Category Archives: Romance/Relationship

Robert G. Edwards. An Image of Us. United States: 1st Ride Publishing, 2013.

image ofSam Fenton and Kathryn Ackart were high school sweethearts in the small coastal town of Meylor, North Carolina.  Sam’s dad ran a scrap metal business in town and battled a drinking problem, but that didn’t stop Kathryn and her family from welcoming Sam into their hearts.  After high school, Sam got on as a reporter with the local paper, while Kathryn left for UNC to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.  The distance between the coast and Chapel Hill did not dampen the young couple’s love.  When Kathryn began to apply to medical schools, she and Sam discussed where they wanted to live–their life together was assumed.

All that changed when Sam received a phone call from family in Arizona.  Decades earlier, his mother’s family founded a store in the small town of Sterling.  That business was now failing–could Sam come and help save it?  Sam’s decision to go to Arizona led to a break with Kathryn.  For Kathryn, it wasn’t so much the decision itself, but how quickly Sam made it.  The life that Kathryn thought they were building was put aside in an instant.  Even as Kathryn moved on with her life–becoming a doctor, then a surgeon, marrying–she harbored bitterness and sadness about the breakup.

As An Image of Us opens, it is dozen years later.  The Meylor high school has undergone a major renovation and alums have been invited back for a tour and celebration.  Sam’s family business has failed due to the competition from big-box stores, and he is at loose ends.  Kathryn has just started her first vacation in two years, and what better way to spend it than with her family and old friends?  Sam hopes that he will see Kathryn at the celebration; Kathryn is not sure what she wants.  An Image of Us follows these two as they consider what they once had and what might still be possible for them.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Edwards, Robert G, Romance/Relationship

Nicholas Sparks. The Longest Ride. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2013.

The Longest RideNicholas Sparks returns with another solid effort that is sure to have readers everywhere reaching for Kleenex. The Longest Ride, Sparks’ seventeenth novel, weaves together two seemingly disparate love stories. Readers might not immediately spot any connections, however, by the conclusion of the novel, Sparks stitches the two stories together with surprising poignancy.

The first story concerns 91-year old Ira Levinson and his beloved and deceased wife, Ruth. As the novel opens, the combination of Ira’s failing eyesight and a snowstorm has caused him to run his car off the road and down a steep embankment. The front of his car has smashed into a tree, and Ira is lodged tight in his damaged car. From what Ira can tell, he has sustained several possible injuries. If he tries to climb out, with his age, his wounds, and the icy slope, he would never be able to make it back to the road. So Ira has no choice but to wait in his car until someone discovers him. While Ira bides his time, he imagines that his late wife, Ruth has materialized in the passenger seat of the car.

She and Ira reminisce about their marriage. Their story starts in Greensboro. They met through their families. Ruth’s parents recently immigrated from the threat of Hitler’s burgeoning regime and Ira’s parents owned a local haberdashery. The courtship was slow and managed to endure through World War II. Ira revisits all the unexpected twists in their lives, some good and others bad. Ruth, or at least the fantasy of her, helps keep Ira conscious as he struggles to hold onto life. Sparks drums up a great depth of emotion and convincing detail with Ira and Ruth’s romance. Readers will feel invested in this plot line and will wonder what will happen to Ira. Will someone rescue him in time?

Meanwhile, in the second story, Sophia, an art history major and senior at Wake Forest, has called it quits with her unfaithful boyfriend Brian.  She has discovered that Brian has cheated on her once again. She insists to herself that this will be the last time–she is done with him. But slipping away from Brian’s clutches is easier said than done – as evidenced by her past failed attempts to break it off. As Sophia’s best friend Marcia puts it, Brian “is funny, good-looking and rich” plus he’s the most popular guy in his fraternity. Essentially, he possesses all the characteristics of a perfect catch (minus the infidelities, of course).  Brian can’t accept that the relationship is over. He has followed Sophia around campus since the break up and she’s sick and a little bit scared of his stalking.

