Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Make a Wish by Helena Hunting: "Spark House Sisters" Series

New York Times bestselling author Helena Hunting's comtemporary romance novel Make a Wish is book three of her popular "Spark House Sisters" series, which also includes When Sparks Fly (book one) and Starry-Eyed Love (book two).

Make a Wish will be published on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, but it is available for preorder on Amazon in Kindle, paperback and audiobook formats.

I was fortunate to listen to an advance copy of the audiobook through NetGalley. Here's my book review.

Make a Wish by Helena Hunting
Make a Wish is book 3 in Helena Hunting's contemporary romance series "Spark House Sisters" which features her signature "swoony heroes and quirky heroines"

A Charming, Often Hilarious, Heartwarming Contemporary Romance Novel

New York Times bestselling author Helena Hunting's website describes her lead characters as "swoony heroes and quirky heroines you'll fall in love with." I would say she writes genuinely likeable, thoughtful characters with good hearts and intentions, human failings and insecurities, authentic voices and often witty, flirtatious banter.

Bottom line: Hunting crafts well-developed characters you can't help caring about and rooting for.

Helena Hunting's "Spark House Sisters" Series

When I had the opportunity to listen to an advance copy of Helena Hunting's Make a Wish in audiobook format, I jumped at the chance to listen to this deservedly popular, New York Times bestselling author's latest contemporary romance. I was delighted to discover that the story holds its own as a stand-alone novel. However, I enjoyed it enough to want to go back to the beginning of the story by reading the first two books.

Here are the three books in this series about sisters Avery, London and Harley Spark, in order (links are for the Kindle editions on Amazon):

When Sparks Fly ("Spark House Sisters" Book 1—Avery's Story)

Starry-Eyed Love ("Spark House Sisters" Book 2—London's Story)

Make a Wish ("Spark House Sisters" Book 3—Harley's Story)

Make a Wish Synopsis

When Gavin Rhodes's wife, whom he adores, dies after giving birth to their daughter Peyton, his world collapses. Overwhelmed by grief, heartbreak and a misplaced sense of guilt, Gavin buries himself in his work and hires a vivacious, cheerful, energetic and responsible young woman as a live-in nanny for his baby girl.

Harley Spark's parents died when she was very young, so she knows how hard it is to grow up without a mom. Unlike Peyton, however, she and her two sisters had each other for support, and vice versa. Her grandma Spark also provided a loving, supportive and encouraging home as well as a love of fun and adventure. Harley is totally devoted to Peyton and tries to make up for the lack of both a mom and siblings in her life by playing the roles of both nanny and surrogate big sister.

Harley finds enormous satisfaction in providing a positive, upbeat and nurturing home environment for baby Peyton and her overworked, emotionally devastated dad. The arrangement works beautifully for a year and a half...until the fateful moment when 20-year-old Harley, trying to comfort an exhausted and still grieving Gavin (and indulge her secret crush on him), leans in and almost kisses him before he realizes what she is trying to do and abruptly pulls away.

Harley is horrified and mortified. Worse yet, her idyllic working and living situation suddenly evaporates as Gavin packs up his and Peyton’s things and moves to the other side of the state. He transfers the care of his baby girl to his late wife's strict and domineering mother, Karen, who takes on the role of mothering and educating her granddaughter with an almost religious zeal.

Harley is covered with guilt and remorse for her unusual lapse in judgment and she misses Peyton (and Gavin) tremendously. But when Gavin refuses to respond to multiple apologetic texts, she eventually has to make her peace with the consequences of having acted on her misguided impulse.

Harley loves being and working with kids, but reluctantly decides to give up her career as a professional live-in nanny, fearing another potential risk to her heart if she falls in love with another family who employs her. Instead, she joins her two sisters and their partners in running the family's event hotel, Spark House. In addition to doing some of the hotel's social media, Harley's favorite role has been organizing the children's themed birthday parties, for which she always dresses up in costume. Unfortunately, they are less profitable than other events, such as weddings, and seven years after Gavin's and Peyton's move, Harley's siblings let her know that the upcoming princess-themed birthday party for a local nine-year-old will be the last one at Spark House.

For the "last hurrah" birthday bash, Harley dresses up as a fairy princess. The last people she expects to run into among the young party guests and their parents are nine-year-old Peyton and her dad. Gavin, in turn, who is both a doting father and a good sport, is wearing a tutu. It's not exactly the outfit he would have chosen for an unexpected reunion with Harley, who is now in her late twenties and even more attractive than before.

Harley is so flustered at seeing Gavin again (especially when she is dressed in full-fledged princess attire with all the trimmings) that she breaks out in hives. Gavin is grateful that Harley is no longer his daughter's nanny, and their age difference is less significant. He hopes this chance encounter might lead to both closure concerning their awkward and abrupt parting and perhaps a different type of relationship moving forward. Peyton is simply overjoyed to see her beloved former nanny and playmate and can't wait to make more play dates for the three of them.

Gavin decides to move himself and Peyton back to their hometown. There are a several good reasons for the move, but one of the most compelling is for them to be near Harley again. Predictably, Karen becomes jealous and resentful of Harley and does her best to undermine the would-be couple's burgeoning relationship. Karen's interfering behavior angers and upsets both Gavin and Harley, but Gavin also feels guilty about moving Peyton out of her grandmother's home, control, and daily life and is reluctant to confront his mother-in-law.

