REVIEW: The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
Dear Alisha Rai,
The Right Swipe is the first in your new Modern Love series. The heroine, Rhiannon Hunter, is the sister of the hero in your earlier book, Hurts to Love You (which is on my TBR) but there isn’t really more of a link between the two series so it’s easy to jump in here without reading the earlier books.
Rhiannon is the developer and co-owner (with silent partner and best friend, Katrina) of Crush, an app-based dating platform similar to Tinder but more feminist. She was previously the VP of Marketing for Swype (basically Tinder, if I have it right) and had been involved with the CEO, Peter. Peter was a manipulator and a jerk and very toxic. When Rhiannon split up with him, he made it impossible to stay at Swype and pushed her out of the company. To make matters worse, he also started a whisper campaign against her which almost killed her career. If not for Katrina investing the funds to start Crush, Rhiannon would have lost her dream.
Now, six years later, she is at the top of her game. Crush is very successful and Rhiannon has plans to expand the business, by buying Matchmaker, an online dating site with a 100 point questionnaire (I guess it’s a bit like eHarmony or one of those sites? I have no experience with this at all – I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for more than 20 years so online dating and app dating is not in my wheelhouse. I know of them but haven’t used any of the sites/apps). In any event, Rhiannon figures between the two companies, she will cover all the bases with the online dating market.
Rhiannon has deep emotional scars about her time at Swype and the toxic fallout of her relationship with Peter. She doesn’t date, she doesn’t trust easily and she doesn’t give second chances. Once burned, twice shy is Rhi. She does, from time to time however, use her own app to find a hookup to scratch a sexual itch but she’s very choosy and does not look for more than one night of hot sweaty sex.
These two things combined when, some months earlier, in an attempt to try and get the attention of the owner of Matchmaker, Rhiannon “stalked” the owner’s house (unsuccessfully) to try and get a meeting. While in Cayucos, she swiped right and had a hook up with Samson Lima. Their chemistry was so off the charts she broke her own rule and agreed to meet him the next night. But he ghosted her. Hurt and kicking herself, she deleted the app and wrote him off as a mistake.
However, Samson Lima is not only a a really nice guy with an actual honest-to-goodness reason for not turning up that night, he’s also the nephew of Matchmaker’s owner and the new spokesperson for the company. (He’s also a former pro-football player – Rhi is not in to sportsball so she didn’t recognise him.)
When Rhiannon is at CREATE, a tech conference, she plans to finally get her meeting with Annabelle Kostas, the owner of Matchmaker. Eccentric Annabelle elusive and very shy. Overwhelmed by all the people, Annabelle asks Samson to step into her speaking engagements and this forces Rhiannon and Samson together.
Rhiannon has some most excellent memories of their night together but he ghosted her and she doesn’t date “zombies” (there’s an explanation in the text for Luddites like me, so readers don’t need to worry about getting lost in the jargon – it is all neatly explained without being info-dumpy). Samson never forgot the woman he met through Crush and is desperate to spend more time with her, to explain and apologise and maybe get a second chance. He never crosses the line though. He wants Rhiannon’s attention and time but he doesn’t assume he will get it. He is aware and respectful of Rhiannon’s right to say no for any reason. This remains the case even after Rhiannon, on the advice of her BFF, does hear Samson’s explanation (a family medical emergency and bereavement).
Samson and Rhiannon end up working together on a marketing campaign designed to benefit both Crush and Matchmaker. Their chemistry is so strong though, once the barrier of Samson standing her up is gone, it’s only a matter of time before all those pheromones fizzing about go boom (or should I say bang?).
“Look. Let me address the elephant in the room. I clearly like you and am attracted to you, so if something were to develop between us, physically or whatever, it would be fine with me. I’m not going to badger you about it, though, or make you justify your choices if that choice is no. You have my number. You can come to me.”
I liked Samson very much. He’s patient and kind, sexy and generous and respectful. He’s not an untouchable paragon however – he does make a couple of mistakes here and there and he does get angry and hurt during the course of the book but he doesn’t take it out on Rhiannon and he’s not a dickhead. Rather, his vulnerabilities and flaws made him seem human and real without taking anything away from his awesomeness. When Rhiannon needs him he’s there, no questions asked.
Rhiannon’s arc is about letting go/getting over/moving on from the trauma of what Peter did to her both personally and professionally and learning to trust in love again. She is an unashamedly strong and forthright character, prickly even. She’s the kind of heroine a certain subset of readers will label “unlikable” because she’s unapologetic about going after what she wants and she doesn’t feel the need to massage the feelings of others (most particularly men) in order to do so. In so far as there is an “alpha” in the relationship (which there isn’t, really) my sense was that it would be Rhiannon, not Samson in that position.
