By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
This is the first book in the Knitting in the City series, but I read the second, Friends Without Benefits, first. It's funny: Friends Without Benefits employed some of my favorite tropes -- second chance romance, friends to lovers -- but I found the book pretty uneven and only rated it three stars. By contrast, this one employs several tropes I generally can't stand -- boss/employee, big misunderstanding/mistaken identity, heroine with self-esteem issues -- but I liked the book better. (Granted, it's still a bit uneven and I'm not sure it deserves a full four stars -- maybe more like three and a half -- but it was funny and I enjoyed it.)
Neanderthal Seeks Human starts on the worst day of Janie's life: she's caught her boyfriend cheating on her, moved out of their shared place, lost her job, broken the heel of one of her favorite shoes, and there's no toilet paper in the bathroom stall when she needs it. The only silver lining is that the security guard who escorts her out of the building after she's been fired is the hottie she's been admiring from afar for weeks, and he kindly calls her a car to take her home so she doesn't have to tote her Box of Shame across Chicago on a broken pair of heels.
Janie didn't fully work for me as a heroine. She's very, very smart (she can look at an account balance sheet for a few seconds and spot the errors as quickly as if they were printed in bright red ink, and she is a fount of random trivia, which she regurgitates when she gets nervous), and there were things about her I admired (she loves comic books and hates cell phones), but she's always putting herself down (she's the neanderthal referred to in the title) and she's very judgmental. She explains: "I liked labels; I liked putting people and things into categories. It helped me calibrate my expectations of people and relationships." (Page 101) She believes there are four kinds of people, based on their actions and their intentions: good (good actions + good intentions), bad (bad actions + bad intentions), lazy (good intentions + bad actions), and stupid (bad intentions + good actions). It's not a very nuanced worldview, and it made it hard for me to relate to Janie.
Quinn (the Hottie security guard) isn't actually a security guard at all: he's the millionaire CEO of his own security company, which seems to provide security both in the traditional burly-guys-in-uniform-patrolling-your-building sense and in the cyber-security-so-secret-I-could-tell-you-but-then-I'd-have-to-kill-you sense. He's got company cars, company jets, company high rise buildings, but when he's not jetsetting around meeting with top secret corporate clients, he likes to hang out in the security desk of Janie's office building pretending to be a rent-a-cop, which is how Janie mistakes him for a blue collar guy.
Janie's mistake was initially understandable: she makes lightning fast judgments about people, he, in that moment, looked and behaved like a Regular Guy. However, rather than clearing up the mistake early, the story milks it for conflict: Janie ignores mounting evidence that Quinn's a Big Deal, even after he gets her a sweet new job with his company. Quinn knows Janie is missing the obvious, and he doesn't correct her. Both characters are diminished in the process: Janie's obliviousness doesn't ring true for a lady as smart as she's supposed to be, and in order to let the confusion persist so long, Quinn must be either dishonest or meanspirited, or both, and I know the author does not intend for him to be either.
I was also troubled by the fact that all of the things that bothered Janie about her relationship with the cheating ex she's just dumped at the start of the story persist in her relationship with Quinn: Jon had tons of money, she didn't; she was financially dependant upon Jon because she had a job in his father's company, now she is financially dependant upon Quinn because she has a job in his company; Jon always wanted her to get a cell phone so he could contact her whenever he wanted, Quinn makes her get a cell phone as a condition of her employment. Really, the only tangible differences between the two men are that Quinn seems better in bed and isn't cheating on Janie (yet).
So now that I've written all that annoyed me about this book (and I haven't even written all that annoyed me: there were distracting proofreading errors, some gratuitous slut-shaming, and a subplot involving Janie's sister and Quinn's shadowy past that didn't add much to the story) you may be wondering, "Why give it four stars?" The truth is, I don't know, except that I enjoy Penny Reid's writing style even as her characters and plots sometimes set my teeth on edge. One thing that this series does well (in fact it's the theme that holds the Knitting in the City series together) is its treatment of female friendships: Janie is a member of a knitting club that gets together every Tuesday, and the relationships between the women of that club are deeper and more interesting than even the romances the stories focus on.
One of my work colleagues got me a BADGE!
