Book Review

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey is the first book in a new contemporary romance series about the inhabitants of Port Jefferson, Long Island. It has cute small town vibes, renovation elements, and a fake relationship. While Bailey’s writing and the fake relationship trope were what drew me to this book, my enjoyment was greatly offset by a trope that is my anti-catnip: the off limits best friend’s sister.

Baseball player Travis Ford has returned home to Port Jefferson to hide out and essentially wallow in self-pity after experiencing a career ending injury, but his best friend’s little sister Georgie Castle refuses to let him be a sad sack. Their reunion consists of Georgie storming into his gross apartment and flinging expired lo mein at his bare ass. It’s a great start.

Georgie is the youngest of three siblings and though she’s now twenty-three, she feels like she’s still the “little kid.” No one takes her seriously as an entrepreneur who owns her birthday clown business. In fact, no one takes her seriously as a woman at all, especially not the man of her dreams, Travis Ford.

Travis and Georgie grow closer as Georgie helps pull Travis’ head out of his ass, making him realize that his injury doesn’t mean the end of the world. When his agent approaches him with a commentating position, Travis finally gets the nudge he needs, but rehabbing his image is part of the deal. While he was playing baseball, Travis was known for being quite the womanizer and becoming a commentator means adopting a more family-friendly image.

Georgie figures that by fake dating, it’ll help them both out. He’ll come across as a “changed man,” settling down with a nice girl from his hometown. Meanwhile, Georgie thinks that by publicly dating Travis, people will see her more as an adult and less of “that gangly young Castle girl who always wears hand-me-downs.” When Georgie was born, she said her family was “solid,” but that they lacked the energy to dedicate the same amount of time to her as to her older siblings.

The fact that Georgie thinks her “worth” to other people will increase by dating the town celebrity, despite her family being well-known for their construction business, is a bummer on its own, though that wasn’t my main difficulty with the book. I felt incredibly bad for Georgie. She suffers terribly with feelings of inadequacy and never received the same attention as her two older siblings. She often felt she had to be a “pest” to get attention from her parents and siblings, and now she worries that her family truly sees her that way.

She made me sad. I wanted her to be more vocal, to take up space, and make her presence known when people overlooked her, and she does start to get there. But when juxtaposed with how much she does for the people around her–Travis in particular–Georgie doesn’t quite learn to stand up for herself.

Though there is a fake relationship, I will warn you that it doesn’t take shape until halfway through the book. Most of the conflict stems from Travis being best friends with Stephen Castle and Georgie being Stephen’s little sister. The way both Travis and Stephen see Georgie, as this infantilized, perpetual young teen is, well…gross. Georgie is a twenty-three year old young woman who owns her own house and business, but Travis is scared to even ask Stephen for Georgie’s phone number despite having a good reason for doing so. He agreed to help fix up Georgie’s fireplace! I think it would be perfectly all right to get someone’s number from their brother for that.

Georgie’s identity to the townspeople of Port Jefferson is firmly rooted in her relationship to her brother and seems to be stagnant in time, as if everyone’s image of her is stuck at when she was fourteen. It’s something that’s repeated ad nauseam to a concerning degree. Travis even vocalizes it twice during their first intimate scene (emphasis mine):

That smart-ass comment earned her a rough punch of his hips. “Look where it got us. You had to keep reminding me how nicely you grew up. Now we’re halfway to fucking.”

“I’m too hot to give a sweet fuck that you’re my friend’s little sister right now. And that should bother you.”

Even in their post-sex glow, Travis comments about how he isn’t sure how he’ll be able to look Stephen in the eye the next day. Look, if someone kept mentioning my brother to me during sex, things would stop real fucking quick because he is literally the last person I want to think about in that situation. Georgie is more than just someone’s sister but rather than seeing her as an individual, Travis sees her as an extension of his friend. In a general sense, men commenting on how a woman has filled out or the physical changes our bodies go through from teen to adulthood has always bothered me. There’s a lecherousness to the phrase that makes it feel like a vocal leer. In this specific instance, it’s doubly revolting because Travis insists on seeing Georgie as if she’s part of her brother.