During a weekend trip to a bull-riding competition with her sorority sisters, Brian approaches Sophia. Just before the confrontation escalates into something nasty, one of the cowboys intercedes and diffuses the situation. After the awkward incident Sophia and the cowboy, named Luke, become acquainted. Luke lives with his mother on a ranch near King. He competes in bull-riding competitions partially out of love of riding and partially to help pay the bills. Soon Sophia is spending all her free time with Luke. Marcia warns her against leaping so quickly into another long-term relationship and predicts that Sophia and Luke’s lives are headed in different paths. For a while, the pair is blissfully happy. Then the real world intervenes–Luke withholds a serious secret, and Sophia feels pressured about finding a job after she graduates in the spring. Can the new couple brave the strain from the outside world, or will the hard realities of life crush their relationship?

Despite the surface differences, the two love stories mirror each other in several respects. Ruth and Sophia are both immigrants with who have an affinity for art and date rich, important men. Ira and Luke are the men who stand on the sidelines and come to marvel that such special women could fall for them instead of the obvious choice. Ira and Ruth’s tale is expansive in its recollection, but the actual story within the span of the novel is compacted given the parameters of the car accident in terms of time and space. Luke and Sophia’s romance is more spread out and has a longer time frame to develop. Sparks alternates between the two stories, told from the point-of-view of Ira, Sophia, and Luke. Together they play off each other nicely – one love story at its end and the other at its beginning.

Check out this title in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Forsyth, Piedmont, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Rebecca Lee Smith. A Dance to Die For. Adams Basin, NY: Wild Rose Press, 2012.

Annabel Maitland is a dedicated ballet dancer. So dedicated that she chokes down handfuls of ibuprofen to numb her pounding hip for practices and performances.  Since Annabel is older than most of the other ballerinas (she’s 34), she strives to work twice as hard to compensate for her age. When the novel begins, she is dancing in an off-Broadway production called Moondance.  During one of the performances, Annabel and her friend, Quinn Wolcott, break into a stash of pain relievers to heavily medicate their aches and pains before the show. As Annabel waits for the ballet to begin, her head is spinning and she feels unsteady on her feet; she’s woozy rather than relaxed.

Despite concerned comments from the stage manager and her dance partner Byron, Annabel insists she is well enough to dance. Not long after the performance begins, Quinn experiences anaphylactic shock. The other dancers continue the piece, ignoring Quinn as she gasps for air. Annabel, the only dancer not callously concerned with maintaining a professional veneer, breaks formation and grabs Quinn just before she topples off the stage. Quinn falls on top of Annabel, seriously injuring Annabel’s weak hip. Quinn’s dying words are a cryptic jumble of names and a request to find her killer.

Two months later, Annabel departs New York and journeys to Asheville under the pretense of establishing and managing a dinner theater at the Sheffield Inn. Her dancing career is finished. Annabel’s age was enough of a detriment, but her wounded hip guarantees that she is permanently out of commission. She can teach for the Sheffield Inn, but it’s doubtful if she can dance for a professional company again. The worn-out mountain inn, a little ways outside of town, is in Annabel’s words, “a rundown, miniature version of Tara.” Annabel sought out the position to fulfill her promise to Quinn to investigate her murder. Quinn lived in nearby Black Mountain, but she was romantically linked to the owners of the inn, brothers Trent and Gil Sheffield. Gil was Quinn’s fiancé and Trent was Quinn’s former boyfriend.

Gil welcomes Annabel warmly and shows her around the inn. He sets her to work immediately on preparing the space with two carpenters. Midway through hanging lights, Trent interrupts the crew. Evidently he was out of town and not privy to Gil’s dinner theater plans. Trent fires Annabel on the spot. The brothers already have invested in repairs to restore the building so they, according to Trent, shouldn’t throw extra money toward a harebrained non-necessity that Gil cooked up. Trent is stable and orderly while Gil is impractical and affable. After some finagling, Gil and Annabel persuade Trent the dinner theater is a lucrative opportunity.