Despite being constantly tempted to DNF this, I pushed through and finished it, only because I like Meredith Duran and I held out hope until the very end that she'd turn this around. She didn't. Although well-written and featuring sympathetic main characters, this book totally fell flat for me. Though the plot has plenty of action and drama -- poisonings, international intrigue, thrilling rescues, daring escapes, kidnappings, spies, hostage situations -- the narrative was so bogged down by the main characters' introspective navel gazing that, despite all the action, the story dragged and lacked excitement. The hero and heroine each had intriguing and sympathetic back-stories, but they were so self-absorbed and so self-pitying, that I couldn't bring myself to give a damn.
And the romance? What romance? It takes more than half the book for the hero and heroine to begin to trust each other, even more for them to begin to like each other, and about 85% of the book before they begin to be honest with each other. Their conflict isn't even the typical "opposites attract" trope, though -- they're not opposites, and they don't really attract. They're not sparking against each other in a way that is exciting or snappy or full of sexual tension: they're just bumbling along, getting in one another's way. There is a climactic scene toward the very end of the story where they're arguing and holding a gun on one another, and I think the reader is supposed to think it is some kind of foreplay, but it's just disturbing, dark, and dangerous. That scene is emblematic of the whole book: maybe someone with more tolerance for dark and twisty melodrama would enjoy this book, but to me it just felt disturbing, contrived, and honestly, pretty goddamn DULL.
This is the point (20-25%) where I usually DNF a book that isn't working for me, and boy, is this not working. If I hadn't really enjoyed virtually everything else I've ever read by Duran, I'd've quit already. I can't figure out what the problem is, except that the plot is convoluted and each new scene leaves me disoriented, working to figure out what's going on and how we came to this point. Worse, as I posted before, I'm having a heck of a time giving a shit. The heroine's mother is missing, probably kidnapped. I should care, right? The hero appears to have PTSD and an opiate addiction. I should care, and be rooting for him to pull himself together, right? The heroine was imprisoned by some vaguely menacing septuagenarian, but she seems to have escaped somehow. I should wonder how, right? ... Yeah, big fat NO on all counts. I have no shits to give.
Duran, I'm giving you to the end of this chapter to turn this thing around, mmmkay?
I bought this for Beyond Temptation, the Kit Rocha novella that kicks off this steamy collection of tattoo-themed romances. I don't fully understand why, since I don't generally like dystopian literature, tattoos, or motorcycle gangs, but I am a Kit Rocha junkie. Beyond Temptation is a sexy little story about computer hacker and outsider Noah, who after years of separation, encounters his first crush living with the O'Kanes in Sector 4. Emma always could turn his crank, but being his best friend's baby sister had put her off limits. Now the best friend is, tragically, out of the picture, but Noah's own bad choices may jeopardize their chance at happiness. I enjoyed this story -- not as well as the three previous, full-length Beyond novels, but enough to satisfy my O'Kane craving until Beyond Jealousy comes out in a few weeks.
The next story in the collection is Rocky Ride, a Canadian contemporary by new-to-me author Vivian Arend. Anna is an officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and she's been having a secret affair with bad boy biker Mitch Thompson. Their relationship is at the point where they both want more than sex, but can her reputation survive the scandal when they go public with their love? I enjoyed this story, too, and the sexy-times were very hot.
The only one of the three I didn't like was Lauren Dane's All That Remains, which is a m/m/f threesome story set in a futuristic North America a few generations after a virus eliminated 90% of the population and caused a serious gender imbalance, such that women are rare and revered, and polyamorous relationships are the cultural norm. I found the premise pretty interesting, but I don't think Dane follows the same rules of grammar that I do: I kept finding myself re-reading sentences, trying to figure out what the convoluted collection of words was supposed to say. Usually I could figure it out, but it wasn't worth the effort.
The formatting of the e-book didn't translate well with my kindle -- different text sizes, weird formatting, tables and graphics missing -- so I hope they fix that before publication or else I recommend people get a paper version of this book. As a lesbian mom raising two boys, I'm trying to read up on some of the special issues and challenges I can expect, especially where my kids don't have a daddy. I liked that this book was sensitive to the fact that there are a lot of single moms and other fatherless families out there, so that while the book stressed the importance of bonding with a father figure especially in middle childhood, it had tips for those of us for whom the father figure in question is not going to be the actual father.
