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one night stand

REVIEW:  Baby, It’s Cold Outside by HelenKay Dimon

REVIEW: Baby, It’s Cold Outside by HelenKay Dimon

Dear Ms. Dimon,

I’ve enjoyed your Harlequin Intrigue Romantic Suspense books for years, I thought your recent Cosmo Red-Hot Read was great fun, and one of your contemporaries for Carina landed on my Best of 2013 list.  So when I saw your first release in a new series for Samhain I requested it sight unseen. This is always a somewhat dangerous proposition, and here the characteristics I’ve come to depend on were mixed with character traits and story twists that I found quite off-putting. My reading experience was divided between my usual feeling that I was in very good hands and “oh no, they did not just go there.” I’ll pick up the next one, because a HelenKay Dimon contemporary is basically an autobuy for me, but I might be peeking through my fingers as I read, at least in the beginning.

cover4Baby, It’s Cold Outside is the first in the Men At Work series, and the series title is a good indicator of the book’s relatively equal presentation of the hero and the heroine. This is probably a good thing, because the hero does something almost unforgivable to set up the main story and conflict, and if I hadn’t seen things from his POV I would have had a very hard time thinking he deserved the heroine. As it was, it was still touch and go.

No one writing romance today can open a book like Dimon. No one. The story begins when construction company owner Lincoln Campbell and his personal assistant, Thea Marshall throw caution and HR rules to the wind and act on long-suppressed desires when they start a passionate encounter in Linc’s office and end it the next morning in his condo. Both think this might be the beginning of something more, but on returning to the office Linc is confronted with detailed and apparently irrefutable evidence that Thea has been selling company secrets to a competitor who is using the information to undercut them in a bidding competition for a major commercial project. He immediately has her fired for cause and escorted from the building, all without directly telling her the reason. After all, she did it and she’ll probably deny it, so she must know, right?

Thea is devastated in every possible way. She loves her job, she has been attracted to Linc for months, and she’s just building up her life after the loss of her parents in a plane crash. She has support from two work colleagues who have become her friends, Becky the office manager and Tim the computer guy, and that helps, but mostly she’s torn between desolation and anger, the latter quite justifiably aimed at Linc.

For his part, Linc can’t stop thinking about her, even though he has the evidence convicting her sitting on his desk. After trying and failing to move on, he hires a second investigator to look into Thea’s situation more closely (the first investigation was to discover the source of the leak and led to Thea but didn’t start with her). After a few weeks, he decides he has to see Thea again (whether she’s guilty or not) and pursues her to where she’s taken refuge to sort out her future, her family cabin in upstate New York.

Linc’s character has to tread a fine line between acting like a jackass and being an irredeemable jackass, and he more or less stays on the right side, thanks to Dimon’s ability to write believable, sympathetic men. But he was on serious probation for me the entire story and even his honorable behavior in the second half didn’t quite make up for it. The fact that they did have strong feelings for each other, feelings that weren’t just about lust, helped a lot as did the fact that they didn’t move from insta-lust to insta-love. Thea knows how Linc thinks and she uses that to keep from being snowed by his charm:

“Nu-uh.” No way was she falling for the quick drop of a pseudo-apology.

Linc leaned forward. “Excuse me?”

She’d been Linc’s assistant for long enough to figure out he’d assessed her mood and decided a quick admission would work best to pacify her. He was rock stupid when it came to women, but off-the-charts smart when it came to business and strategies. Thanks to the lessons he’d taught her, this time she would be smarter.

“Me, this, is a challenge of some sort for you. Well, you forget how many meetings I sat in on. How many calls I listened to.” He played a good game. He could schmooze and convince expert businessman they believed one thing when they came in believing another. Now he’d turned those tactics on her. She wasn’t buying it.

Unfortunately, while Thea makes Linc take responsibility for what he did to her, the way this unfolds makes Linc the harmed one because of his childhood and family history. It made him more sympathetic, but it also shifted the emphasis to his pain rather than hers. This isn’t an uncommon strategy, but I hate the way it turns the wronged person (usually the woman) into the one doing the comforting.

The second big problem I had with the story was the revelation of the real company mole. It made sense within context, but I hated that it turned out to be who it was. I can’t say more without completely spoiling the book, but it relies on a motivation that I want to go away forever. It made me angry, and sad.

