Saturday, December 9, 2017

Book Review: License to Date by Susan Hatler

License to Date Cover G-rated, chick-lit-style, romantic novella

License to Date (Better Date than Never Series #6) by Susan Hatler

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Publisher: Hatco Publishing
Length: 198 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Still reeling from dumping her fiancé four months ago, after discovering that the slimy jerk had been dating both her and her beloved step-sister, unbeknownst to either of the two women until just before the wedding, Kaitlin has no interest in dating. All she wants to do is renovate her recently purchased, 1980's-era home located right next to the Sacramento River, turning it into a safe retreat from the harsh realities of undependable men. Unfortunately for the smooth achievement of her goal, her two best girlfriends won't take, "No," for an answer, insisting that, for her own good, Kaitlin needs to start dating ASAP. Kaitlin is firm in standing up against their pleas until they offer an irresistible prize in exchange for her going on at least five dates: they will provide free labor painting her entire house, and even throw in caulking her shabby bathtub.

What's a gal to do? Give in, of course. But conditionally.

Kaitlin surrenders to her two loving, busybody besties, but is determined to outwit them at their own matchmaking game by engineering a five-date, five-night sprint to the finish line of getting their dating agreement over and done with. She will meet each of five men for a brief date, with no intention of letting the connection go beyond that for any of them.

Unfortunately for Kaitlin's heart-protection plan, she's barely at the starting gate of her dating race when, while impatiently waiting for her tardy first date to meet her at the bar of a swanky local hotel, she encounters a handsome, blue-eyed bartender close to her own age of 28, whose wit and empathy draw her unwilling romantic interest.

This is not a full-length romance novel but rather a story that is a bit longer than a novella. As such it is a fast read. Unlike this author's actual short stories, given an additional 15-20,000 words to maneuver in, the author avoids offering up "insta-love" between the protagonists in order to speed up the progress of the relationship. As is usual in all of this author's works I've read so far, and seems to be very much part of her "brand," this story is not merely a "slow burn" romance, it is G-rated, with only light kissing toward the last part of the story.

This book is as much "chick lit" as it is a romance novel in that it contains key traits of chick lit that are not hallmarks of romance, including in particular: dating disasters and the use of first-person point of view.

The romantic protagonists of this story are a bit one-dimensional, especially the hero, since we never hear his thoughts. Much like in two other stories by this author that I have read, the hero is a saintly, Beta Male. Given that Alpha Male, "Bad Boy" heroes are rife in romantic fiction, I myself enjoy that this author seems to specialize in Clark Kent type, positive heroes vs Dark Knight type anti-heroes. The latter gets rather redundant and predictable after a while in modern romance.

Personally, I'm not usually a fan of romance novels written in first person. It has a tendency to make any protagonist sound rather narcissistically immature and self-involved, and is much better relegated to the young-adult genre. However, given that this author writes romantic comedy, it is not a bad choice for the purpose of humor to use first person. It makes it easier to reveal to the reader that the protagonist will be traveling an important and interesting growth arc, which is ever-green in romance fiction. That is, the cynical, "burned by love" protagonist who has sworn to never take a chance on love again.

In addition, given the fact that, in one form or another, the key romantic conflict of every romance novel is the journey of distrust to trust, this isn't actually a cliche for a romance novel, it is a crucial element of it--rather like a dead body in a murder mystery and the need to figure out "whodunnit." The only difference from novel to novel is how well that journey is portrayed based on the uniqueness of the protagonists in a given book. This author does a good job of offering distinct characters and an intriguing version of that essential journey, which held my interest throughout. As a very jaded reader, it is high praise for me to say I didn't skim over any part of this story.

To sum up, given that this author is known for writing romantic comedy, or at the least, very mild drama, this story is true to her brand. It provides pleasant, romantic entertainment for those looking for a quick, light, angst-free, sex-free read.

I rate this story as follows:

Heroine: 3

Hero: 4

Subcharacters: 3

Setting: 4

Romance Plot: 3

G-Rated: 4

Writing: 4

Overall: 3.5 rounded to 4

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Book Review: A Christmas Kiss by Susan Hatler

A Christmas Kiss Cover G-rated, short-story, Christmas romance

A Christmas Kiss (Kissed by the Bay #5) by Susan Hatler

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: November 28, 2016
Publisher: Hatco Publishing
Length: 178 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

A cynical female divorce attorney rediscovers the spirit of Christmas--and romance--when she accidentally finds herself sharing a double-booked Lake Tahoe cabin with her opposite number in a contentious divorce case, a fellow divorce attorney with a surprising faith in the redemptive power of true love.

This is not a full romance novel but rather a short story. As such it can be forgiven for employing a plot point that is the bane of jaded romance readers, "insta-love." However, I am glad to report, it avoids what is an even worse cliché, "insta-lust." This story is G-rated, with only light kissing.

The romantic protagonists are a bit one-dimensional, also due to the fact that in a short story, there is little space for extensive character development. In an attempt, I assume, to establish comic opposites, the author has cast Gabriel as being almost as saintly as his namesake, the angel Gabriel. And the heroine Harper starts out, if not as blatantly cruel as her namesake, the Harpies of ancient mythology, she is rather harsh toward dear old Gabriel in the beginning and at the crisis of the plot. Fortunately for keeping the plot interesting, since Gabriel has no growth arc, given that he's already the ideal Beta Male, there is plenty of room for Harper to undergo a season-appropriate, Scrooge-like transformation. And, since the story is written in her first-person point of view, it makes sense that she be the one who evolves.

Given that this author is known for writing romantic comedy, or at the least, very mild drama, this story is true to her brand. It provides pleasant, romantic entertainment for those looking for a quick, light, angst-free, sex-free read.

I rate this story as follows:

Heroine: 3

Hero: 4

Subcharacters: 3

Setting: 4

Romance Plot: 3

G-Rated: 4

Writing: 4

Overall: 3.5 rounded to 4