I’ll admit initially I wondered if the book was a little heavy-handed in its messaging. Like Rhiannon, it is unapologetic and unashamed. The messaging is overt. There can be no mistaking it. I was a little confronted at first (I tend to be reticent so it takes a while for me to get around the opposite) but then I found myself delighted because it was so nice to spend time in a space full of female empowerment and female expertise, where those things were raised up and appreciated, where they were features, not bugs. It feels like the real world isn’t all that welcoming to women right now. So then I thought, “so what if the book is aspirational? This is what I need right now”. And I’m a white woman living a privileged life in Australia. I figure if I need it, so will so very many others and way more than I do.
The representation of all kinds of things was just great. Rhiannon is Black, Samson’s dad came from Samoa, Samson’s BFF is a stay-at-home dad absolutely (and hilariously) devoted to his adopted daughter. Rhiannon’s awesome assistance, Lakshmi is queer and Black, Rhiannon runs a successful, ethical company which treats its employees well and fairly. I could go on. It’s not that there aren’t challenges, conflicts and problems – of course there are. But the story firmly sets up a world of what could be in a way that works with what is. There are some not-great men in the book – the CEO of Matchmaker is a bit of a jerk and of course, Peter, too. But there are plenty of men who are not jerks. It isn’t so different from the (Western) world we know even though it also feels far away. Yes, it’s aspirational but it’s not impossible.
I loved the connection between Samson and Rhi, I liked their intimacy and the forthright way they communicated their sexual needs and desires to each other (particularly Rhiannon but not just her). I liked the way they talked to one another, about all manner of things. There’s a delightful little chapter when Samson and Rhi are texting one another and it felt so real and fun and flirty in that way casual conversation between intimate/potentially intimate partners can be. That, as much as anything else, convinced me that this couple belong together.
Samson has his own arc. His father and uncle both played pro-football as well. His father developed CTE and it changed everything for Samson and his family. Uncle Joe died and, while they’re still waiting on the formal test results, it seems likely that he also had CTE. Samson’s own football career ended in rather spectacular circumstances which have a relationship to concussion and football and brotherhood. Samson spent the previous six years or so caring for Uncle Joe and now has a temporary gig as spokesman for Matchmaker but at age 36, he’s at something of a crossroads. What will he do next?
I liked the interaction between Samson and Rhiannon both being responsible for themselves and their own professional decisions but also bouncing ideas off and getting support from one another.
There’s one other thing I loved in the book that I wanted to mention; the female friendships. Hallelujah for books where other women aren’t stepping over one another and putting each other down. Rhi has a great relationship with Katrina and also with Lakshmi. I loved the way they talked to each other.
Lakshmi crossed the soft pink carpet to stand in front of her. She grasped Rhiannon’s chin in her hand, tilted her face up, and eyed her critically. Then she reached into the purse she wore on her hip and pulled out two tubes.
“What are you doing? I don’t need any makeup.” Rhiannon didn’t jerk her face out of Lakshmi’s hand, even though it would have been easy enough to do so.
“You’re absolutely right, you don’t. You’re pretty stunning no matter what. But you went to fix your hair when I told you who was here, which tells me you’re not totally secure in how you look right this minute. Let me help you feel confident.”
Some of the ending felt like it was wrapped up a little too quickly and I thought Samson had proven he was a person to be trusted so I didn’t initially understand why Rhiannon would jump to conclusions. It took me a little while (too long probably) to fully appreciate just what a number Peter had done on Rhiannon but once I did, I understood Rhiannon’s reactions. And actually, when I think of it now, there are things from early in my own relationship which kinda-sorta help me understand it too, even though my experience was not at all the same.
There were a couple of things which had me wondering a little. Small things that felt just a titch unresolved. For example, there was a thing that Rhiannon got upset with Samson about but which wasn’t resolved on page. It’s apparent by the end that all was well and there was no lingering discord but I’m the type of reader who tends to like things to be tied up with a bow.
Rhiannon is a far braver, more extroverted and more confident woman than I am. She intimidated me a little at first but her vulnerabilities (well-hidden as they were) made her relatable. I tend to be a hero-centric reader and Samson was just about the perfect guy without being remotely unrealistic. Combined, they make a formidable pair.
TL;DR The Right Swipe is sexy, smart, funny and bold and timely. Recommend.