Much of this book wasn't yet applicable to my situation (my boys are still toddlers), but I think I'll invest in a paper copy and refer back to it as my kids grow, because there are some useful tips and information for different ages.
***ARC provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***
I must've picked this up as a freebie or cheapie somewhere along the line, I don't remember: it was in the long, long list of stuff I hadn't yet read on my Kindle, so I gave it a shot. My advice: skip it.
It's not even worth a full review, but here are the two main reasons I hated this book:
1. The heroine, Violet, is a total doormat. When I looked this book up, I see the blurb comes right out and says she has "almost nonexistent self-esteem," so evidentally I was warned. I should've known better: I need a heroine to have some backbone.
2. The heroes are lying douchenozzles, because that's what every doormat heroine needs, right? They are friends, and each wants to date her. Rather than tell her about thier relationship, they agree to each date her, not tell her about the other, and then let her choose. (Again, the blurb warns about all this. I swear, if I'd read the blurb ahead of time, I wouldn't have downloaded this book, free or not -- maybe I'm one-clicking in my sleep or something.) But of course she likes both of them, so they blindfold her and do her together (introducing the second guy as a friend of the first guy, but not telling her that second guy is THE second guy that she's dating). She freaks out, runs away (somehow STILL not noticing that Second Guy is her Second Guy, making her TSTL), and the next time she gets together with first guy, he has the fucking audacity to lecture her about the need for total honesty in a BDSM relationship! WTeverlovingF?! Of course, when the jig is up, she's pissed, they're sorry, but she's such a doormat she takes them back and agrees to be their sub dishonestly every after.
I took a break from Booklikes and missed Grim's 10 Things Meme, but here's mine, better late than never.
1. I've known my wife since kindergarten. We went to summer camp together. Marriage is always work, but when you've known someone since puberty, you can take some comfort in the fact that whatever happens, they've already seen you at your absolute worst.
2. I have an auditory processing disorder that makes it hard to process what I hear without lip reading and body language; consequently, I hate talking on the phone. It also makes it hard to filter out background noise, so if I go to a crowded restaurant, most of the time I have no idea what the person next to me is saying, but I can tell you every song that has played on the sound system since we sat down. (Needless to say, my wife finds this very annoying.)
3. My sons have 36 half-siblings through their anonymous sperm donor (at last count). We call them "diblings," and we're planning a trip to Chicago this summer to meet a bunch of them. When we first found out how many there were (26 families so far), we were totally freaked out, but with time my connection with the other mamas (we're all mothers -- either single moms by choice or lesbian couples) has quickly become the best parenting resource I have. I'm planning to write a book about the incredible and surprising blessings that connecting with the donor families has brought into our lives.
4. That thing Molly Ringwald does with her lipstick in The Breakfast Club? I can totally do that.
5. I order my favorite pens (Pilot V-ball liquid ink, extra fine, blue) online because I can't find them in stores anymore. I'm also tempted to stockpile incandescent light bulbs, but so far have resisted the urge.
6. I choose lemon over chocolate, every time.
7. I always keep my mouth shut when people debate whether or not homosexuality is a choice, because for me, it totally was. I know a lot of people are born that way, but I swing both ways pretty happily.
8. I grew up on an island in the middle of Lake Champlain, in between Vermont and New York. You can drive across a causeway to Vermont, but even local people often didn't know that, and I amused myself in high school (on the mainland, less than 20 miles from home) by telling tall tales about how primitive things were on the island -- how we didn't have electricity, how I had to row off the island in summer or skate across the ice in winter. It still amazes me how often people believed me.
9. I value honesty above all things, but if I meet a person I'm unlikely to meet again (a stranger sitting beside me on a plane, for example), I'll usually tell elaborate lies about my life. Partly it's because I like to tell stories (see number 8, supra), and partly it's because it's easier, when someone asks, "What does your husband do?" to tell them about my fictional husband and our fictional marriage than it is to correct their assumption that I'm married to a man. I'm not in the closet at all or embarrassed about my wife or our relationship, and if she's with me or my kids are with me or if I'm with someone I'll see again, I'll correct any misconceptions, but if I'm alone and strangers want to hear about my husband, I'll tell them all about him and our crazy life together.