Trent is not convinced that he can trust Annabel and her connections to Quinn. But the show goes on and Annabel’s investigation continues. She doesn’t have to snoop around for long before she discovers that Quinn had plenty of enemies who are much happier now that she’s dead. Yet regardless of Quinn’s negative reputation, as the evidence stacks up Annabel starts to wonder if Quinn’s death was a mistake and if she was the original target all along. If her suspicions are right, then Annabel might be searching for her own killer.

Novelist Rebecca Lee Smith’s case is hard to crack until the final twist is revealed. Smith provides intrigue through the romance triangle backstory between Trent, Gil and Quinn. Her portrayal of the competitive New York dancing world feels believable in its heartlessness. A Dance to Die For is a mystery readers could easily lose themselves in for a few hours.

Check out this title in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Buncombe, Mountains, Romance/Relationship, Smith, Rebecca Lee, Suspense/Thriller

Holley Trent. My Nora. Blue Ash, OH: Crimson Romance, 2012.

noraWhen Matt Vogel shows up at Nora Frederickson’s barn door, she can’t wait to get rid of him.  Nora is a painter, and she’s bought this old farm in Chowan County from a distant relative so that she can work undisturbed.  Matt has dropped by because he is used to hunting on this land and would like to get the permission of the new owner–Nora.  Hunting is a no-no for Nora.  She has just moved from a bad neighborhood in Baltimore, and she has heard enough gun shots to last a lifetime.

Even as Nora gives Matt a quick brushoff, he likes what he sees and begins to look for excuses to come by.  Matt works at the local fishery where his early morning hours give him free time in the afternoons for hunting–and other things.  Matt is handsome and handy, and Nora’s feelings toward him thaw. Their relationship crosses racial lines, but this is not a major obstacle, and the author handles it in a way that reflects the way we live now.  The more significant barriers to their relationship are the the demands of Nora’s career and the problems that their friends and frenemies make for them.  Matt’s attempt to keep his so-called friend Chad away from Nora backfires as Chad dallies with two women who are close to Matt and Nora, and Chad’s sister tries to torpedo Nora’s career.  Despite the smallness of small town life, Nora finds inspiration in the fields and forest and people of Chowan County.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Chowan, Coast, Romance/Relationship, Trent, Holley

Jennifer Hudson Taylor. Path of Freedom. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013.

pathAt eighteen, Flora Saferight has already developed a reputation as a competent midwife in her small community in Guilford County, North Carolina.  Such recognition would seem to indicate that she is mature beyond her years, but in fact, she is still impetuous and quick to take offense.  And no one offends her quite as much as Bruce Milliken.  Bruce teased Flora when they were young, and she is now ever on the ready for his next barb.  Bruce, who has long been attracted to Flora’s tempestuousness, has tried to make amends, but she has rebuffed every offer of a truce in their little war of words. But when Flora and Bruce are tapped by their pastor for a dangerous mission, the two young people must put aside their past.

For Flora and Bruce are part of a tight-knit Quaker community–a community that has been resisting the slaveholding society that they live in by ferrying men and women out of bondage to freedom in the North.  It’s  secret and dangerous work that both Bruce’s parents and Flora’s have done; they now want their children to take over their roles.  As Path of Freedom opens, Bruce has just returned from a trip to Indiana on the Underground Railroad.  Bruce has shown that he can handle the false-bottomwagon that hides his passengers and that he can withstand the hardships of the trip.  Flora has never done this work–and she did not know of her parents’ involvement in the Underground Railroad–but she is keenly needed for the next trip, because the passengers are a young man and his pregnant wife.  There is a chance that the woman will give birth while they are on the trip to Pennsylvania and that she will need the attentions of a skilled midwife to save her and her baby.

