REVIEW: Ms. Match by Jo Leigh
Waking up in a hotel room next to a nearly naked Gwen Christopher is a shocker for Paul Bennet.
Hmm, one too many the night before? After all, he’s rich, successful and looks more like one of his movie-star clients than their PR rep. Paul can have any woman he wants. Any woman—except Gwen’s smokin’-hot sister. Taking plain-Jane Gwen out as a favor was supposed to be his ticket in.
And okay, sure, Gwen’s fun and smart and interesting—and absolutely amazing in bed. But she’d never fit in with his parties-and-paparazzi lifestyle. This is a total mismatch.
So why’s he so ready to dive back into bed with Gwen first chance he can?
Dear Ms. Leigh,
I heard about the book by chance when the description one of our posters wrote about it caught my eye.
Ms. Match has a heroine who doesn’t think she’s attractive enough for the hero (he wants her sister) but she also doesn’t think he’s smart enough for her.
Whoa, that’s different. The usual “ugly duckling” book doesn’t generally have the less attractive one thinking like this! I was intrigued. Let me just say that this was a delightful surprise and I’m glad I read it. The blurb kind of led me to believe I’d get one thing but once that initial expectation went awry, I just relaxed and waited to see where the book would take me.
I’ll be perfectly honest and say there were a few other things that surprised and initially set me slightly aback. Paul starts the book by pretty much panting to get into the heroine’s sister’s pants. Autumn is beautiful and has been stringing Paul along for a while. It’s not a stretch to describe her as a cock-tease. She knows exactly what she’s doing (Paul realizes it too but he wants her badly enough to keep trying). When she calls him and asks him to get a date for her “plain” sister for a family do, Paul thinks this will be his “in,” so to say. When at the last minute the date he’d set up falls through, Paul at least has enough manners to decide to take Gwen himself.
Gwen’s reaction when glorious Paul arrives at her door amused me. She hates these family things, really doesn’t need a man to go with her to them (yay for – you really can just go alone!) but when Paul insists, Gwen acquiesces. She also makes sure to tell him that he’s free to go at any time. At first Paul thinks he’s going to take her up on that and is startled at what she says about her family. Then he gets there and finds out first hand how they treat Gwen. Dismissive would be too kind a way of describing it.
Gwen’s parents were ballroom dancers and she knows how to move on a dance floor. To her surprise, Paul does too and before the evening is over, they’ve cleared the floor and also discovered a mutual love of the Dodgers. With too many drinks consumed for him to drive home, the “one bedroom” trope gets flashed at the reader before the book pulls back and goes in a different direction.
Paul’s honest enough to admit to himself that Gwen isn’t as attractive as her family (though definitely not as unattractive as Autumn made her out to be) but her reaction to him startles him. He’s gotten through life on his looks and despite having gone to Yale, when Gwen makes it clear that she doesn’t think that much of his intellect and isn’t interested in him, he feels like he needs to prove something. So he shows up for trivia night at the bar where she and her friends hang out after Dodgers’ games then proves by a few other actions that he’s not just a pretty face.
Gwen is befuddled that Paul can take her on to win the trivia contests then is touched when he extends himself to do something for her and a friend. But he’s one of the Beautiful People of Hollywood while she’s not. The sex might be smokin’ but there can’t ever be any more. Right?
Yeah so there is a small part of my nice-enough-but-not-beautiful self that delighted in Gwen managing to take Paul down a few pegs from the start. I was also thrilled that she didn’t just take off some glasses or let her hair down and change her wardrobe to suddenly blossom into a beauty who takes men’s breath away. Gwen remains Gwen. It’s Paul who initially realizes that he wants to discover more about her. Then he’s got the guts to tell her so (also that baring this need scares him) and that doing this is something he feels he’ll regret if he doesn’t do it. He finds that she looks for depth, kindness, and compassion in people and that he wants to discover these in himself. He essentially wants to be a better man for her. She also makes him laugh and makes him happy.
But the book doesn’t just swing for an easy two base hit. It goes for the wall. The final act conflict that we all know has to happen, happens. Gwen is deeply hurt but when she hears the truth, she believes it. It still isn’t enough for her. Now it’s Gwen’s turn to examine herself and she finds (and tells Paul) herself wanting. She’s always thought the worst of some people for being shallow and is sad to realize that she’s the same way in reverse. She and Paul might have feelings for each other but she truly doesn’t see a future for them.
“What now?” I thought. What’s keeping them apart isn’t just petty hurt feelings or becoming a martyr. The next bit shows us how the breakup is taking a toll on them both. This is love. It’s real. And it hurts them like hell but both try to move on. Then the story effects a resolution that is touching then goes the extra inning and has Gwen admit to some soul searching and work on issues that, yay, she needs (for her own sake) to do while Paul is so damn happy for another chance that he’s practically giddy. I agree with poster Jenreads that this goes in a “books to help me out of a reading slump” collection and I’m delighted I read it. B+
How I miss the Harlequin Blaze line! The stories were satisfying, the sex scenes were hot, and a number of very good writers produced books for them. It still irks me that Harlequin discontinued Blaze only to launch the Dare line which struggled to find its footing and eventually folded within three years.
@DiscoDollyDeb: I’d forgotten how many Blaze books we reviewed back in the day.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jayne. This does sound good!
When Robin reviewed for DA this was one of her favorite books. I remember her citing it as a great and non-formulaic book multiple times. I read it and liked it but maybe not as much as you guys did; it was probably a B for me.
@Janine: That’s the main reason I like it so much. Just when I thought something I expected to happen would happen, Leigh changed it up a bit and gave me something unexpected. After reading romances as long as I have, that’s a treat!
Yay! What a fantastic review. You perfectly capture what I like about it. What makes it special is the friendship they develop before the attraction. Actual conversations are had and, to me, there is nothing sexier than that. I always hoped for a sequel with her best friend.