10. My two little boys (aged three and not-quite-one) are the bomdiggety. This sounds like they are an afterthought and not the absolute center of my life, but that's not true. It's just that there aren't words to express how much I love them and how much joy and fullness they bring to my world. Although, full disclosure: whoever invented the phrase "terrible two's" never met a three-year-old, and it's a good thing my oldest is really, really sweet, because there are moments when I'm totally tempted to put him out at the end of the driveway with a "FREE" sign hanging around his neck.
For me, much of the appeal of Shannon Stacey's contemporary romances is that they are so totally down-to-earth, so basic. They are set in northern New England (as is my life), and they feature totally normal people -- waitresses, landscapers, diner owners, barbers, contractors, cops -- in totally normal situations, against a small-town backdrop that feels like the snowy, dingy, sleepy, neighborly small towns where I have lived, and not like a polished, twee Hollywood representation of "Small Town, USA." Usually, there isn't any contrived conflict or angsty melodrama; instead, the characters confront the sort of totally normal problems that totally normal people have, and they just happen to fall in love in the process. Sure, these aren't the most exciting romances out there, but I find them sweetly reassuring in their conviction that true love can blossom among ordinary people in ordinary circumstances.
This novella didn't work for me because the plot is premised upon a coincidence that is totally contrived and ridiculous, which is exactly the sort of plot WTFery that I read Shannon Stacey to escape. Darcy and Jake meet at trivia night in a bar. Darcy invites Jake to spend the night. He does, and the earth moves, angels sing, flowers burst spontaneously into bloom all up and down the eastern seacoast, blah blah blah.... She writes down her number, but he gets caught out in the rain, the ink runs, and... c'est la vie. He can't remember the name of the bar where they met, can't remember where her house is, didn't catch her last name: it's hopeless. . . . EXCEPT of course she works for Jake's best friend and business partner, and six weeks later, her boss sends her up north to East Bumbleshoot, NH, to help his buddy start up a new restaurant, and of course the buddy is the One Night Stand That Got Away. SURPRISE!
Even setting aside my annoyance at the Contrived Coincidence, Darcy and Jake really have very poor communication skills. The conflict in the last half of the story, once they've been reunited, stems from their inability to talk to each other about their developing feelings and the logistical issues that stem from the fact that Darcy lives in Concord and Jake is increasingly happy in East Bumbleshoot, three hours away. Conflict driven by the main characters' inability to talk through their issues like grownups is always a big turn-off for me, and this was no exception.
P.S. - Apparently, this is the 24th book I've read this year (X is XXIV, in Sock Poppet's A to Z 2014 Reading Challenge).
I really like Jill Shalvis's smart, breezy, funny contemporaries, but I'm at the end of my patience with the twee cuteness of Lucky Harbor, the fictional small town in the Pacific Northwest where most of her books are set. Rumor Has It is set in the only slightly less twee mountain town of Sunshine, Idaho, but it's enough of a change that that I could enjoy this book as I have not enjoyed the last few Lucky Harbor books.
Kate is a second grade teacher who takes care of everyone: her students, her friends, her ex-boyfriend-slash-boss, her recovering pill addict father and her two much-younger siblings. She's won a scholarship to attend a graduate degree program in science in California, but she doesn't dare accept because so many people count on her.
Griffin is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan (V is for Veteran in Sock Poppet's A to Z 2014 Reading Challenge), recently discharged from the military on medical disability after an IED explosion nearly took off his head. He now gets debilitating headaches and suffers from nightmares and ringing in the ears. He's come back to Sunshine for his sister's wedding, but he has no intention of staying: he's never gotten along with his father, and he has job offers waiting for him on the East Coast.
Kate effortlessly absorbs Griffin into the circle of people she takes care of, coming across him in the throes of a migraine and soothing his pain. For all she looks after others, though, Kate isn't selfless: she decides she wants Griffin in her bed, and she pursues him despite his gentlemanly reservations. She knows he doesn't intend to stay in town, but she doesn't care: she's not expecting anything long-term.
