I’ve read a number of books by Julie James, so when I saw The Thing About Love on NPR’s Best Books of 2017 list, I picked it up immediately. It turns out that I really liked this one. There may not be as much excitement as I had been expecting, especially considering that it involves two FBI agents and their related cases. However, the characters have good chemistry, and this book felt more realistic than others I’ve read by James.
John Shepherd and Jessica Harlow were in the same FBI academy six years ago, and they did not like each other. Having just moved back to the Chicago office after her divorce, Jessica is partnered with John on an undercover assignment in Jacksonville, Florida. They are going after the charismatic mayor who has been accepting bribes to influence the Land Zoning Commission. They will be private investors from Chicago, looking to invest in a new restaurant in the city. The goal is to bolster the FBI’s case against the mayor.
The two are professionals, even though they still rub each other the wrong way. Fortunately, the more time they spend together, the more they grow to like each other. As the case moves on, they work out what happened in the Academy, really start to trust each other, and really start to like each other. The main hiccup in their fated romance is that John only has a couple of weeks before he moves to Quantico to join the elite anti-terrorist task force.
I wasn’t sure if James would make the hate-to-love story work. These are two ridiculously good-looking, smart, nice people. Why would they not get along? But James made their initial animosity work for me with an understandable combination of competitiveness, misunderstandings, and insecurities. Jessica was very aware that as one of only two women out of the class of forty that she was under a lot of pressure to perform, and she did not want to be seen flirting with the “hottest guy in the class.” She was frustrated with her physical weakness and lack of experience with firearms. On the other hand, John, the former Army Ranger, sometimes felt like the dumb brute in the class compared with his many classmates with their advanced degrees.
I feel like I need to start giving a “feminist” rating to the romance novels I read. Using my own subjective standards, I’ll rate a book on how good it made me feel about the state of women in the novel. The standards will include whether the main female character is independent and active in her own life; how other women are portrayed; and whether the love interest is some kind of alpha male asshole that the heroine just accepts because he will possibly be nice to her later. The Thing About Love gets high ratings from me. Jessica Harlow is strong and independent in a male-dominated field. She and John share driving duties, and they are equal partners on cases. John Shepherd is a strong, alpha male who also manages to appreciate and trust that Jessica can do her job and do it well. He is protective without being overbearing; he allows Jessica to do her job without butting in, and there is a refreshing sense of equality to their relationship.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.