Admittedly, I knew going into Fix Her Up that this trope isn’t for me. If the two main characters are consenting adults, it shouldn’t be any siblings’ business whether or not they’re bumping uglies. It’s a conflict that always felt overly manufactured to me. But as a huge fan of Bailey’s writing, I was optimistic that if anyone could get me into this trope, she could. She has some great romances out there and can write amazingly hot sex scenes. I suppose I was hoping that this would be my exception to the rule for the “off limits” trope.

It’s probably time I realize romances where adult siblings aren’t allowed to date their brother/sister’s friends aren’t for me and stop trying to put a square peg into a round hole. And if this is your catnip, I hope you really like this one, if you’re interested!

Lastly, I don’t want to say this romance wasn’t believable in its HEA, but I did have concerns about the longevity of Georgie and Travis’ relationship. Travis is older by several years and they’re at different places in their lives . Travis is trying to rebuild after essentially losing his dream job. Georgie is just starting her independence. I was worried that by becoming romantically involved with Travis, he would stifle that growth.

Yes, they have great chemistry and awesome sex. However, they had rather polarizing opinions on very important things. For example, Georgie wants a big family and a house full of kids. Travis, having grown up in a broken home, has huge reservations about being father. A “together forever” ending is not something that’d work without some couples counseling, because I don’t think either should make that big of a compromise for the other. Kids are no joke and it’s a decision–whether to have them or not–that takes serious consideration from all parties involved. Neither Georgie nor Travis had a moment or a series of conversations where I felt like they were truly on the same page regarding this issue.

Even though this trope clearly doesn’t work for me, I hope the things I’ve mentioned can help you make a fair assessment on whether it’s right for you. I’m still a Tessa Bailey fan, though I’m uncertain if I’ll continue with this series. It really is a cute and fun setting, but the next book in the series is a second chance romance and those aren’t my favorite either. If this trope is your catnip, though, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on how well it was executed.

And just as a general life rule, there needs to be a moratorium on mentioning family members once clothes start coming off.

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Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

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  1. 1
    EL says:

    Yeah, before delving into the Romance genre, I never clocked best friend’s sibling as taboo. It can be awkward, sure, but off-limits?

    Or maybe I’ve just read too many old, classic novels, where this is never an issue. In fact, my reading has always been that friend’s sibling or sibling’s friend in those novels were often portrayed in a somewhat positive light, because the person in question is a family friend, someone the family knows, and thus *whispers* the gentleman in question is probably less likely to abuse or mistreat the lady in question.

  2. 2
    DiscoDollyDeb says:

    What I’m going to post here is appropriated almost wholesale from something I posted on All About Romance yesterday. They liked the book more than you did and gave it an A, but I was far more interested (perhaps annoyed would be a better word) with that cover. Here’s what I said: I’m so disheartened by the trend of romance novels having cute/cartoony/chick-lit-esque illustrated covers. I understand that publishers are trying to appeal to the type of reader who won’t look at a book with a cover featuring a shirtless guy with six-pack abs, but it still feels like false pretenses. I’ve read enough Tessa Bailey to know her books aren’t meant for this type of cutesy cover—she can be funny, but her books tend toward the raucous and super-sexy, with really hot alpha heroes. Now—the cover of Bailey’s HEAT STROKE? Yeah—that’s the Bailey cover type I know and love.

    I think we could have a very interesting conversation about how the trend toward cutesy illustrated covers is a way of somehow detaching or removing a more forthright sexual element from women’s reading choices. Almost as if publishers are saying (with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge), “yes, we know you gals really like to read about sexy fun-times and you’ll get it in this book, but we’re going to sort of YA it on this cover so it doesn’t look like you’re reading a book where the clothes come off.” I think this trend also goes hand-in-hand with recent books (by writers who had previously written quite explicit sex scenes) where everything fades to black at the bedroom door. I don’t mean to be alarmist, but anyone with eyes can see that women’s sexual agency is being taken back bit-by-bit right now—and I can’t help by see the “desexualization” of romance novels as part of that trend. “Only connect” as E.M. Forster said.