Because the young couple will be hidden, and it would appear improper for Flora and Bruce to travel alone, Flora’s sister Irene must make the trip too.  Irene provides some of the lighter moments in the book and acts as a go-between between Bruce and Flora as they work out their feelings for each other.  Although the dangers and hardship of the trip–suspicious landowners, bobcats, storms, bounty hunters–are portrayed, Path of Freedom, is at its core a romance in which the relationship between Flora and Bruce takes center stage.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Guilford, Historical, Piedmont, Romance/Relationship, Taylor, Jennifer Hudson

Sherryl Woods. Sea Glass Island. Don Mills, Ont: Harlequin Mira, 2013.

Sea Glass IslandSamantha Castle is the eldest of the three Castle sisters and the only one yet to find love. Her youngest sister, Emily, is frantically tackling the details of her fast-approaching nuptials with her fiancé, Boone. Her other sister, Gabi, is transitioning into motherhood and waiting for her opportunity to marry her perfect match, Wade. But love isn’t the most immediate issue on Samantha’s mind, it’s her acting career. Now that Samantha has hit 35, she is no longer able to land the parts that are reserved for bright-eyed actresses in their early twenties. Even reasonable parts, like mom roles, are cast unsuitably to actresses much younger than Samantha. But, at 35, it seems that Samantha is too young to play mature women and too old to play even a mom. Caught in a limbo, the lack of job offers has forced Samantha into lean times. With TV and Broadway opportunities drying up, Samantha is questioning her dedication to her craft.

But her concerns are divided when Emily places new demands on Samantha. Emily has an unexpected and atypical responsibility for Samantha–to be her maid of honor. Specifically, she is scheming to pair Samantha up with Boone’s best man, Ethan Cole. Emily is determined that Samantha and Ethan are a natural couple, and she has their grandmother and matchmaker pro, Cora Jane on her side. Samantha is skeptical. Back in high school, she had a not-so-secret crush on Ethan. That, of course, was obvious to everyone except Ethan. In high school, Ethan was a football star with girls falling at his feet. After high school, Ethan’s luck changed.

Presently, Ethan runs a small emergency clinic in Sand Castle Bay. He and another doctor, Greg Knotts, established the clinic after returning from service in Afghanistan. During his stint in Afghanistan, Ethan lost the lower portion of his left leg in an IED explosion. He now wears a prosthesis. Upon his return, Ethan also founded a charity, called Project Pride, motivated out of a desire to improve the self-image of children with prosthetic limbs. At first, the town treated Ethan as war hero. However, his fiancée Lisa broke his heart by leaving him. Since the break-up, Ethan refuses to get emotionally involved with women and acts disinterested in romance. To protect himself, he resorts to cynicism and general animosity.

When Boone tips Ethan off about Emily and Cora Jean’s plot, he is less than pleased. Ethan assumes that Samantha, an actress after all, will be vain and shallow. Or so he hopes her to be. An empty-headed and self-absorbed woman is much easier to ignore than a woman with some substance. Unfortunately, when the two encounter each other, Ethan discovers with great surprise, and even greater ire, that Samantha is not at all what he expected – she’s unpredictable, kind, and full of spark. They each fight back attraction by first avoiding one another. Yet that proves impossible with meddling family members who continue to force them together for wedding-related activities, so Samantha and Ethan resolve to be friends. But as they spend more time together, their friendship becomes increasingly difficult to maintain. Whether or not they like it, Samantha and Ethan’s relationship might just evolve without them.

Sea Glass Island is the third and final novel in Sherryl Woods’ Ocean Breeze series. Much like the other two installments, Woods reinforces the value of family. She also presents the importance of moving past surface assumptions and appearances as reflected by Ethan’s initial dismissal of Samantha in addition to the prejudices formed against other characters with prosthetic limbs.

