Returning to a fictional universe you love is one of the most rewarding bookish feelings in the world. And Hannah Grace’s Maple Hills is certainly a place fans of her previous book, Icebreaker, were overjoyed to revisit, even if it’s just for a few chapters before the contemporary romance shifts to a different location. Continuing the simultaneous sweetness and steam that made Grace’s debut such a hit, Wildfire centres on two summer camp counsellors who circle back into each other’s orbit after a one night stand.
After hooking up at a university party, Russ and Aurora don’t expect to cross paths again. But when they both turn up on their first day of work at Honey Acres summer camp, neither of them know how to react to being thrown into a close-proximity situation. Russ is quiet and keeps his thoughts to himself, whilst Aurora – or Rory as she’s affectionately known – is an extrovert who has trouble not voicing every single thought that comes into her head. With a ‘no staff fraternising’ policy to abide by, and Russ determined not to be fired for breaking rules, the two agree to keep things strictly professional. But as the chemistry between them intensifies, they find it increasingly difficult to resist each other.
Shifting the backdrop from the ice rink to a small-town, lakeside wilderness, Wildfire is a winning combination of fun summer camp comedy and sizzling yet tender romance. It really has everything you could want in a dual perspective contemporary romance book: loveable characters with the biggest of hearts, amusing back-and-forth banter, fun team sports, dysfunctional family dynamics and heart-warming found family vibes. It helps that Russ and Rory feel like ordinary, relatable people too. They’re so different in many of their personality traits, but so similar in their need for love and validation. The fact they’ve both been let down by their respective dads allows Russ and Rory to connect on a deeper level and understand each other in a way that only brings them closer together.
If I change one thing in my past, it’d cause a ripple effect, and I wouldn’t chance not meeting you.“
Wildfire is a romance first and foremost, and it’s filled with the kind of heart-fluttering one-liners, longing (read thirsty) looks and intense sexual chemistry that makes readers root for Russ and Rory all the way. Yet the side-characters are just as endearing – from the Maple Hills cameos (their group chats will forever make you wish you were a part of their circle) to the friends Russ and Rory make at camp (we all need a Xander in our lives). There’s a real sense of camaraderie to the story and it makes for a heartening, uplifting read. And if you’re not won over by the litter of puppies in this book, or the way the cinnamon roll men interact with them, you’re definitely made of stone.
Grace doesn’t shy away from the emotional baggage Russ and Rory grapple with but their struggles aren’t so heavy that they’re not difficult to resolve. In fact, the drama is almost underplayed, allowing the characters to grow naturally and actively calling out the main pet-hate with many romance novels: miscommunication. Wildfire is self-aware enough to play on all the best tropes and if it seems a little light and fluffy, that’s not a bad thing. It’s the kind of book that delivers a conveyer belt of warm and fuzzy feels, with just a smidgen of angst. The result is a cute romance that gives a quick Maple Hills fix, whilst laying the groundwork for the next instalment in the series (we’re all hoping for a Henry book next, right?).
If you’re picking up Wildfire expecting more of the hockey romance of Icebreaker, then get ready to feel disappointed. This could almost be a standalone and you definitely don’t need to have read the book that came before to enjoy this. It’s the perfect novel for when you’re craving a sweet summer romance full of cabins, campfires, group bonding activities and kind characters who treat each other with the respect they deserve.
Wildfire was published by Simon & Schuster on 3 October 2023