Review | The Perfect Fit (Love in the Dales # 2), Mary Jayne Baker

40666847The Perfect Fit is a super cute and feel good story about a group of residents in a small town who organize a Christmas pantomime to raise funds to save their beloved theatre. I had expected this to be a romantic comedy, but it’s more a small town comedy than anything else. I love the large and colourful cast of characters — the theatre grand dame who has aged out of leading roles, the grumpy old men best friends who discover their love for the stage, the famous actor who agrees to a cameo on the condition that his beautiful but talentless girlfriend gets a leading role, and the newly discovered acting talent. I also really love the small town feel, and the various relationship threads that connected all the characters with each other.

I’m not too familiar with the tradition of the Christmas pantomime, and admit that some of the humour went over my head. But overall, it was easy enough to catch on, and I love the sheer silliness of the entire spectacle.

Most of the romantic part of the plot — between Becky the costume shop owner who launches the pantomime in the first place, co-writes it and ends up starring in it, and Marcus her co-writer and an actor in a comic relief part —  happens near the end. There are hints of their attraction throughout, but not a lot of heat. There is also a love triangle subplot involving Becky’s fiance, but there’s little heat with either men. We mostly see Becky and Marcus falling in love through cute moments where they’re rehearsing a scene and a moment where their characters’ eyes meet renders them speechless. Their realization of their true feelings for each other is cute, and the climactic Big Romantic Gesture delightfully silly and cheesy, as befits the true pantomime spirit.

Still, the true star of this novel isn’t the romance so much as the pantomime production itself. It was a sheer delight to spend time with the residents in this town, and to see all the hilarious twists on their way to opening night.

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Thank you to Mirror Books for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Friend Zone, Abby Jimenez

41945163After a meet-cute over a fender bender on their way to plan their best friends’ wedding, maid of honour Kristen Petersen and best man Josh Copeland can’t deny the sparks between them. Unfortunately, Josh wants to have lots of kids (he broke up with his last girlfriend because she didn’t want any) and while Kristen does as well, she biologically can’t have any. She has endometriosis, which makes it hard for her to get pregnant, and she is also weeks away from a surgery that’ll free her from pain but will also render her infertility absolute. Since it’s important to Josh to have biological children (he has no interest in adopting or fostering), Kristen realizes they can’t be together and keeps them firmly in the friends-with-benefits zone.

The Friend Zone is a rom com that tackles some heavy issues. I sympathized with Kristen, and I love how the author delves into the ways that endometriosis has impacted Kristen all of her life. Even when she was in school with Sloan, her best friend and the bride, she sometimes had to forego certain trips and activities because of period pain. The author also talked about how Kristen worked around her condition in previous relationships, so that her boyfriends wouldn’t have to sacrifice their own sexual pleasures while she was dealing with pain. So often, when a character has a disability or a chronic condition, it’s mentioned and then set aside whenever convenient for plot, so I really like that the reality of Kristen’s condition was ever-present throughout, without ever devolving into a pity-fest. It’s simply part of her everyday reality, and leads her to some major decisions over her own long-term happiness. Even when I don’t necessarily agree with some of her choices, I understand where she’s coming from, and Jimenez does a great job of putting us in her shoes.

The hero Josh was sweet, and I like how respectful he is throughout of Kristen’s decisions. Even though he wants to take their relationship to the next level and, not knowing of her condition, doesn’t quite understand why they’re stuck at the friends-with-benefits level, he doesn’t push her to change her mind. Instead, he talks things over with her, and actually listens to what she has to say.

The one thing that I didn’t like about him is how he kept pegging Kristen as “a unicorn” amongst women because she’s low-key, no-drama “cool girl.” It was fine the first time, but he mentioned it so often I’m starting to feel he has a low opinion of women in general, which is such a turn off. To that point, I’m not a fan of the “not like other women” trope in general, so while I understand that the author wanted to show that even snarky, sarcastic women can find love (and I appreciate that she spelled this out in her Author’s Note), I’m very much meh over the stereotypes it propagates about “most women.”

I also wasn’t a huge fan that Kristen’s “cool girl” persona was partly due to her liking beer and chips rather than posh stuff like red wine. This is more a personal preference than anything, but meh on the reverse snobbery. The other thing is that we learn that the main characters love hunting, and that too is a major personal turn off for me.

I’m also not fully sure how I feel about the ending. The romance was fairly lighthearted overall and I loved the friendships that Kristen had with Sloan and Josh had with Brandon, but there was a twist at the 75% mark that dampened the vibe considerably and changed the tone completely for the rest of the story. It was handled well, and it’s certainly the author’s right to take the story wherever she wanted, but it did detract from my enjoyment and I ultimately felt it was unnecessary.

Beyond that, there was another twist late in the book that had a bit of a happier tone. It struck me as a bit fairy tale-ish and I think that, given the characters’ journeys, the happily-ever-after would have been more powerful without it. But I like that Jimenez addresses this directly in the Author’s Note. She clarifies that it’s based on lived experience with a friend, and also that it wasn’t actually central to the happy ending of the characters’ arcs.

Overall, The Friend Zone is a sweet and emotional book that deals with some real issues. I like that Jimenez delves into a medical condition that’s an unfortunate reality for many women, and incorporates it into a romance.

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Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Huge Deal (21 Wall Street # 3), Lauren Layne

42445064Huge Deal is a sweet and sexy romance, and is just a lot of fun to read. I have a soft spot for stories of unrequited love turned hot romance, and this story just hit a lot of my marks. Kate is the somewhat mousy assistant to three high powered Wall Street financiers. She had long harboured a crush on one of her bosses, Kennedy, until she overhears him one day make a pact with the other two bankers to never date her. Worse, she also overhears him say that she isn’t even attractive enough to date anyway. Kennedy has indeed never considered Kate a romantic option — or at least has never admitted the possibility to himself — until he sees his brother flirting with her at a wedding and is overcome by jealousy he has no right to feel. Suddenly, he realizes he may be attracted to her after all, but that he may have blown his chances with her long ago without even realizing how.

I absolutely loved this book. I love that Kate is somewhat plain rather than gorgeous-but-doesn’t-realize-it, and that her decision to fall out of love with Kennedy is based on a really relatable and low-key kind of experience. Kennedy can be a bit of an ass, but I fell hard for his super serious demeanour. I also love how even though he’s the less charming brother, he’s also the one who truly goes all in and for the long haul once he makes the decision to love someone. I love that all the players in the love triangle were so respectful of each other, and of the friendships / brotherly bonds beyond the romance.

The main tension between the leads comes from their differing ideas on love. Kate is a staunch romantic who strongly believes in love at first sight, and Kennedy is much more pragmatic who sees love in terms of contracts and rational decisions. I love how this tension was eventually resolved, and how Kennedy discovers his passionate side without ever compromising on the serious and measured parts of his character.

The chemistry between Kate and Kennedy is fantastic. I love the super nerdy flirting over chess, of all things, and I also really enjoyed the more low-key moments of connection, like sharing a meal at the office when only both of them are around. The warm friendships with other characters (presumably from previous books in the series) added texture to Kate and Kennedy’s world, and it’s a circle of friends I definitely enjoyed spending time with.

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Thank you to Thomas Allen for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.