Sometimes three stars are because a book was overall average, and sometimes it’s because of an actual mean — a combination of one-star and five-star moments that leave me confused and with whiplash.
Here’s your Heroine:
Not that she literally fights crime, but she’s described by her best friend like this: “… big boobs, small waist, big butt, long legs, amazon woman thing you have going on. Pair that package with your curly auburn hair and big hazel-green eyes.” So, naturally, she’s hideous. JOKES! She’s obviously a certified hottie, but because this is a contemporary romance, she “doesn’t pay attention to her appearance,” thinks that glasses obscure her hotness, and makes a comment at some point about requiring tens of thousands of dollars of plastic surgery. I get insecurity. I GET IT. But there’s a difference between being insecure and, I don’t know, being legally blind? So a massive one star moment for this completely cliched aspect of Heroine’s characterization.
Her five star qualities, though, are these: she’s incredibly intelligent, motivated, seemingly a very good and loyal friend, she is true to herself, takes no shit, tries to do right by other people and herself, AND she babbles esoteric academic minutiae when she gets nervous. She’s a loveable dork and an obvious descendant of Minerva Highwood. For all of this, though, she can be incredibly unobservant and myopic in her focus, which in real life is probably a detriment (I would know! I can relate to this!) but as part of her characterization, I found it incredibly realistic for her personality type.
Hero is a solid guy: he’s sweet, empathetic, driven, and, obviously, attractive. I pictured Paul Walker for him, but don’t want to include a picture here because that just seems weird to me f
or some reason (I’m not over the tragic death of this random celebrity.)
Anyway, he’s not perfect. However in most of his worst moments, Heroine calls him out. He’s *only* a millionaire, so he doesn’t have to take a seat here, but he does get a bit ostentatious sometimes in ways that I found eye-rolling. Overall, though, he says as much that he sees himself as a work in progress, and he’s always trying to improve and do the right thing, so he does figure out how to meet Heroine halfway the majority of the time -or- adapt to her needs.
Of course, one of their earlier scenes is one of those moments where Heroine gets drugged at a club. So he takes her home to safety, except the contemporary romance novel version of “safety” is that she wakes up in her underthings utterly disoriented and doesn’t figure out where she is until she sees him coming half naked out of the shower. Can this trope DIE DIE DIE? In real life, I don’t want to be reassured by the mostly-naked guy that “nothing happened” as I’m LYING THERE IN MY UNDERWEAR; I want to have made it home safe or, barring that, be tucked away respectfully — by which I mean clothed and covered — on a bed or a couch where it is evident that I slept alone. So, you know, back to one-star because I loathe this.
But, then, something I enjoyed: the chemistry between the leads was palpable, and very funny. A lot of this was derived directly from Hero playing it straight when Heroine would say something awkwardly funny; he was clearly amused and charmed by her, but also recognized that to laugh at something she didn’t mean to be a joke would give the wrong impression or hurt and confuse her. It’s those moments where he clearly “gets” her that make the relationship and, by proxy, the book so strong.
And, really, on the strength of their relationship, the book could probably have been shorter and better. But the author chose to include a few random subplots which ranged from extraneous to offensive. On the side of the former: probably all of the stuff relating to Heroine’s sister. TL;DR version is Heroine has two sisters, both of whom are professional criminals, and the younger one in particular is known for being involved in crazy, violent crime. She pops up here a few times to wreak havoc in Heroine’s relationships and also gets a few skinhead thugs involved in the story, which is all wrapped up in a few slapstick moments and generally leads to no end. More offensive (to me) is the obligatory jealous competitive woman — a coworker, even! — who is clearly interested in Hero and drops in on Heroine to deliver a series of catty remarks and withering glares before trying to actually sabotage Heroine’s job. Serious question to the audience: is this a thing that happens? Like, okay, I’m sure it has happened. But does this woman exist in real life in a statistically significant frequency to justify her inclusion in seemingly every contemporary romance?
All together, here’s the rub. For me, the author gets a lot of mileage out of building a sweet, believable romance between an aspirational hero and a complete dork of a heroine, who is utterly endearing. The bare bones of this story are very, very good. It was when the author settled too much into tropes or felt whatever need to add more ~*~PLOT~*~ on top of the romance where the book lost steam. Which is frustrating! I would love to wholeheartedly recommend this book to other intellectual, bookish types who would value Heroine’s cleverness and Hero being a great match for her, but it has issues, unfortunately. That said, it’s free on Kindle, so maybe give it a shot anyway!
P.S. — the sex in this book is Fade to Black, so if you’re looking for the bow chicka, keep looking.