Check out this title in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Novels in Series, Romance/Relationship, Woods, Sherryl

Jacqueline DeGroot. The Secret of the Kindred Spirit. Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library, 2002.

kindredDevelopment is always a contentious issue on the barrier islands along the North Carolina coast.  Be it beach nourishment, road improvements, or an ocean-front mansion, locals perceive that there will be winners and losers.  As this novel opens, Cassie Andrews has arrived on Sunset Beach Island to begin a controversial, long overdue replacement for the bridge linking the island with the mainland of Brunswick County.  As she surveys the old bridge close up in her kayak, she is horrified to discover a man’s head bobbing up against a pylon.  Soon the police are on the scene, and when the man is identified as one of the chief opponents of the new bridge, Cassie knows that this assignment will be more challenging than previous ones.

Part of the challenge for Cassie will be to keep her mind on her work.  Michael Troy, one of the police officers on the murder case, is instantly attracted to Cassie, an attraction that grows when he follows her to nude bathing section of Bird Island.  Much of the novel is devoted to verbal–and other–interplay between Cassie and Michael.  Interwoven with that is the story of the victim, Damn Duke Ellington, a seemingly destitute island native who was known chiefly for his opposition to the new bridge and his support of the island’s feral cat population.

The break in the case comes from a message in a notebook left in the Kindred Spirit mailbox on Bird Island.  Micheal’s good detective work with the notebook leads him to the murderer, and not a minute to soon.  The Kindred Spirit mailbox is a real part of the Sunset Beach story, and it figures in at least one other novel on this blog, Marybeth Whalen’s The Mailbox.  Readers who like softer, more meditative romances, should read The Mailbox.  Readers who prefer a fast-paced, more graphic story will enjoy The Secret of the Kindred Spirit.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2002, Brunswick, Coast, DeGroot, Jacqueline, Mystery, Romance/Relationship

Monique Miller. The Marrying Kind. Deer Park, NY: Urban Christian, 2012.

marryingAs this novel opens, Travis Highgate definitely does not look like the marrying kind.  He is divorced, disengaged from his two sons, unemployed, and about to be evicted from his not-so-nice apartment.  A chance encounter with a college friend leads to a house-sitting gig in a very nice neighborhood. This could be just the break that Travis needs, but how will Travis use it?  At first, it is all about enjoyment–days in front of his friend’s wide screen TV and nights taking out new women, using his friend’s car and even his clothes.  Slowly, Travis comes to see that this is not the way to make a life that will give him lasting happiness.  Readers will root for Travis as he struggles to dig himself out of a financial hole, live the values that will lead to happiness, save his ex-wife from a dangerous entanglement, and reunite his family.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Miller, Monique, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

Marybeth Whalen. The Wishing Tree. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

The Wishing TreeJust as the pieces of Ivy Marshall’s life are shattering, it seems like all of the elements in her sister Shea’s life are fitting together seamlessly. Shea’s long-term boyfriend Owen plans a grand, romantic proposal on national television. Meanwhile, Ivy discovers that she’s losing her job at the family company because her father is shutting down her local branch in Asheville. On top of that, she finds out that her husband Elliot has cheated on her. Ivy bears Shea’s good news through gritted teeth. To add insult to an already terrible situation, Ivy’s family and friends blithely tell her not to worry about her job termination and to see it as an opportunity to prepare for Shea’s upcoming wedding. For the time being, Ivy has decided to keep word of her marital discord under wraps. Since she and Elliot married under tense circumstances, she is ashamed to admit possible defeat to her family.

Six years ago, Ivy was engaged to Owen’s cousin, Michael. Childhood friends Ivy and Michael and Shea and Owen coupled off naturally in their teens. Their lives were set on a happy track, but when Ivy met Elliot at a ski lodge on vacation, she recognized Elliot immediately as her true soul mate. She abandoned her family and her home in Sunset Beach and tossed away her former life to move to Asheville and wed Elliot instead. Lately though, Ivy observes that she and Elliot only seem to discuss “the business of life – what groceries they were out of, what bills needed to be paid, when they were expected to be somewhere” and she rues that their spark has mellowed. Elliot’s betrayal unhinges Ivy, but it is not a total surprise. The instant Ivy learns of Elliot’s infidelity, she sets out for Sunset Beach without waiting around for an explanation.

