REVIEW: Learning to Fall by Mina V. Esguerra
Dear Mina V. Esguerra,
My friend Kat Mayo from Book Thingo recommended this book to me last week so I bought it. Lucky for me, I also read it basically straight away. I’d never heard of your books before (even though you have a decent backlist – yay for me) and I thought Dear Author readers deserved to hear about your book so rather than reviewing it at my own small blog, I thought I’d post the review here.
It is also probably not a book I’d have picked up by myself because it features a heroine who is a romance book blogger and usually that’s something I’m wary of. However, with Kat’s recommendation ringing in my ears I thought I’d give it a go. While people blog in different ways, Steph Bennett, does it in a way which is easily recognisable to most bloggers I think and you totally nail the memes, tropes and hashtags bloggers tend to use. I don’t usually go for something so meta but when it’s done well, as it is here, it becomes a feature not a bug.
Steph is in art school at Addison Hill University, just outside San Francisco. She became so distracted by book blogging she failed to turn in her senior art project in a form which would enable her to graduate. After begging her older brother, Josh, for help, he agreed to loan her the money for another semester on certain conditions – one of which is that after she finishes, she takes a job with his architectural firm in Houston. Steph’s family live in Houston so it’s not all bad news but she had previously had her sights set on pursuing a career in art in the bay area. Doing CAD work and graphic design for an architect wasn’t really what she had in mind. But she messed up and didn’t put the work in to graduate on time so this is the price she is paying. (She didn’t want to ask her parents to bail her out – they had already paid so much for her education.) In order to graduate at the end of the semester, Steph decides to put her blog on hiatus. No more review books, reviews, or book signings, blogger meet-ups for her. The only thing she’s going to do, so she can stay somewhat connected to the community she found in book blogging, is to participate in “Sera’s Live Like Fiction Monthly Challenge”. October is: “Go out with a stereotypical romance novel hero WHO ISN’T YOUR TYPE.”
In art class that Friday, where Steph is supervising (as a TA), Grayson Price, former co-captain of the Addison Hill rugby team, member of the US international rugby team and hot guy, arrives to act as model. His friend, Molly Imahara (absent from the class that day), is the class instructor and Steph’s advisor for her senior art project. The students need to practice drawing the human form and Molly asked Grayson to help.
“…Do you have athletic shorts, or something? You don’t need to be completely naked. It’s not that kind of class.”
“That’s a little disappointing.”
“What I mean is,” and God was I sounding like some kind of idiot, “We have a few artists in the class who are doing studies on book cover art. You know how you see book covers of male upper bodies sometimes? They need that, mostly. And maybe bare legs.”
“Molly invited me here to be Fabio?”
I blushed at that, like I was thrown right back into high school as I read those novels at night, in the privacy of my room. But also, had the world not moved on from Fabio? No offense to the man, but as visual representations of a female’s sexual fantasy went, he was not the only guy. There have been many guys. There are so many other guys.
“What I’m saying is, take your pants off, Fabio,” I said instead.
Grayson is definitely not Steph’s type (she usually goes for arty, emo guys) and he fits the stereotype “athlete/jock hero” to a tee.
I didn’t like guys like him. I want to say something profound about it, like I had been hurt by a jock in the past, or I had a type, but it’s not that. I could look at his bod, the way he towered easily over six feet, and appreciate it on an objective, sort of distant level. Sure, his dirty blond hair looked like it had been cut by a lawn mower, but it suited him. Sure, his teeth were perfect, and to avoid getting blinded by them, you’d have to look at his stubbly jaw instead. That was a plus for anyone else. My physical reaction was that, but it was because he was a specimen, almost engineered to push my buttons, the way a cute kitten makes anyone go awwww. It didn’t mean I liked him, or could even fall for him.
So she asks him out. It’s perfect.
“I could have gone out with a Greek billionaire, you know. Stereotypical romance hero, not at all my type.”
They have their date and to Steph’s surprise she has more than a good time. Grayson, ahem, delivers. In many ways.
I wish I could describe how it felt to be held, handled like this. I had never, before. But that was why Grayson was my choice, wasn’t he? He seemed different, right from the start. Every natural Steph decision would not have led to this moment.
Obviously, natural Steph was WRONG.
It turns out that Grayson needs Steph’s help with something too. He’s finished college and is juggling his future. There’s a reality TV show about to start, featuring the Addison Hill University rugby team. There is money for an assistant coach and Grayson wants the job. He also wants to preserve his place in the family investigation/security business AND keep his place on the USA rugby team. Everyone wants his full attention and he wants it all. Steph can help by being his “pretend girlfriend” – this will give comfort to the producers that he’s committed and it will demonstrate to his parents that he’s settling down. Steph likes Grayson and she throws herself into the role. It’s easy, because it’s not actually her.
Romance readers are not going to need a roadmap to see where things are headed.
The story is delightful. Interspersed throughout the narrative are some blog posts, including a couple of book reviews (which are not glowingly uncritical, THANK YOU), posts about other Live Like Fiction challenges and private message conversations with a fellow blogger friend, Delilah. OMG, I could not tell you how much I laughed at their conversations.
Delilah: Do you realize what you just typed? You’re a Pretend Girlfriend?
Steph: I am well aware that it’s what I am.
Delilah: The sex is real?
Steph: It’s very real, thanks.
Delilah: HAVE YOU FALLEN IN LOVE WITH HIM YET? Because you will, you know.
Steph: You haven’t seen him. He’s so… bright.
Delilah: Right, and you like the dark, tortured, stubbly kind. In books, at least. Is he tortured?
Steph: Not really, no. I mean, vulnerable, but in a different way.
Delilah: Still not seeing what’s wrong with him.
Steph: He’s going to be on TV soon, and I will be one of those “before he was famous” girls in his life.
Steph: So what?
Delilah: This all started last month, didn’t it? And you’re still seeing him.
Steph: I said. Very specific circumstances.
Delilah: Bullshit. You’ve rejected guys for wearing the wrong color shirt. You’re getting something out of this. What does this guy have? Does he have magic peen?
(Readers: have you one-clicked yet? Because really, is that not awesome??)
It’s not a perfect book. I’m not known for reading subtle cues very well and a few things went over my head. And, I had a some questions about what happened at the end. If ever a book needed an epilogue it’s this one. The ending is definitely happy, but I had questions. Some of the transitions weren’t super smooth and I missed having any of Grayson’s POV. The story is told entirely from Steph’s perspective. I get why – Grayson POV wouldn’t really have fit into the format very well. But I’d have been happy with more of him in the book in some way. This may hearken back to some of those things which went over my head (Grayson’s dad in particular was too cryptic for me most of the time). And, I still don’t quite get what “smashmouth bullying” is.
So, yes, it’s not perfect. But it is wonderful. It’s funny, sexy, smart and sweet. Grayson is not a jerk. Let me just say that again. Grayson is NOT A JERK. Kat thinks he’s a gamma hero. I’m not good with the Greek alphabet so I don’t really know, but I do know he’s not beta. He’s a natural leader, a “captain”. He’s the kind of guy who one would be pleased to date in real life, no restraining orders required. He’s not a doormat and he’s not an alphahole. He’s a really nice, good, hot guy who is good with his hands (and… other things).
Now I want to read the earlier two books in the series and the rock star books look like my jam too. It’s so exciting to find a new author to glom on.
Grade: B+ and a definite recommend from me.