Romance and netgalley for allowing me to read this book.
This book is set a vineyard and the relationship takes a full season of growth, I LOVE when authors lean into this stuff. Anyway, I really, really liked this even when I was frustrated by the characters. I GOT why they had a hard time opening up to each other and also totally bought into the connection that they both couldn't ignore even if it wasn't what either of them professed to want. I am also deeply enamored of the sequel bait that is built into this book, I demand at least three sequels. Very glad to finally get to read the book that friends have been raving about for months.
This is the sort of book that wines and dines you. I just fall into the story and sigh about how pleasant it’s all going. Slow burn? Who cares. The whole beautiful story of a family that everyone wants and the beautiful place its built on is enough. I’m in my happy place. And then before it’s over I wanted to throw the book across the room! Twice. I mean this in the best way. It happened because the book sunk it’s emotional claws into me and demands I feel it. Definitely a 5 ⭐️ for me. Wonderful writing, intense, fun and romantic. Trust me you just want to visit this family, hang out and see it for yourself. I started reading this first and finished with the audiobook. I loved both! But the narrators were perfect! Chris Brinkley and Erin Mallon were the voices and I loved it. I can’t say enough good things about this one. Get the book or listen to it on audio. It’s good. Thanks Macmillan Audio and St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley.
After dnf'ing the last 7? 8? books, this one FINALLY hit the spot! Not only did it get me out of a slump, but it also had me staying up until 8 a.m. to finish it. After so many disappointments, I had little to no expectations, and like a fool started reading this at midnight I think? Anyway, it was so good that I refused to sleep, even after a long long day!
Bend Toward The Sun is a gorgeous romance story between Harry and Rowan. Rowan is a damaged soul and has so many walls up. She doesn't believe in love. Enter Harry. Ugh Harry, sweet, charming, vulnerable. He's completely gone for her and Rowan keeps putting up these walls, but cannot keep away. The angst in this story was exactly what I wanted. All the stomach knots and butterflies.
Read if you like: - he falls in love first - a beautiful romance - family-centric story - heart-achingly, beautifully angsty story - intense, real, vulnerable, layered, well-developed characters
Bend Toward the Sun is a beautifully-written stunning debut from Jen Devon. Honestly, I want to read everything she ever writes.
Thank you to the publisher and author for the ARC via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.