The process of wedding planning is near traumatic for Ivy, especially since the news team that covered Shea and Owen’s engagement story is also interested in broadcasting their wedding. As all the decisions and preparations play out before Ivy’s eyes, she cannot help but consider the wedding she was supposed to, but never had. She fights back jealousy for Shea and what appears like a perfect wedding. Disillusioned by a broken engagement and a failing marriage, Ivy flings herself alternately between the men in her life, Michael and Elliot, confused about which path to take into the future – her past or her present. As she wonders what could have been with Michael, she plays a dangerous what-if game.

But Elliot is not ready to let Ivy go and he uses creative measures to communicate his remorse. In a charming and modern twist on traditional love notes, Elliot creates a Twitter account and tweets his apologies and affections for Ivy through the handle, @ElliotIdiot. Forgiveness is a concept central to novelist Marybeth Whalen’s The Wishing Tree. One of Ivy’s greatest struggles is learning to accept being alone. While Ivy owes forgiveness to many people in light of her impulsive actions, she must also separate her individual desires and fears, and forgive herself, before she can find a happier ending.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Brunswick, Buncombe, Coast, Mountains, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship, Whalen, Marybeth

Edward P. Norvell. Ocracoke between the Storms. Winston Salem, NC: Distributed by John F. Blair, 2013.

Ocracoke between the StormsFour months ago, Luke Harrison lost his wife of four years, Karen, in a fatal car accident. Without Karen, Luke cannot find much purpose in his life. Luke’s father died when he was a baby and his mother was incarcerated following her addiction to drugs, so he spent his adolescence drifting through foster homes. Karen was Luke’s closest and only true family. Wracked with grief, Luke drives from his home in Kannapolis to Ocracoke Island where he intends to end his suffering by drowning himself. But just as the rough whitecaps are dragging him under, an unexpected bystander rescues Luke from the freezing water. Hank Kilgo, a retired Coast Guard officer, is Luke’s savior. After Hank pulls Luke to safety, he insists that Luke rest for the night at his home with him and his wife, Cora.

Luke continues to stay with the Kilgo family much longer than his initial invitation. The natives welcome Luke unconditionally. Before he knows it, Luke is immersed in the area’s island culture and takes on odd jobs. Novelist Edward P. Norvell portrays the intimate community of Ocracoke with painstaking detail. Norvell’s Ocracoke is a vibrant small town brimming with special traditions such as the Ocracoke Festival, volunteer efforts like a radio station-sponsored bachelor auction, and of course, local politics concerning the invasive Park Service and their protection of the loggerhead turtle population. The most colorful town character is Thomas Michael Joiner or TMJ for short. TMJ and Luke are a union of opposites. Where Luke is humble and modest, TMJ is gregarious and brazen. Despite the pair’s differences, Luke and TMJ become close friends, and TMJ helps Luke feel at home in Ocracoke, particularly amongst the other single twentysomethings on the island.

Slowly but surely, Luke forms a lasting attachment to Ocracoke. At first he tries to keep the situation casual–from his living arrangements, to his employment, to even his love life. The fact that Luke develops a love life only a few months after Karen’s death confuses him. During the night, he dreams of Karen and copes with his guilt over her accident and what he might have done to prevent it. The idea of replacing Karen so quickly strikes Luke as callous. Whether Luke is aware or not, Ocracoke and its people restore meaning to his life and help Luke survive his heartbreak. Ocracoke between the Storms is a tale of redemption and moving past tragedy in life. Norvell has written three other novels, Southport, Shadows, and Portsmouth, all of which occur in coastal locations around the state. Clearly, Norvell derives a large amount of inspiration from the beaches of North Carolina.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Hyde, Norvell, Edward P., Romance/Relationship