To his immense surprise and discomfort, Griffin finds himself falling for Kate and, more shocking yet, he finds contentment helping out at the family ranch. Suddenly, Sunshine seems less confining than it was when he was a rebellious kid, and the job offers back east seem less inviting.
And yet just when it seems everything will work out for a happy-ever-after, Griffin discovers a family secret that throws him for a loop. He shuts out Kate and everyone else, and is about to move East when something else happens to upset his plans again. If this sounds kind of chaotic, it is: there are a lot of plot twists in the last quarter of the book, which makes the end feel hurried and disorganized, unfortunately. Even with the messy plot detours at the end, though, my overall reading experience was positive: Kate is smart and funny and not at all a doormat, though she often puts the needs of others above her own; Griffin is emotionally reserved but not immature or damaged; and together they bring out the best qualities in one another, which gives me faith in the staying power of their romance. And, as usual, Shalvis's dialogue is quick and snarky and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, which goes a long way toward making the read entertaining even where the story leaves something to be desired.
Catrina is a Domme. She's a long-time, respected member of her local BDSM club, the Den, she has plenty of play partners, and though she may occasionally have some twinges about the lack of emotional connection in life, by and large she seems pretty content with her lot.
Damien is a Dom, in fact the Dom, the owner of the Den. In the early scenes narrated from his POV, he mentions that the Den doesn't have a lot of Dommes but that he has totes respect for those there are, and he'd never, ever, ever try to undermine their authority by treating them like subs ... but he has horny pants for Cat and he's The Dom, so... yeah.
He asks her to sub for him. She tells him to fuck off. He asks her pretty, pretty please (and says it'll make her a better domme when the experiment is over). She says fuck off (but starts to think, well, maybe....). He gets all masterful and sexy and shit, and her resolve weakens (because she's a girl, right, and all girls secretly want to be dominated, of course), and so she agrees to be his sub for two weeks.
Then, though she starts the two week experiment totally planning to go back to being the dominant when it's over, they predictably start to fall in lurve, and she starts to wake up to the glory of submission while Damien doesn't compromise at all (sometimes he thinks about how dickish he's being and how he really ought to be more decent, but then, somehow, he's all, nah), until by the end of the book she's not interested in dominating men anymore and he's the Best. Dom. Ever.
Fuck that shit.
Toward the end of the book, the narrator goes out with a woman who tells him (by way of kiss-off), "I'm old enough to know the difference between intriguing and fucked up. You should date younger women. They can't always tell."
The problem is that Tana French doesn't seem to recognize this difference: these characters are not as intriguing as she seems to think. The narrator, Adam Robert Ryan (Rob) is the sole survivor of the 1984 child disappearance and presumed murder that is one of two mysteries at the core of the plot, an experience which (understandably) has left him more "fucked up" than intriguing. He is also, all grown up, one of the lead detectives investigating a present-day child murder that took place in the same woods (the second mystery). His partner, Cassie Maddox, is something of a literary Mary-Sue: she is smarter, prettier, cooler, more talented -- in short, her only flaw is that she is apparently a magnet for maladjusted men (Rob included) and psychopaths. Over the course of the story, Rob makes one bad decision after another, solving the present day mystery almost by accident (some hundred or so pages after I figured out "whodunnit," incidentally), all the while overriding Cassie's infallible Mary-Sue instincts, to his predictable peril.
All that said, for all of its disappointments in plotting and character development, Tana French writes sparkling, beautiful prose, and this book is worth reading just for that.
Tessa Dare is one of my favorite authors, but I'm not sure what to make of this first book in her new Castles Ever After series. I couldn't tell while reading it if Dare meant for this to be a gothic romance. It certainly has gothic elements -- penniless ingenue in desperate straits at the mercy of bitter, scarred, misanthropic (but tall, dark, and handsome) man, set in a creepy, crumbling, isolated old castle that might well be haunted -- but if Dare was aiming for gothic, she missed her mark. Despite the creepy ambience, this book doesn't have the dark, spooky, suspenseful tone of a gothic novel. Instead, I think (hope?) Dare was spoofing the old gothics, and if that was her intent, she hit the nail on the head, because the gothic tropes seem not so much eerie as entertaining (example: the story is set at Gostley Castle, and the heroine's solicitor asks whether that rhymes with "ghostly" or "ghastly.")
