When I requested Tools of Engagement on NetGalley I didn’t realize it was a third book in a series. I received the arc early enough that I felt like I could read the first two books and get this one read and reviewed before publication. The problem was, I hated the first book so much I dnf’d it at 40%. That made me reluctant to read the next book and eventually, I just had to skip it and read this one. I liked it much more than Travis and Georgia’s book, but I found it frustrating. Great banter and some wonderful character moments, but it’s unsupported by the weak character building. This is very much a your mileage may vary kind of book.
Bethany Castle is an anxious perfectionist who hates letting people see below the shiny facade. She has been staging the homes her father and brother remodel and she’s good at it. She wants to be in charge of her own flip, but the men in her family don’t take her seriously. When her soon-to-be brother-in-law gives her the deed to his childhood home, it’s an opportunity for her to take charge. Wes Daniels appeared in town to look after his niece (this all happened in a book I didn’t read) and works for Bethany’s brother. The two verbally spar. Wes thinks it’s foreplay, Bethany thinks he’s making fun of her. When she announces she is flipping her own house, Wes leaves her brother’s crew to come work for her. An entirely unnecessary house flipping tv competition gets involved.
Here’s what I liked, Bethany and Wes do have good banter. When Wes notices Bethany’s reaction to his teasing, he changes the way he teases her. There are some sweet moments between to the main characters.
The biggest problem with this book is that it doesn’t feel like Bailey really thought through her characters. Bethany is a perfectionist who doesn’t like to get dirty, but she wants to lead her own flip from start to finish. I can guarantee that if Bethany thought she was ready to lead her own flip, she would know what she was doing. It’s one thing for her to lack self-confidence on her first project, but Bethany has too many moments where she doesn’t know basic stuff, the kind of stuff she would make sure she knew if she really were the person Bailey says she is. I loathe when we are told a woman is a competent person in their field, but then in the romance they are bad at their job and need the male love interest to save them. Woman can be good at their jobs, need assistance on the areas outside their expertise, and be interesting characters.
We is also perplexing character. He felt like a jumble of characteristics than never quite jelled. He’s thoughtful and steadfast, but also a former foster kid who can’t settle down. He seems to be a cowboy just because he’s from Texas. Maybe that was explained more in the book I didn’t read. It felt like a quirk that was added because Bailey didn’t know what else to do with him. He was on the verge of being a really good character, but he didn’t quite add up.
Speaking of quirks, I hated that Wes and Bethany both referred to be people by characteristics instead of their names. Early on, Bethany challenges Wes on labeling the women he uses as babysitters this way, and he has a reasonable response – but he keeps doing it well past when it’s cute. Bethany does it too to her crew, and it isn’t cute then either. Bailey wants to tell a story about building community, but she undercuts it by making people caricatures and labels.
The conflict near the end and it’s resolution felt unrealistic and unbelievable, in part because Bailey has relied too much of caricatures instead of characters. If it didn’t go into spoilers, I would have a multi paragraph rant about how dumb the third act crisis was. Bailey wants this to be a story about the okayness of imperfection, the fixibility of problems, and the importance of community. I wanted to read that story too.
I received this as an arc from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.