REVIEW: Brooklynaire by Sarina Bowen
Dear Sarina Bowen:
Reading the first three books in the Brooklyn Bruisers series I’ve become increasingly aware of something going on in the background of each story between the owner of the Bruisers, Nate Kattenberger, and the team’s cute and spunky office manager, Rebecca Rowley. The timelines of the books overlap, which I kind of like – you get to see little bits of the other relationships play out in each book, almost like Easter eggs. After finishing the last book, Pipe Dreams, I started to get excited about the Nate/Rebecca book, in part because I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a nerdy tech billionaire as the hero (let’s face it, truly nerdy romance heroes are a rarity).
Seven years before the present-day story, Rebecca has to drop out of college following her father’s unexpected death. Her mother and younger sister need her as a breadwinner; Rebecca is the responsible one. Her sister, who is staying with Rebecca along with her newborn son and baby daddy in the present, is flaky. (The mother, oddly, never gets mentioned again, that I can recall.)
Anyway, Rebecca, desperate for a job, any job, goes for an interview at a tiny startup in Brooklyn. There she meets Nate in all his distracted-genius, geeky, man-child glory. He hires her on the spot as an office manager, and off we go.
Over the years leading up to the present, Nate hits it big (really big) in the tech industry, and Kattenberger Technologies becomes a billion-dollar company. Nate buys a hockey team, the Brooklyn Bruisers, with some of his hard-earned money, and moves Rebecca over to manage operations with the team. She doesn’t know that it’s because he’s developed an inconvenient attraction to her, and wants her out of his everyday sphere. Becca is somewhat hurt by the move though she ends up loving working for the team. Nate in turn doesn’t know that Rebecca once crushed on him as well, though this was earlier in their association, when he had a fiancee.
Back in the present day, Becca has sustained a concussion by falling on the ice at the rink, and this, finally, is the catalyst for Nate and Becca’s relationship to move forward. He is obviously concerned and extremely solicitous towards her, arriving at her apartment with flowers and orders that she take off the full two weeks recommended by the emergency room doctor.
But Becca doesn’t recover in the expected timeframe, and she becomes frustrated and scared. She doesn’t know what’s wrong with her and it’s driving her crazy that she’s not yet cleared to return to work, especially as the Bruisers are in the NHL playoffs. Nate arranges to have her see an expensive and highly-sought specialist, who is able to figure out what’s wrong with Becca and form a treatment plan.
Nate also unilaterally decides that Becca needs a break from the chaos at her apartment – her sister, sister’s boyfriend and their young baby have really taken over the place. His solution is that she stay with him at his mansion in Pierrepoint Place in Brooklyn Heights. (As an aside, the mention of mansions in Brooklyn sent me down a rabbit hole looking for information on the area; I don’t associate Brooklyn with mansions. One of the mansions I found had a sale price of $40 million! I live in the SF Bay Area and even I was shocked at that price.)
Becca agrees to stay even though she feels weird about it. The two grow closer and though Becca begins to feel her crush rekindling, she still doesn’t seem to realize that Nate has feelings for her. That is, until a trip to a charity event in Florida changes everything.
Brooklynaire is what I’d call a low-conflict book, and those don’t always work for me. There aren’t any real reasons Nate and Rebecca don’t get together in the time between him breaking up with his fiancee (he walks in on her in flagrante delicto with a guy she meets at the gym) and the time they actually do get together. His main concern is ruining their friendship, but that doesn’t really seem like a strong enough fear to keep him from making a move for years. Especially when he’s depicted as an aggressive, decisive businessman.
Becca has greater insecurities – Nate’s friendship, her job, and the belief that he’s in some way too good for her, since she’s just a lowly office manager who never finished college and he’s the brilliant (and very, very wealthy) Nate Kattenberger. Still, the book never succeeded in making me forget that there really weren’t any substantial issues keeping them apart.
Which doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Brooklynaire. The writing is smooth and the cast of characters is familiar in this, the fourth book; I’ve grown fond of many of them. (Though my favorite new character was not human: it was Bingley, Nate’s prototype for an Alexa-style electronic assistant. At times it was hard to believe Bingley wasn’t at least a little bit sentient.)
I am not a huge hockey fan (it’s baseball first, then basketball, for me), but the descriptions of the games held my interest. The Brooklyn setting is appealing too, as it’s been in all of the books.
I really liked Becca. I called her “spunky” earlier, and while that’s not always a good thing (I can’t even see the word without thinking of Lou Grant in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” – am I dating myself with that mention?), it fits Becca and it is a positive descriptor here. I believe (but haven’t checked) that in earlier books she was portrayed as being a little more unconventional – brightly dyed hair, etc. In Brooklynaire there’s less of that, which I found slightly disappointing. She’s short and curvy; I got the sense she’s supposed to be more cute-pretty than beautiful-pretty. She’s very good at her job and beloved by the Bruisers players. She’s pretty happy with her life before her concussion, so it didn’t feel like a character that needed to go on a long journey in order to embrace love in the end. As noted previously, her only real conflict is accepting that she and Nate have a vast power and money differential. And while it *is* a conflict for her, it’s not one that really resonated strongly for me.
Nate was a little bit trickier – I felt like his character was inconsistent, or perhaps something was missing in his backstory. He describes himself on several occasions as socially awkward, but he’s 95% aggressively normal, especially for a brilliant billionaire. He’s a pretty simple, straightforward guy (he even describes himself in similar terms once or twice). The 5% “socially awkward genius” is mostly just him getting distracted by an idea in the middle of a conversation the way creative types are often depicted as doing. His emotional intelligence is probably better than average for a romance hero, honestly.
It’s not that I had a problem with Nate; it’s just that I felt like the edges that made him (and to a lesser degree Becca) interesting and different were blunted a bit in Brooklynaire. I expected a nerdy hero and a quirky heroine. The characters (again, Nate more than Becca) felt a bit watered down.
My grade for Brooklynaire is a straight B.