The heroine, Izzy Goodnight, finds herself destitute after her father fails to provide for her in his will. She's down to her last shillings when she learns she's inherited a crumbling castle in Northumberland. Unfortunately, the castle isn't empty: Ransom, the Duke of Rothbury, has been convalescing (read: hiding) there since being gravely injured in a duel with his ex-fiancee's lover. Rothbury contests Izzy's inheritance, since he owns the castle and didn't authorize its sale to the guy who bequeathed it to Izzy. However, he's ignored his correspondence for the months since his injury, and both agree that there might be some clue to the dilemma amid the pile of letters awaiting Rothbury's attention. Since Rothbury's condition still doesn't allow him to read his mail without assistance, Izzy agrees to act as his secretary while they sort out the mess.
The reader has to be willing to approach this story with an open mind, because much of it is just absurd. That a gently-bred, unmarried woman would be willing to stay, unchaperoned, in a ghost- and pest-infested old pile with a cranky, unmarried duke (and said duke would be willing to let her) is the first of many disbeliefs the reader must willingly suspend. (It helps that Izzy is penniless: she hasn't really got any alternative; it also helps that Ransom's injuries are significant enough that, duke or not, he's not a hot commodity on the marriage mart anymore.)
Izzy is penniless, but she's not alone in the world. Before his death, her father published a serial novel which is so popular it inspired LARPers to tour the countryside, re-enacting the scenes. To this band of misfits, Izzy is a celebrity -- though they don't know, and don't want to know, the real Izzy; they just want to know the timid, innocent little girl immortalized in the novel.
Though Romancing the Duke is undeniably entertaining, and there were several points where I laughed out loud (Izzy has a pet weasel, and come on, how often do you find LARPers in romance?), much of the plot didn't really work for me. Ransom is attracted to Izzy, and eventually his number one priority is to see to her well-being, but he's really slow in getting there: in the first scene, she is literally fainting because she hasn't eaten in days, and when Ransom learns that, he doesn't try to feed her or even seem worried that she's gone hungry. Later on, Ransom uncomfortably close to a bodice-ripper-style angry-sex seduction scene, and while I should have trusted Dare to avoid a dubious consent love scene (as she eventually does when Izzy calls halt), it was a close call and turned me off to Ransom as a romantic lead.
Worse, there's a huge hole in the plot. Ransom and Izzy come together to try and sort out his correspondence and who owns Gostley Castle, and it's rapidly clear that someone has been taking advantage of Ransom's inattention to his business affairs to rip him off. Figuring out the scheme and unmasking the thief should have been the climax of the novel, but instead it was barely touched upon, only glancingly mentioned as an afterthought in a final scene that was a chaotic shitstorm of badly-plotted WTFery.
I have always been drawn to the idea of knitting -- of having something to do with my hands while sitting still, of creating something beautiful and useful from a few balls of yarn, of being able to show my love to friends and family with hand-made gifts from the heart -- but in practice, I am a knitting failure. I've tried to learn several times, with several teachers, but I haven't the skill, patience, or fine motor coordination to accomplish anything but a few lumpy, holey scarves made with big, chunky yarn.
As with knitting, I liked this book perhaps better in theory than in execution. This story (the second in Penny Reid's Knitting in the City series; I haven't read the first) combines some of my favorite tropes: second chance romance, friends-to-lovers (or enemies-to-lovers, depending upon how you look at it), the unrequited secret crush. Nico and Elizabeth grew up together. As children, Nico loved Elizabeth, but showed it by teasing and tormenting her cruelly (as boys will), so that she thought he hated her. In high school, Elizabeth fell in love with Nico's best friend, who then died of cancer. Nico comforted Elizabeth in her grief, she slept with him once, freaked out, and ran away. When the novel begins, they haven't seen each other for eleven years, since that fateful night when they were teenagers.
