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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

Entertaining Treatment of Annoying Tropes

Neanderthal Seeks Human: A Smart Romance  - Penny Reid

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.