I realized that I was working my way through the various Beauty and the Beast inspired books anyway, so I decided to stop doing it accidently and just review Every. One. I. Could. Find. (Suggestions welcome!)
Please, god, let me not find any more pairs with names that are some variation on Christine and Erik, because REALLY.
This is a contemporary, which is not my favorite genre, but it had elements I liked.
Our hero is Hunter, who was horribly scarred physically and emotionally during his childhood, and is, as all good beasts should be, ridonkulously rich and lives all by himself in a mansion with three kitchens. As you do. The heroine, Gretchen, is a writer who makes her living (such as it is) as a ghostwriter for a pulpy series of “astronaut fucks his way across the universe.” Hunter sees her with her BFF (who is engaged to his BFF) and becomes obsessed with this hot redhead who said that she was more interested in a guy’s brain than his looks.
So he creates a publishing house and has his people hire Gretchen to transcribe a trunk of old letters (that he basically got off of eBay) and create a novel around them. With the plan that the letters cannot leave his house, nor can she take pictures or scans of them, and she must live in his giant mansion for the duration.
Cuz that’s not creepy.
To be fair, the book knows this is creepy and inappropriate, so this is not treated as some grand declaration of love or a super romantic thing.
So the money is CRAZY good and super sketchy (like, her moneygrubbing agent is going ”This is super weird, yo, I suggest against this horror movie plot”) but she needs to pay her rent, so she takes it and brings along her hairless cat, Igor. Because of course.
They meet when she’s exploring the house, and finds him getting out of the shower, nekkid as the day he was born. The scars are scary and unexpected, and she doesn’t react well (not horribly, but not well) and he rages, like a good beast should (which leads to a hilarious conversation that starts with her going “I’M SORRY I SAW YOUR PENIS”).
Things progress, they get it on, he’s a virgin, because of the scarring and being afraid of people, there’s a series of misunderstandings about his motives, her motives, and the nature of their relationship, and a lot of baking. And roses.
One of the challenges of writing based on this story is that there’s so much cultural shorthand with it, and it’s tempting, I think, to cram in as many easter eggs as possible. Clare resists that urge, and there were only two references to the Disney movie that jumped out at me: the mansion has a west wing, and roses are a recurring motif. Hunter grows them and hybridizes them, and it’s a nice character note that lightly references the movie without being overt, and leaves plenty of room for her own story. Deftly done!
I also really liked how she handled Hunter’s nerves regarding his virginity. He is highly sexual, but so scared of people that the first couple of encounters are….over rather sooner than he would like. They’re deliciously awkward, and Gretchen is aware of exactly what’s going on (she put two and two together and got virgin pretty early on) and is the right amount of handwave-y and supportive, and is able to teach him how to please her and himself and that it’s not perfect the first time and THAT’S OKAY AND ALSO NORMAL- it takes learning. I really liked that dynamic.
The book still sort of slips into the trope of “the right set of genitals and the banging thereof will fix all your woes” but it is still a process, not a magical moment. Hunter is willing to learn how to be a reasonable adult and figure out how to have interpersonal relationships and not worry that everyone who is nice to him is doing that because of his money. Gretchen just needs to figure out what she wants out of life.
Would I have liked a less stalkery hero? You know, at first I was going to say yes, but given the beauty and the beast frame, as long as he learns his lesson, and the fact that the book didn’t think this was okay, it works.
As the first contemporary iteration of beauty and the beast I’ve read, solid effort.
Elyse reviewed this book and gave it a B+.