3 Quickie Contemporary Romance Reviews
If you're having a rough week, it's probably not a good idea to read a novel set in hell--literally. A guaranteed happy ending is more the ticket in these situations.
I recently picked up an assortment of contemporary romances, and have a few thoughts I'd like to share. Each of these novels belongs to a series of interconnected novels, but can be read as standalone stories.
Indecent Proposal by Molly O'Keefe
I can't believe that no one told me that Molly's latest installment in her Bishop, Arkansas series was a fake relationship book--that trope is like Kryptonite for me. Ryan, the heroine in this novel, is one of the more memorable in a series packed with tough-to-forget ladies. She finds herself pregnant and alone after a one night stand and a condom failure with a man who, as it turns out, is running for Congress and a member of a powerful political family. She wants nothing more than to be left alone and in peace. However, Harrison Montgomery's (the man question) family won't allow it and Ryan finds herself entangled in a marriage of convenience.
I've said it probably ten times here, but Molly is brilliant at subverting common tropes, infusing them with complex, often hard, characters and creating a narrative that's emotionally resonant. Indecent Proposal is no different.
Indecent Proposal also features some fascinatingly messy family dynamics that I always appreciate. Ryan's new mother-in-law, in particular, surprised me with her nuance, and I so appreciate that.
You're simply not going to go wrong by picking up any of the books in this series.
It Happened One Wedding by Julie James
Julie James used to be such a reliable author for me--while she never tackles anything too heavy, her snappy dialogue always made for a fun read. However, ever since Agent Wilkins' (the lone African American supporting character in the series who dreamed of a meet-cute love affair) story was basically wrapped up in a quick footnote scene a couple of books back, I've felt s certain level of disappointment and maybe even distrust in James' books. I have lots of theories about why this character--who was clearly being set up as future lead in this series--will never be a lead character, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable discussing those theories publicly.
With that said, like all of her books, the dialogue and pacing is great in It Happened One Wedding, and it was lots of fun while I was reading it.
However, like I've felt with the last three of her books, these characters never have any authentic struggles and in a lot of ways they're interchangeable: hot mostly-FBI guys (by the way, I live near the local FBI office and from what I see coming out of that office, that's not reality at all) and career-minded women meet, the dude is usually kind of a player, but not in a gross way and she's the one that changes it all for him. This all happens while the individuals never have to make any compromises regarding their intense careers, despite that in the real world that's kind of a big deal. Of course, these folks are so privileged that they can really have it all (which is a myth, yo) with perfect work-life balance and all the trimmings. (This was actually even mor extreme in last year's installment in the series, which actually made me actively angry.)
There are just so many other authors in this genre pushing the envelope (the aforementioned Molly O'Keefe, as well as Ruthie Knox and Mary Ann Rivers, for example) and I wish James would, because she's such a skilled writer that I think she could do more character-wise, and ground her novels in reality in a way that would make them stronger. But she always plays it safe. This is likely just a reality of the economics of publishing and not a conscious authorial choice, but it has disappointed me enough that I think this will be my last of her novels, which is too bad, really.
I sure love the shows on the cover of this novel, though.
When the Lights Go Down by Amy Jo Cousins
Amy Jo Cousins' contribution to the Summer Rain anthology was one of my favorites (it also seems to be one of the most divisive, from the reviews I've read), so when Amy offered me a review copy of her newest novel, obviously I had to say yes.
The heroine of When the Lights Go Down, Maxie, really clicked with me because she's a business owner who has all the normal concerns of someone trying to make a business succeed. I've read very little of that down authentically in any genre, so this was a wonderful surprise. Her business is stage management and she loves every minute of it and embraces the costume element as a way of life, donning outfits that allow her to play different characters. But the thing with playing a role is that it also creates distance. So, when Nick, the angel investor who's helping monitor his mother's latest endeavor, producing the Maxie's stage managing.
The first half of this novel was a bit unwieldy for me, as there's a fair amount of page time devoted to updates in characters from other books in this series (which I haven't read, though I want to read the one starring Maxie's card shark sister), but the second half was lots of fun. This is definitely a heroine-centric romance, which is my preference, so I enjoyed reading about Maxie trying to figure out how to have a relationship with this man who frustrates and challenges her.
My biggest gripe about When the Lights Go Down is the same that I usually have with category length romances: It's just s smidgen short. I'd love to see this authors write a longer novel, because there were moments when I wanted scenes to go a bit deeper in terms of the internal narration and character development, but the relatively short length constrained those moments. Similarly, there's a fair chunk of time that passes near the end of the novel that are summarized in just s few paragraphs and I wanted to know more about Maxie's personal journey during that time.
Note: That cover is so WTF that I almost didn't include it.