RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: The Way You Look Tonight by Bella Andre

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Title: The Way You Look Tonight
Author: Bella Andre
Publication Info: Oak Press June 2013
ISBN: B00DGVFUJG
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book The Way You Look Tonight This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Sue C. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Contemporary Romance category.

The summary:

As a very successful private investigator who has caught most of the cheaters in Seattle with their pants down, Rafe Sullivan believes true, lasting love only happens once in a blue moon. Needing to get away from the city to clear his head, he finds the lake house where he spent the best summers of his life is now a wreck…but the sweet girl next door is all grown up and prettier than anything he's ever seen.

While Brooke Jansen is happy making and selling chocolate truffles in her small Pacific Northwest lake town, she secretly longs to experience something wild. So when her favorite “Wild Sullivan” moves in again next door after more than a decade away, and sparks fly between them, she can't stop wondering if being bad is really as good as it always seemed…and just how long it will be before she can find out.

But when their summer fling quickly spirals into deeper emotions than either of them were expecting, can they survive the heat between them? Or will Rafe make the biggest mistake of his life and end up losing the best thing that's ever happened to him?

And here is Sue C.'s review:

Thanks to the amazing and wonderful librarians at the LA Public Library, I have been able to get my greedy hands on nearly every single Bella Andre ebook I have looked for (as well as almost all the romance novels I've ever looked for — seriously, big big thank you to the LA Public Library for saving my wallet from death by ebook sales). I was getting a little nervous near the end of the original Sullivan siblings series set in San Francisco — we were running out of siblings but somehow having secret half-siblings or bastard children to continue the series seemed incongruous with the wholesome Sullivan image — so I was pretty excited to find out there are Sullivan cousins living in Seattle. Of course! (Sidenote: that Sullivan family gives me an inferiority complex. Can't just one of them be an asshole? Or klutzy? Or ugly?!)

Anyway. I read Bella Andre's books like I eat French fries — I inhale them really fast and don't really remember much afterwards except for the general feeling that I enjoyed it while it lasted and would like some more, please. This book was similar, and I picked it up mostly because it set off my Romance Novel Catnip Radar like whoa.

Catnip, Ahoy!

Rafe Sullivan owns and runs his own private investigation company, which sounds like should be the setup for a romantic suspense novel about a missing child and a desperate mom, but mostly ends up being him consoling weeping wives and tracking cheating husbands. At the beginning of the book, he is a world-weary protagonist looking to change his life and sees his opportunity in buying back his family's lake house and restoring it to its former glory. I love lake houses. I love world-weary heroes who recognize a need for change before they meet their heroines (so it's not manic pixie dream girls being all the momentum). Ding ding ding.

Of course, as soon as he gets up there, he realizes the girl next door is ALSO now living next door, and she is all grown up. Ding ding ding, catnip radar blaring! Brooke quit her job to run her own chocolate truffle business from the home kitchen of HER family's lake house. This right here summarizes my great love and conflict with Bella Andre books. This is both super neat and also terrifyingly unrealistic to me. The great escapist fantasy to me of Bella Andre books isn't that everybody finds a transformative and fulfilling romantic love, but that rather their lives are super blessed and nobody worries about how their IRAs are performing.

Brooke is all grown up and ready for a fling with a guy she had a crush on while growing up, and Rafe is gobsmacked that Brooke grew up to be really hot. My catnip radar was going nuts at this point. What I really liked about Brooke was that she was trying hard to become her own person, even if it wasn't how other people (her overprotective parents, Rafe at first) saw her. She trusted herself and she went into things with a “Well, why not? Why not me?” attitude, which I found admirable. Too often, my nitpick with heroines in romance novels is that they can be unevenly ambitious or brave in one aspect of their lives, but not the other. To me, Brooke's behavior was congruent throughout, and I could see her trying to figure out things for herself.

What I Didn't Like

Rafe's objections to pursuing a relationship with Brooke seemed weak and a little cliched to me. He says over and over that he doesn't want to sully Brooke with the dirt from his past, but from what I could tell, it had everything to do with his work and nothing to do with actual personal flaws or mistakes. His protests rang a bit hollow to me, and repetitive. For god's sake, she just wants to have a fling with you!

You had to know that between Rafe's history as a PI with clients who are always lying, and Brooke's bid for independence and trusting herself, that the conflict would have to center around Rafe's lack of trust in something involving Brooke. I expected it, and yet when it happened, I was dismayed that Brooke forgave Rafe so readily. I could have used a little (okay, a lot) more groveling on his part.

The book wraps up pretty quickly, and I wasn't convinced that their relationship would be able to survive the real world, outside of the safe cocoon of a lake house setting. To me, this is the great limitation of escapist romance novels — of course everything is romantic and beautiful when you're at the summer lake house! It's pure Dirty Dancing syndrome, with its encapsulated magic and insulation from the real world. I would have liked to see how their relationship would withstand scrutiny from Brooke's parents or in Rafe's business world.

And finally, I got kind of tired of being reminded of the other Sullivans all the time in this book. Two of the Sullivans showed up at the lake house for a visit, which is fine and provided a bit of real world intrusion. To be honest, there are so many dang Sullivans that it surprises me that the entire West Coast isn't some giant game of Six Degrees of Sullivans. But what I mean is, sometimes the level of exposition needed to unnecessarily drop some Sullivan names made sentences really clunky. To wit:

She deserved the white picket fence and the perfect guy who worked a normal job and came home with nothing heavier on his mind than whether his cousin Ryan’s baseball team, the San Francisco Hawks, was going to win the World Series again.

or

He couldn’t think of the last time he’d focused on having fun. Hot sex with a stranger. The thrill of driving one of his cousin Zach’s race cars. The pleasure of tasting one of his other cousin Marcus’s new vintages from his Napa Valley vineyard.

 

I understand that readers probably want to hear about characters they've read about before, and know how everyone is doing. But wouldn't it be better to show rather than tell? This is not unique to Bella Andre books, but it is my pet peeve so now I see it every time it happens in series books.

In The End

Overall, I enjoyed this book and it was really fun, but I have a hard time recalling the details or real reasons why I enjoyed the book as much as I did at the time. To me, Bella Andre books are like contemporary versions of Julia Quinn books: they are nice, fluffy, escapist visiting romances, but damned if I can remember much after I am done with them.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    susan says:

    This is the book where they renovate a house in a week, complete with new cabinets that fit perfectly and were in stock at the local hardware store. Talk about a romantic fantasy!

  2. 2
    Sue C says:

    @susan, I totally agree! I would fall in love with anybody who could renovate a house in a week, childhood crush or not.

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