This RITA® Reader Challenge was written by me. This book was nominated in the Best Contemporary Romance category.
Plot Summary: “If Singletree’s only florist didn’t deliver her posies half-drunk, I might still be married to that floor-licking, scum-sucking, receptionist-nailing hack-accountant, Mike Terwilliger.”
Lacey Terwilliger’s shock and humiliation over her husband’s philandering prompt her to add some bonus material to Mike’s company newsletter: stunning Technicolor descriptions of the special brand of “administrative support” his receptionist gives him. The detailed mass e-mail to Mike’s family, friends, and clients blows up in her face, and before one can say “instant urban legend,” Lacey has become the pariah of her small Kentucky town, a media punch line, and the defendant in Mike’s defamation lawsuit.
Her seemingly perfect life up in flames, Lacey retreats to her family’s lakeside cabin, only to encounter an aggravating neighbor named Monroe. A hunky crime novelist with a low tolerance for drama, Monroe is not thrilled about a newly divorced woman moving in next door. But with time, beer, and a screen door to the nose, a cautious friendship develops into something infinitely more satisfying.Lacey has to make a decision about her long-term living arrangements, though. Should she take a job writing caustic divorce newsletters for paying clients, or move on with her own life, pursuing more literary aspirations? Can she find happiness with a man who tells her what he thinks and not what she wants to hear? And will she ever be able to resist saying one . . . last . . . thing?
Here’s my review:
This book was, at it’s core, NOT a romance. It’s a very funny, touching, first-person narrated story about a woman who has to start her life over from nearly nothing, and there’s some romance in there, but it is not itself a contemporary romance. Be ye warned.
Lacey hits emotional rock bottom, but her financial position is never really precarious. She doesn’t have to find a job and go to work. She has a small amount of money, and time to do her own luxuriating indulgent thing. For Lacey, her trip to the lake house is a complete escape for her.
Lacey is the most complex character of the story. Her mother is often a plot device, either baking, meddling, or screwing up something accidentally. Lacey has a token gay brother instead of best friend who shows up with sassy gay advice at key moments, and also does not one but TWO makeovers. Monroe, the hero, has an adorable family who show up to turn the plot around a predictable corner of “Is this a Fling or Something More?” And of course there’s Mike, Lacey’s ex, who is as wooden and predictable as could be, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and his little chippie, BeeBee, who is equally as predictable and loathsome. Mike’s mother is just as unilaterally horrible.
All of the horrible people line up neatly in their expectation that Lacey keep her mouth shut, keep the peace, and keep quiet about everything instead of standing up for herself. For example, after Lacey sends The Email, her mother in law, Wynnie, comes to see her.
“…And Mike’s already been caught! He’s got that much more to make up for. You could end up with an entirely new wedding set or maybe even a car!”
I stared at her. “Are you on some medications that I’m unaware of?”
“Are you listening to anything I’m saying?”
“Yes, you think I should let Mike humiliate and betray me repeatedly for the sake of the presents.”
Lacey’s narration and point of view are what keep the book entertaining. She’s funny, insightful, clever, and, once she gets her head out of her ass, her astonishment at what she’s been missing for so many years, both good and bad, kept me reading. There were moments when I giggled and snorted enough that Hubby asked what I was reading, and as I read I could think of a friend who would love this book. The writing style was friendly and casual in a way that reminded me of my own friends, and made me want to share the humor.
Yet, as I said, this isn’t really a contemporary romance. It’s mostly about Lacey, and that’s not a bad thing, except for a reader who goes in looking for a romance. Monroe, the taciturn writer in the adjacent cabin, is an enzyme, a big hot throbbing hunka-hunka protein catalyst who enables the heroine to envision a new life (as a writer) and a new identity (where she is really herself only without that pesky burning need for revenge) but he doesn’t change or grow much. He allowed her time at the lake to be productive, and more than just wallowing and self-pity-eating. He increased her rate of change without being consumed. That’s all well and generous, but it does not a romance hero make.
I appreciated the twist that Lacey was the one who didn’t want strings or a definition to their relationship, that she was afraid to commit or start a lasting commitment to Monroe. But Monroe was not really a full character. He didn’t have any vulnerabilities beside her, he was either the hot fuck buddy or the wise writing sage, or the cranky guy next door. He was just fine as he was, and their relationship didn’t have much at risk on his side of the equation.
What troubled me most was the ending. I was rooting for Lacey, but the ending resolution felt rushed and unsatisfying. All these horrible people are established as so incredibly, deeply shitful, and yet there isn’t any satisfying comeuppance for anyone. If all the ancillary characters are going to be a series of caricatures, almost parodies of Evil Ex, Evil Other Woman, Evil Mother-in-Law, etc, I wanted the story to at least satisfy the negativity by having something pretty crappy happen to them, too. But the ending tries for realism and maturity while the beginning went with an over-the-top buffet of crapass human beings and the email newsletter to end all email newsletters.
And in the end, Monroe didn’t have to do much of anything except be there for Lacey to reach her HEA. Thank you, Mr. Enzyme, for Creating Change With Orgasms! I was amused and cheering for Lacey, but when I finished the book, I was disappointed by the ending, especially when the book starts off with a unique and hilarious beginning.