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 a contemporary twist on the old Marriage-of-Convenience trope. When Tom's employer tells him they won't be renewing his work visa, he's got to come up with a backup plan to stay in the States so he can stay close to his stepson -- who isn't actually is stepson (since the boy's mom died before they married), and with whom he isn't actually "close" (since the angsty teen wants nothing to do with him). Enter Honor Holland, who has just lost the man she's loved for her entire life to her backstabbing so-called best friend. Start with mutual desperation, stir in a few drinks, add a hot shag, and viola, you have a recipe for marital immigration fraud.
Kristan Higgins is hit or miss for me, and this was an uncomfortable read in a lot of ways. Higgins has a tendency to use her heroines' extreme public humiliation as a plot device, which isn't my cup of tea. Here, Honor tries to get her lover's attention by doing the whole nude-under-the-raincoat thing, only to be caught by his visiting parents, and then he compares their sexual relationship to an old baseball glove (comfortable and familiar, but not something you need every day), and then he meets her in a crowded pub in front of the whole town to share the news of his engagement to her erstwhile best friend, and Honor and the ex-friend get into a brawl right then and there. (Compare all this with the previous book in the series, in which Honor's little sister gets jilted by her high school sweetheart at the altar on their wedding day, when he comes out of the closet, and later on, if I'm remembering correctly, Faith has her own episode of public nudity at the very same pub.) Anyway, Higgins puts her heroines in these epically mortifying situations for comic effect -- but I've never been one to laugh at others' misfortune, so these scenes rarely work for me.
Worse, these heroines are so nice that they try to save the relationships with the people who orchestrated their humiliation. Honor never tells the jackass who slept with her for seventeen years and then ran off with her best friend that he broke her heart; she just puts on a brave face and apologizes for "overreacting" when she brawled with his fiancee. She even makes some tentative advances toward forgiving the backstabbing best friend. She's simply too good to be true, and her niceness is a little bit stomach-churning, honestly.
I also found it hard to connect with the hero, Tom. He's been burned in relationships in the past, so he decides not to let himself fall for Honor because surely it can never work out anyway. This bothered me for two reasons: 1) generally, I'm not a fan of the I-don't-want-to-love-you-because-REASONS trope, where one of the lovers has some prior damage or experience that makes them willfully resist commitment and emotional entanglements, because, come on, grow the fuck up already, and 2) specifically to this story, the one thing Honor asked for when she agreed to commit a felony by marrying him so he could get a green card was that they give the 'fake' relationship an opportunity to grow into something real, and by resisting love at every turn, Tom is betraying that promise. Then, rather than talking to Honor about his fears, he behaves like a jerk and wounds her deeply, and though in the end he proves he would literally run into a burning building for her, a heartfelt apology would have been more powerful and far more satisfying.
The other thing that bothered me about Tom is that he drinks too much (he says he's just British, not a lush), and that's always a huge issue for me since I grew up with alcoholic parents.
All that said, though, Kristan Higgins is funny and I like the familiarity of her small town romances even when I have major issues with the main plot, as I did here. I'm sure I'll keep reading most of what Ms. Higgins puts out, even though her plots and characters sometimes set my teeth on edge.