Small Town Romance in Gena Showalter’s Can’t Hardly Breathe! Review & Excerpt

Small Town Romance in Gena Showalter’s Can’t Hardly Breathe! Review & Excerpt

Bullied in high school, Dorothea Mathis’s past is full of memories she’d rather forget. But there’s one she can’t seem to shake—her long-standing crush on former army ranger Daniel Porter. Now that the sexy bad boy has started using her inn as his personal playground, she should kick him out…but his every heated glance makes her want to join him instead.

Daniel returned to Strawberry Valley, Oklahoma, to care for his ailing father and burn off a little steam with no strings attached. Though he craves curvy Dorothea night and day, he’s as marred by his past as she is by hers. The more he desires her, the more he fears losing her. 

But every sizzling encounter leaves him desperate for more, and soon Daniel must make a choice: take a chance on love or walk away forever.



I love a good second chance romance, especially one with unrequited love that started in high school. I think all of us have that person we crushed on in high school and wonder “what if?”. That’s what makes this type of book so popular. Gena Showalter starts Can’t Hardly Breathe with a great setup, taking us back to Dorothea and Daniel’s high school days, giving readers a glimpse into who they were then. I think just about anyone can relate to Dorothea, who was bullied and lacked self-confidence. Daniel was that guy in high school: the popular one that had a heart of gold. It’s a perfect beginning to a second chance romance.

While there are moments of pure gold in Can’t Hardly Breathe, I struggled with it fairly consistently. Let’s start with what I liked:

  • Dorothea is a great character. She’s someone each of us can relate to: a person who spent her high school years feeling lonely. She was bullied because of her weight and abandoned by her father. She married the first person who paid any positive attention to her and then had her heart-broken. Despite all this she’s still a wonderful person with a heart as big as the sky. She’s quirky and her inner monologue had me laughing more than once. Her nail color changed every day according to her mood which was just so endearing! I loved watching her find her way throughout the course of the book, going from unsure to knowing exactly what she wants and, more importantly, knowing what she deserves.
  • I laughed so much while reading this! The cast of characters in Can’t Hardly Breathe are somewhat peculiar, small-town folks, which seems unavoidable in a place called Strawberry Valley. With this being book 4 in the Original Heartbreakers series, many are easily recognizable. Even so, this is easily read as a standalone (it was my first book in the series)
  • Showalter does a nice job of tugging on the heartstrings. Both Dorothea and Daniel are dealing with some serious issues and I found myself constantly wanting to comfort them.

What was okay:

  • Daniel felt like an enigma to me. When we meet him he’s charming. After his military service he’s broody and angry. Then, after Dorothea throws herself at him he changes back to this sort of charming guy who seems to have lost the edge that I was attracted to. He spends the rest of the book being a quintessential cutesy Strawberry Valley citizen who is also manages to say mean things because he talks before thinking. Still, he shows a lot of growth in his feelings towards Dorothea, coming out a winner and he loves his dad, which made him a hero in my book.


What I didn’t like:

  • The narrative dragged. Sentiments and thoughts are repeated throughout the book without much progress which was frustrating. It wasn’t until the last third of the book that I found Dorothea was making showing any growth. While I don’t mind a slow burn romance, Can’t Hardly Breathe felt like it was just going in circles for much of the book.
  • I found that the PTSD plotline was unrealistic. We know that Daniel (and Jude and Brock) suffer from PTSD, but they don’t get any help, instead they try to handle it by themselves. As severe as their PTSD is (dropping to the ground when someone knocks on the door, reaching for weapons when someone steps on a stick) it was a disservice to readers and those that suffer from PTSD that it was depicted as something that could be made better by a post-nightmare blow job.

All of that said, if you like sweet, quirky, small-town romances and you’ve enjoyed the previous books in this series, I think you’ll like this one. Showalter does setup the next two books in the series and I really did find myself wanting to read Jude and Ryanne’s story!

3 stars for Can’t Hardly Breathe. Heat level: 3

I received a copy of this book from InkSlingerPR in exchange for honest feedback.

Can’t Hardly Breathe is available August 29, 2017 from Harlequin.

Can't Hardly Breathe (The Original Heartbreakers, #4)





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Hands trembling, she hooked the vacuum to the cart and rolled the cargo to the supply room…where her younger sister Holly was smoking a cigarette.

Coughing, Dorothea claimed the cigarette and stubbed the tip into an ashtray.

“Hey!” Eighteen-year-old Holly glared at her. “I wasn’t done.”

“You mean you weren’t done giving our guests lung cancer and stinking up the inn?”

“Exactly.” Ever the smart aleck, Holly tossed a piece of gum in her mouth and popped a bubble in Dorothea’s face. “Besides, we don’t really have guests, now, do we? Since you took over, only four people have stayed here. Mayor Trueman and his side slice, and Daniel Porter and whatever bimbo he happens to be banging.”

Not true! A few months ago, Dorothea had hired Harlow Glass, and everyone in town had rented a room to witness the former bully’s downfall.

Good times.

Dorothea hadn’t wanted to like Harlow, but dang it, something bad had happened to the girl in the years since

high school, and she’d changed. More than that, Harlow had done everything in her power to make amends, and eventually Dorothea had warmed up to her.

Now the beautiful brunette was married to reformed playboy Beck Ockley. The happy couple were expecting their first child in a few months.

A razor-sharp pang cut through Dorothea. Won’t think about my own—

Nope. Slam the breaks.

To ward off the oncoming pity party, she drew in a deep breath…slowly released it… Good, that was good.

She focused on her sister. Holly had pinned back the sides of her jet-black hair, the remaining locks tumbling all the way to the metal links anchored around her biceps. She’d paired a crimson corset top—her first pop of color in months—with a ruffled black skirt, ripped fishnet stockings and combat boots caked with mud Dorothea would have to clean from the floors.

In a town as small as Strawberry Valley, Oklahoma, Holly was a legend. Unique.

“My inn, my rules,” Dorothea said. “No smoking. Ever.” Besides, she suspected the teenager only ever lit up to aggravate her. Not once had Dorothea witnessed an actual puff.

“You’re worse than a Mogwai that’s been fed after midnight.”

A Gremlins reference? Seriously?

“No wonder Jazz left you,” her sister added.

Air hissed between her teeth. Holly might hate her guts, but the teenager loved to insult her, and this barb hit harder than most.

Rather than waiting for love, as Dorothea had dreamed, she’d settled for companionship, marrying the first guy to pay attention to her. Worse, she’d believed his words rather than his actions. I adore you and only want what’s best for you…for us.


About Gena Showalter:

Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of the spellbinding Lords of the Underworld and Angels of the Dark series, two young adult series–Everlife and the White Rabbit Chronicles–and the highly addictive Original Heartbreakers series.  In addition to being a National Reader’s Choice and two time RITA nominee, her romance novels have appeared in Cosmopolitan (Red Hot Read) and Seventeen magazine, she’s appeared on Nightline and been mentioned in Orange is the New Black–if you ask her about it, she’ll talk for hours…hours!  Her books have been translated in multiple languages.

She’s hard at work on her next novel, a tale featuring an alpha male with a dark side and the strong woman who brings him to his knees. You can learn more about Gena, her menagerie of rescue dogs, and all her upcoming books at or



Twitter: @genashowalter



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