This was one of my most anticipated books of the year, and I ended up being pretty disappointed with it.
It’s pretty rare that a book charms me the way this one did, only to fizzle out so hard later on. Usually if I’m going to dislike a book, I know almost right away. But really, the first third of this book was great! I was getting the feeling it was going to hit me in my swooners. (There was this one scene where Emma’s sister teases her about having a crush on Jo, and she says “She wants to wife you,” or something like that and it just really charmed me.)
Jo Jones is a Hollywood powerhouse, a childhood star who worked her way into being a writer and creator, and now runs one of the most successful, award-winning TV shows on the air. She’s also in line to write a script for a famously masculine movie series, Agent Silver, and is already getting flack for not being able to handle it, just because she’s a woman. She takes her assistant Emma, who is very competent and wants to be a director someday, to the SAGs as a “buffer” so she doesn’t have to talk to anyone. But after years of taking no one to any award shows, and never commenting on her love life, when a suggestive picture of them starts making the rounds, rumors flourish that Jo and Emma are dating.
Jo is a no nonsense Chinese American who has worked very hard to become as successful as she is, and she holds things close to her chest. Emma is beautiful and too qualified for her job. They have always gotten along really well. But the rumors throw things into upheaval, mostly for Emma, who is on the wrong end of the power differential. (That’s one thing this book gets right; it’s very conscious of the huge power difference between the two of them, and steps carefully.) She’s the one who gets hounded by paparazzi, joked at even by her supposed friends after repeatedly telling them to stop, and worst, made to seem like she is sleeping her way to the top.
If all of this sounds interesting, well just wait for the middle section of the book, where the author decided to have the two characters stop communicating with each other almost entirely, and have them by turns become upset and completely overreact about trivial matters for a seemingly endless amount of pages. Jo and Emma have always had a friendly, professional relationship, but when Jo does one thing wrong, Emma acts like she just isn’t going to take this anymore! Wait, I have a quote:
“Emma had forgiven too many people in her life too easily. She was finally learning to stand up for herself.”
I get the feeling that line was meant to land hard and make us like Emma more, but it had the opposite effect on me. The author spent zero time before this scene establishing that Emma was or felt like a doormat. In fact, the opposite. She is portrayed as smart, competent, efficient and articulate. Zero mention is made of any self-esteem issues, or issues with people bullying or tearing her down. That line is also preceded by Emma thinking that she herself didn’t need to apologize to Jo (for an accidental drunken kiss on the corner of her mouth; Emma had been aiming for her cheek; it’s as dumb as it sounds), that her actions were enough. Immediately following this is Emma’s thoughts that Jo needs to apologize more with her actions. I basically hated Emma in that moment.
It’s just chock full of artificially inflated conflict, and it almost made me turn on the book completely (the biggest source of “conflict” is that Jo befriends Emma’s sister Avery at a baseball game for Jo’s nephew and Avery’s kids and neither of them tell Emma right away. Upon finding out, Emma doesn’t speak to Jo for a week aside from acknowledging her professionally, i.e. “Yes, Ms. Jones,” kind of thing). My liking of the first section made me keep going, though. I get that the author was going for a slow burn, quiet pining sort of thing, but there are much better ways to do that that don’t involve your leads not talking to one another for extended periods of time and making mountains out of mole hills. Romantic pairs getting to know each other in new contexts is the entire point of romance as a genre, and we need to see it! Not pages and pages and endless pages of them stewing in their own heads over nothing. In romance, if you don’t see the talking and the feelings grow yourself in authentic interactions between the characters, you’re not going to feel it, and I didn’t feel it here. There is also such a thing as too slow of a burn, and that was also the case here.
Also, it was weird and slightly annoying that Emma called Jo “boss” all the time.
The rest of the book was less frustrating, after like the 80% mark, but it was still full of them not talking to each other, and stupid misunderstandings (like Emma assuming Jo’s best friend is her girlfriend, when it would have been more likely that Jo would have introduced Emma to her best friend, i.e. “Emma, this is my best friend, Evelyn, we grew up together in Chinatown,” not what actually happens, where no one tells Emma that Evelyn is Jo’s girlfriend, she just assumes, and then gets butthurt about it). Also, and please consider this a PSA for every author, nobody likes reading about characters misunderstanding everything about each other! It is not fun! (Are there people out there who DO like reading about this? If you exist, please tell me.) Also, when your main characters spend more time talking to other characters about each other than they do actually having conversations together, maybe rethink some things.
Anyway, this wasn’t great, and I’m sad about it, and when is there going to be a good f/f romance that I can actually swoon over? I don’t think any of the ones I’ve read have really hit the spot for me.
[2.5 stars rounded up, because I feel bad giving it two]