Finally, there is a standard romance-novel twist that many readers don’t like, especially in contemporaries. I thought it worked fine here and it reminded me of one of my favorite older contemporaries, Banish Misfortune by Anne Stuart (both the twist and the confrontation/reunion in small-town New York). No one does anything stupid to get into the situation or to deal with it and no information is withheld. It’s about as realistic as you can make this setup in a contemporary and it gives a richer dimension to Thea and Linc’s conversations when they meet up again. But if you hate this sort of thing on principle the book might not work for you as a result.

Overall, this is a hard book for me to grade. The characters are written well and the various relatinships are well developed, especially given the novella length, which compresses important events and character arcs. I love the way Dimon’s characters talk to each other and most act like adults, even when they start out badly. No one behaves in unbelievable ways and most story elements are well motivated. But I was left with a nagging feeling that Linc needed to grovel a lot more, or preferably undergo serious therapy, before he was deserving of a relationship with Thea, and I really wish the company-sabotage plot had ended differently. Grade: B-

~ Sunita

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REVIEW:  Just One Day by Gayle Forman

REVIEW: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Dear Ms. Forman:

Thanks to Jane’s foray into the genre last year, I’ve grown curious about New Adult novels. I’ve given a couple a try within the past month and the results have left me rather dubious. That said, I’ve enjoyed novels featuring older teens who are graduating or have just graduated from high school. Based on some recommendations, I picked up If I Stay and Where She Went and loved them both. So I eagerly looked forward to your new novel. Unfortunately, I don’t think it lived up to the hype.

Forman-Just-One-DayAllyson Healey has lived her entire life in a neat little box mapped out by her parents. But during a European tour after high school graduation, she meets an actor named Willem. There’s instant attraction and Allyson is charmed. When Willem invites her to spend one day in Paris with him, she decides to be impulsive for once and agrees to accompany him instead of heading to London with her best friend.

That day in Paris is magical and Allyson learns to take life as it comes, to pounce on the chances that come her way. But after a night of sex, she wakes up to find herself alone. Devastated, Allyson returns to London to meet up with her friend, and from there to the U.S. where she heads off to college in the fall. What follows is a year of self-discovery and picking up the pieces after Allyson’s first attempt at seizing the day results in disaster.

Despite my best intentions to keep an open mind, I go into novels with expectations. If I Stay and Where She Went were so emotionally visceral and I suppose I expected more of that here. I didn’t really get it.

Maybe it was the pacing. The summer stint in Europe took up more than a third of the novel. That doesn’t leave much room for self-discovery. In truth, what happens is that Allyson spends half of her freshman year in college in a deep depression. She attempts to return to the box outlined for her but finds she no longer fits because she’s discovered the world the exists beyond it. This dissonance affects all aspects of her life. Her once-perfect grades plummet. Her friendships stumble and fail.

Of course, all that would have been fine within the context of a story if more weight had been given to the idea of self-discovery. Instead the shadow of Willem dominated everything. I just can’t get behind the portrayal of a one-night stand derailing someone’s life so badly. Yes, she was a teenager — an older one, true, but still a teenager. But even so, Allyson wasn’t a virgin. She’d had a boyfriend. Yes, she thought she’d fallen in love. But because of her age, I wasn’t convinced. This is my age speaking but we know this story. One-night stands where the girl thinks she has a deep connection with the guy but the guy acts like he barely even knows her the next morning? Such a common tale. I realize knowing it happens is different from having it actually happen to you but the entire thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

Part of my feelings can be chalked up to the knowledge that Just One Day is the first half of a duology. The follow-up will be told from Willem’s point of view. I can already guess how it’ll go. He didn’t actually leave her alone the next morning. He had a reason! He’s not an asshole. If Allyson had only waited and had faith in their love, there’d been no reason for that year of moping. It was all just a misunderstanding. But if that’s the case, I would have liked for Allyson’s half of the tale to focus more on self-discovery and globe-trotting, the latter of which takes up less than 100 pages of the novel.

In many ways, I think Just One Day is attempting to replicate the magic of If I Stay and Where She Went. If that’s the case, it fails. It didn’t have the same romantic and emotional impact. The themes of self-actualization and discovery despite — or in spite of — life-changing love don’t ring as strongly. If there’d been more focus on Allyson learning to enjoy life for herself and on her own terms instead of her life being affected by Willem on many levels, maybe I would have enjoyed it more. That, I feel, is the spark missing from this story. Theoretically, I like the idea of chance meetings altering the shape of your life. But what I dislike is that chance meeting becoming the source of all your sadness, joy, and motivation. How is that empowering? C

My regards,
Jia

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