Now Nico is a famous comedian with his own Comedy Central-style show, and Elizabeth is finishing her last year of residency as a medical doctor. Their paths cross again when Nico's niece comes under Elizabeth's care. Two things become immediately clear: 1) Nico is still very much in love with Elizabeth, and 2) Elizabeth has not dealt with her grief, and consequently she is very much afraid to love anyone. For most of the book, the dilemma seems quite hopeless.
Parts of this story worked very well:
I loved Nico's honesty. So often, romance novels manufacture dramatic conflict by making a huge issue of the hero's resistance to falling in love and his inability to express his feelings once they develop. Friends Without Benefits uses that tired trope, too, but gender-flips it: Elizabeth is the one who, having lost her mother and her first love as a child, isn't willing to surrender her heart. Nico, in a refreshing contrast both to Elizabeth's fear and to the stereotypically emotionally-stunted romance heroes of the genre, is totally in touch with his feelings and unapologetically honest about them. He tells Elizabeth how he feels and what he wants, he owns his mistakes and apologizes for them, and he doesn't compromise his self-respect while he waits for Elizabeth to come to terms with her own emotions. Nico is much, much more emotionally mature than Elizabeth, and I really liked that about him.
I loved Elizabeth's Knitting Group. Every Tuesday night, Elizabeth gets together with a bunch of girlfriends to knit, gossip, and drink wine. This is the thread that binds the series together: presumably, by the end, all of the knitters will have had their own love stories. In the midst of my present social isolation, living in rural America far from all of my best school mates, raising toddlers whose bedtime routine starts at 6:45 pm, I long for this sort of social Girl Time even more than I long for romance and hot sex (my wife and I have that, occassionally, even with small kids). In my case, I'd prefer a book group to a knitting group, but for a group of friends like that, I'd make another stab at learning to purl. Elizabeth's friends are fun, funny, supportive, and honest, and they love her too much to let her persist in her deluded and emotionally-stunted relationship patterns.
Parts of this story didn't work for me:
Elizabeth is a hot mess. Even gender-flipped, the I-don't-wanna-fall-in-love-because-REASONS trope is tired and tiresome. Much as I may sympathize with Elizabeth's childhood losses and her impulse to guard her heart, her emotional immaturity made her pretty tough to like for the first two-thirds of this book. She's not just guarded: she's condescending (example: when Nico tells her he loves her, she doesn't believe him; she says he thinks he loves her, as if she's in a better position to know his heart and mind than he is) and sometimes even cruel (example: when she feels her resolve to resist Nico slipping, she makes arrangements to sleep with another man whom she doesn't even like, intending to use him to innoculate herself against Nico's love -- which is a pretty crappy thing to do to both men).
When Elizabeth finally starts to get her shit together, Nico flakes out. At about 70% through the story, just as things are starting to wrap up toward the Happy Ever After, something happens in a the plot which makes Elizabeth want to be closer to Nico but sends him fleeing back to his show in New York. Honestly, the fight that preceeds his departure seems contrived, as if Ms. Reid's plot got away from her and the HEA showed up before she'd wrapped up the story, so she made her characters have a big blow up just to buy a little time. Nico had been so honest and mature to that point, and Elizabeth had been such a basketcase, and all of a sudden their roles were reversed and neither was behaving true-to-character. It was all a set-up to a Grand Gesture Grand Finale, but I didn't like it: I'd have preferred more emotional honesty and less dramatic fireworks.
Poor Editing. Finally, and this is a frequent complaint about indie-published books, I was bothered by typos and grammatical errors (including an egregious misuse of "literally," which ranks right up with "irregardless" as my one of my top grammar pet peeves) throughout the story. Ms. Reid also has a tendency toward redundancy, using long chains of adjectives when one or two would suffice, and sometimes expressing the same sentiment (sometimes in the exact same phrasing) several times in the same scene. As I understand it, these first two books have been fairly well-received and have brought Ms. Reid success beyond that enjoyed by most indie-published authors. I hope that she'll consider using some of the proceeds of that success to pay for professional editing and proofreading of her next books -- with a little help, I think her writing could probably make the leap from 'Good' to 'Excellent'.
Bottom line: Ms. Reid's writing is funny and insightful, and I'll probably read on in the series in the hopes that I'll like future stories better when Elizabeth-the-hot-mess doesn't have such a central role.