Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: Isn't She Lovely by Lauren Layne

Isn't She Lovely Cover Fantastic, NA romantic comedy!

Isn't She Lovely by Lauren Layne

Reading Level: New Adult
Release Date: October 28, 2013
Publisher: Flirt
Pages: 243 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

When Stephanie Kendrick, a 20-year-old college senior, signed up for a summer screenwriting course with a famous screenwriter at NYU, she didn't anticipate being saddled with a partner for the project that will provide the entire source of her grade for the class, a screenplay based on the myth of Pygmalion.

Ethan Price, Stephanie's assigned partner, is a senior at NYU like her, but he couldn't be more different from her in his background and life choices. Where Stephanie is a film major with a middle-class upbringing whose approach to fashion is classic, tortured-artist Goth, Ethan is a business major from an ultra-rich family who looks like a GQ cover model. The two of them trade barbs from the moment they meet, colliding in the corridor outside their screenwriting classroom on the first day of summer school. Stephanie dreads working with Ethan, whom she regards as a feckless frat boy who will torpedo her grade point average, and she is shocked when, seemingly out of the blue, Ethan begs her to act as his real, live Pygmalion. He needs a fake girlfriend for multiple upcoming family events to convince his parents that he is never going to get back together with his cheating ex-girlfriend--a rich, polished beauty from Ethan's social circle. Stephanie initially resists the appalling notion of forsaking her own avant-garde identity to become Ethan's personal, dress-up Barbie doll in sweater sets and pearls, until it occurs to her that the masquerade will provide invaluable hands-on research to increase the authenticity of their mutual screenplay.

I was thrilled to discover this novel because I am a huge fan of romantic comedy, something that is almost non-existent in the relatively new romance subgenre, New Adult, which so far tends almost exclusively toward very dark drama. Even more delightful is the fact that the humor in this story extensively derives from the clever repartee between Stephanie and Ethan, as well as the ever-green romance plot of a fake romantic relationship, which is one of my comic favorites. Delightfully, the witty banter extends throughout the novel, a humorous feat that is extremely difficult for authors of romantic comedy to sustain.

I also greatly enjoyed reading a NA novel with a hero who has not a single piercing or tattoo on his body, and whose romantic history includes only one lover within a long-term relationship rather than an endless string of one-night stands emblematic of the cliche "man whore." Ethan in specific is a fabulous hero. He can be overconfident to the point of being egotistical, but he is also quick witted, attentively observant, and compassionate.

Stephanie is also a terrific heroine. She has strong goals and motivation, and she has a significant growth arc within the story. Her angst in the dark periods of the book is never whiny, and her relationship choices, in her family and romantic past, make sense given her history and personality.

There is plenty of sexual tension between the two attractive protagonists, but the sexual scenes are never graphic or crude and, again unlike the vast majority of NA novels in the marketplace so far, this novel does not consist of an endless string of erotic sex scenes. The emphasis is on the hero and heroine's mental and emotional connection, with a gradual movement from semi-enemies to friends occurring before any sexual acts are initiated.

In short, this is an absolute treasure of a romance novel, and fans of romance in general and romantic comedy in particular will be utterly delighted.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Romance Plot: 5

Comedy: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Book Review: Love the One You're With by Lauren Layne

Love the One You're With Cover Terrific romantic comedy

Love the One You're With (Sex, Love, and Stiletto #1) by Lauren Layne

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: December 9, 2013
Publisher: Loveswept
Pages: 271 pages
Source: NetGalley
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Twenty-nine-year-old Grace Brighton recently broke up with her boyfriend of nine years, when she caught him cheating on her. As a result of the breakup, she lost not only her faith in men, but a much more comfy lifestyle in hyper-expensive New York City than she can afford on her salary alone as an editor for the women's magazine, Stiletto. Not that Grace actually has to live only on what she herself can earn, since she comes from a very wealthy family, but Grace is a self-sufficient woman who prefers to make her own way.

On her first day returning to work after an extended leave of absence to lick her wounds, Grace is running late and is forced to take a cab to work instead of the subway. A gorgeous man, obviously making the walk of shame after an overnight sexual adventure, is flagging down a cab at the same time as Grace and gallantly offers the cab to her--or so she thinks, until he climbs in after her. The two of them immediately begin a verbal sparring match, and the attraction between them is instant and obviously mutual, but Grace leaps out of the cab before any phone numbers can be exchanged, determined to keep to her vow to avoid dating for at least six months and turn all her attention to her job.

Unfortunately, Grace's no-men vow is immediately tossed overboard by her very first assignment. Her editor has accepted an offer from the new owner of Oxford, a men's magazine along the lines of GQ, to create a series of "he said, she said" stories written by Grace, as the dating expert from Stiletto, and her male counterpart at Oxford. Each will write his/her version of events occurring during a series of pre-arranged dates between the two of them. The dates themselves, and the write-ups afterward, are to be pursued as a competition to determine which of the two of them is best at the game of dating. Grace's dislike of the assignment turns to dismay when the journalist assigned to partner with her, against all odds, is revealed to be the impudent hunk she met that very morning in her cab.

Jake Malone is in his early thirties and has worked at Oxford for six years. He never thought he'd stay in one place this long, and he is extremely restless. Prior to the current owner taking charge, it was understood by arrangement with his former boss that he was to become Oxford's travel editor. Aggravatingly, the new owner is only willing to conditionally keep that promise. Jake first must take one for the home team and successfully demonstrate that the Oxford editors are not the insensitive, sexist clods that women believe them to be by proving himself to understand women far better than the female editor from Stiletto understands men. Jake thinks the whole idea of the competition is ridiculous, but he does love the company of women and considers himself something of an expert on them, so he believes winning this competition is in the bag for him, and if it will guarantee him the job he wants, he agrees to cooperate with his editor's stunt. But Jake's initial reluctance turns to excited interest when the beautiful woman he recently, and extremely memorably, encountered in a cab shows up at the first date, dressed like a high-class hooker, and even more filled with snappy comebacks than she was when he connected with her the first time.

I had not read the initial book in this series before reading this one, but this book quite comfortably stands on its own, and I did not feel as if I were missing any important context necessary to follow the story. I did, however, enjoy this book so much that I have since sought out not only book one in this series but everything else this extremely talented author has written.

Grace is a highly sympathetic heroine, and Jake is a terrific hero. Both are strong, independent, and very verbally adept. I am a huge fan of romantic comedy, and my absolute favorite aspect of it is when the hero and heroine trade witty barbs, as occurs so entertainingly in this book. I also love relationship-of-convenience stories, and this is a particularly well done one.

As is common in traditional, "happily ever after," adult, romantic fiction (as opposed to young-adult romance), we get to experience both the hero and heroine's point of view. This allows us to get to know both of them really well. Underneath each of their crusty exteriors, they have a lot in common, such as intelligence, compassion and loyalty, and they are equally ambitious in their careers. The sexual chemistry between them is explosive, and the development of their relationship from antagonists to friends and then to lovers is extremely well done.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Romance Plot: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book through NetGalley.