Will Harley, who hates confrontation, find the courage to stick up for both her professional role and romantic relationship?

Why does Gavin feel guilty about his wife's death? Can he finally bring himself to truly risk giving his heart to a partner again unconditionally and stand up to his overbearing, jealous, threatened and still-grieving mother-in-law?

Will Peyton finally get her two biggest wishes, a mom and a sibling?

I can promise you a happy ending, but you'll have to read Helena Hunting's Make a Wish not only to find out the answers but also to enjoy the rich storytelling and the rocky road that ultimately leads to this trio's HEA (happily ever after).

Amazon Editors' Picks: Best Romance

I'm not the only reader who has fallen in love with the characters in Helena Hunting's Make a Wish. Even though its release date is nearly a week away at the time of this book review's publication, this new contemporary romance novel is one of Amazon Editors' top picks for Romance Books.

Two Excellent Audiobook Narrators

Fan favorite narrators Jason Clarke, Stella Bloom share the narration duties on all three of the "Spark House Sisters" audiobooks in this series. Bloom's pleasant but higher-pitched voice is the perfect foil for Clarke's bass, and both narrators are eminently "listenable." They are skilled at voicing both male and female characters, as well as both adult and juvenile characters, that are easily distinguishable. This was especially important because each chapter of is told from either Harley's or Gavin's point of view and read by Bloom or Clarke, respectively. I never struggled to identify which character was speaking, even during conversations among three or more characters.

They also spoke at an ideal pace for me, slow enough that I didn't have to concentrate on not missing anything, but also not so slow as to be soporific.

These seasoned narrators really bring the characters to life and enhance the reader's (or listener's) experience of the book. For that reason, I highly recommend the audiobook format for this contemporary romance series.

Here are links to all three audiobooks in order:

When Sparks Fly "Spark House Sisters" Book 1 Audiobook

Starry-Eyed Love "Spark House Sisters" Book 2 Audiobook

Make a Wish "Spark House Sisters" Book 1 Audiobook

10 Hours of Listening Pleasure

There is enough meat to the story to keep me happily engaged in listening to the audiobook for 10 hours. Key bits and pieces of information from the past are gradually revealed to us (and to the main characters) as the story unfolds, giving us more context and insight into each character's motivations, emotional challenges, desires and fears.

By the end of the book, I felt real empathy and compassion for all the characters, even the rigid, self-absorbed, bossy, subversive Karen.

More importantly, all the characters experienced authentic, significant growth from the beginning to the end of the story arc.

Adult Content

As in most contemporary romance novels, the relationship between the story’s hero and heroine includes physical intimacy.

While Hunting isn’t shy about describing the sexual aspect of Gavin and Harley’s romantic relationship as it evolves over time, I didn't feel the descriptions of their intimate encounters were gratuitous or excessively graphic, and those scenes certainly weren't a primary focus of the novel. The pair's relationship is built on a foundation of friendship and trust first. In fact, despite their obvious mutual physical attraction, both of them are very cautious about taking their relationship from friends to lovers.

However, if you are offended by premarital physical intimacy, that aspect of this book (and, presumably, the others in this series) might be a turn-off.

Fun But Not Fluff

The story flowed well and never dragged, and the narrators' characterizations did justice to Hunting's charismatic writing, keepping me engaged, entertained, and emotionally invested from beginning to end.

Harley's and Peyton's boundless enthusiasm, zest for life, optimism and love of unabashadly "girly" things like tutus and glitter crafts provide some much-needed lightness to balance the tragic deaths (and, in the case of Gavin and Karen, misplaced guilt) that weigh on the main characters' hearts.

Ultimately, it's a feel-good story about second chances. I hope you enjoy it.

Now, I'm off to download the first two books in the series.

Make A Wish By Helena Hunting: Spark House Sisters

by Margaret Schindel


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8 comments:

  1. An event hotel sounds like the perfect location for a book series, especially when the main characters are siblings. Sounds like a great series, Margaret! Thanks for the introduction.

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    Replies
    1. You are most welcome, Sylvestermouse! The sisters have a great, mutually supportive relationship, and the importance of family is a major underlying theme. I hope you enjoy it!

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  2. An event hotel does sound like an interesting setting for a series of romance novels. I also love following continuing characters in a series. Thanks for introducing me to the 'Spark House Sisters', Margaret.

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    Replies
    1. You are very welcome, Elf! The use of a family-owned and -run event hotel was inspired. Like you, I really enjoy series where we get to know and have repeat visits with favorie characters. Thanks so much for your visit and comment!

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  3. Audiobooks are not the way I like to "read", but I'm always up for something new. I do have wireless headphones and this sounds like a great way to get two things done at once. I could be reading and cleaning the kitchen and just maybe learn to like doing both these things at once. Thanks Margaret for a series that I think I would enjoy!

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  4. Thanks, Olivia! It’s also available for the Kindle, if that’s your preferred format, as I know it is for many people. It’s really an engaging and enjoyable story!

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  5. Another excellent review Margaret, thank you! You really have me thinking about audiobooks - at some point I'm going to try this! Whatever and whenever I finally do this, I'm going to re-read your suggestions because I love your detailed reviews

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    Replies
    1. Barbara, they’re quite addictive if they have good narrators, and the bar has been set so high after all these years, thanks to audiobooks’ surge in popularity, that most books have excellent narrators. But in the meantime, you can enjoy this delightful series on Kindle, if you prefer!

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