I can see why they recommended this at SBTB: it’s a clever, succinct romance between two characters who share obvious charisma. The prose is witty and sophisticated, and Lucy Parker struck a remarkable balance in writing dialogue that demonstrated the characters’ intelligence while also remaining casual, which made everyone on the page seem much more realistic than I often encounter in contemporary romance. (This, in fact, is a hidden pet peeve of mine: authors bend over backwards to inject “cleverness” in banter between characters, but it often comes off as so artificial, because intelligent people don’t actually always talk like the thesaurus and/or science encyclopedias — even when they are socially inept! I’m always left thinking that this character is not nearly as clever as s/he thinks s/he is, or, sadly, the author is not as clever as s/he thinks s/he is.)
Parker’s restraint is what makes the intelligence dynamic work, because Richard’s character does tend toward the stuffy and academic, peppering his brusque dialog with multisyllabic words as an elitist intimidation tactic. Lainie, on the other hand, responds not with more of the same, but usually with a pithy remark indicating that she knows exactly what he’s trying to say with all of his bluster, and she ends up one-upping him in their verbal sparring because she can take him down a peg with much less flowery speech. That she can critique his ego in an accurate and humorous way without resorting to anti-intellectualism is one of the characteristics about Lainie that immediately recommends her to Richard and drives his romantic attraction to her.
As contemporary romance literally takes place in the world I live in, it is much harder for me to write off certain behaviors, cultural inconsistencies, or fantastical elements that populate the genre. A historical rogue is charming in his incorrigibility, but a contemporary asshole is kind of just an asshole, and I do not believe womanhood owes asshole men the privilege of our company, our coddling, our patience, or our gentle instruction in the hopes that they might reform themselves with the love of the right woman. As such, though Richard has his moments:
“So,” Cal said, with suspicious civility. “Richard.”
“Cal,” Lainie returned warningly.
“Rumour has it you’re a bit of a prick.”
Her brother’s face remained politely enquiring.
Richard’s lips twitched. “That does seem to be the general consensus.”
Cal leaned back, frowningly inspecting his jumper, which bore traces of his children’s lunch. “And are you?”
“I believe your sister has said so more than once.” He smiled slowly, looking down into Lainie’s indignant face. “And I respect her opinion.”
He’s still the guy who lifestyle blogs caution you never to date, because acting differently around you than he does around everyone else isn’t romantic, it’s a warning sign. And yeah, I know Lainie *warms* him, but see above. There isn’t really a lot of explanation given for why Richard is a prick, other than that he had fairly uninvolved parents. And in real life, I don’t see these leopards changing their spots, so that took a bit away from my unconditional acceptance of this couple.
Otherwise, the story was basically perfect. Lainie is the quintessential likeable heroine — I like seeing a contemporary woman who has it together and isn’t some voice-over stereotype “Her life seemed perfect, except for one thing!” Her life is pretty good: she has attainable career goals and is working toward them, she gets along well with her family and has plenty of people in her life who care about her, and even though her prior relationship ended because he cheated on her, she isn’t going through the melodramatic contemporary heroine “Taking a vacation from MEN!” shame spiral. She’s just living her life and doing her. A balanced woman in this genre is a breath of fresh air, I tell you.
In short, I definitely recommend this and have added Lucy Parker to my author watchlist.