    And I totally agree: stop using the “sibling’s friend/friend’s sibling is forbidden” trope. That really deserves a conversation too!

    /End rant. Dismounting soapbox now.

  3. 3
    Deianira says:

    @EL: Yeah, I never got the whole taboo thing about best friend’s sibling, either – there’s a sizable age gap between me & my (younger) brother, so it’s not something I’ve had experience with. At best, I’ve read the trope as fear that if the romance goes south it could make things awkward with the friendship? Maybe? Although if I were the “off-limits” sibling in question I’d be pissed when I found out I’d been friend-zoned for that.

    @DiscoDollyDeb: Thank you for this! I gravitate toward the non-cutesy covers because I do actually expect hot & sweaty sexytimes, I’m not at all ashamed of that, & let’s face it, the guys are hot! (Although one of my recent favorites is Natasha Boyd’s “Accidental Tryst”, which has a cartoony cover, so go figure.)

    Yes, please, discussions on both of these!

  4. 4
    Hope says:

    I watch a A LOT of baseball and I would be shocked to hear that anyone gives two shits about the “reputation” of their commentators.

  5. 5
    Nicolette says:

    This right here is why I love SBTB. Thank you for the thoughtful review.

    I absolutely agree about the creepiness of talking about a woman’s growing up/filling out, and it really irritates me when a man thinks he’ll have hell to pay for banging his friend’s/roomate’s/whatever’s sister. It’s all part of this male ownership mentality and it has to stop.

  6. 6
    Lora says:

    I do a ton of freelance ghostwriting as a side hustle and I had never ever thought of the best friends sister thing in any way much less as a taboo until I was assigned a plot where that was the bulk of the conflict. It’s not my favorite topic to write but it’s bettwr than a secret baby imho

  7. 7

    @DiscoDollyDeb – that’s such an interesting perspective. In romance writer circles the conversation seems to be that publishers are marketing romance as chicklit to get that “book club audience” – shifting from mass market to trade pb, less sexy covers, to appeal to buyers in bookstores rather than actual romance readers who are often buying digital off Amazon or from authors who self publish. Even if that’s the case, the fallout from that desexualization sure says a lot – that women’s enjoyment of sexy stories is somehow not commercial enough for bookstore buyers or “traditional readers.” Honestly, I think the publishers are doing everything they can to stay afloat. So many romance authors found they could put out a solid product on their own and bypass publishers altogether, and for pubs, I think that reality became pretty sobering.

    All that to say…I will probably pick up this book 🙂

  8. 8
    Batman says:

    @DiscoDollyDeb I appreciate your comment so much! I had to do a double (triple) take when I saw this cover, and thought, “THIS is Tessa Bailey?!?!” Then my head immediately went to, “what if they redesign her other books as chick lit covers? What if some sweet book club lady picks up ‘Getaway Girl’ thinking it’s a fun pick for her Sunday night girlfriends and gets to THAT SCENE and has a heart attack?” Yeah, I love Tessa Bailey because she is funny and smart but also because she is a master of dirty talk. Nothing about this cover says, “this book has the best dirty talk.”

  9. 9
    Emily B says:

    I don’t mind the cartoon covers – whether it’s the author or the publisher making the call, it just seems to be a current trend. Scrolling through my downloaded romance books, I see all different kinds of covers, not just ab-tastic shirtless male model ones. I also think there’s a different way to think about this than “tricking women into reading romance by making them think it’s women’s fiction”. For so long, the genre has been ridiculed and not taken seriously, to the point where even some women’s publications still think all romance is either historicals with Fabio covers or Fifty Shades. If a woman picks up this book (or Helen Hoang’s Kiss Quotient, or Olivia Dade’s Teach Me, or Alexa Martin’s Intercepted or any other number of recent cutesy cartoon cover books), discovers she likes the sexy scenes, and then gets more into romance, then that’s awesome.

  10. 10
    Nix says:

    @DiscoDollyDeb I totally agree with all of this – I didn’t even recognise it as a Bailey book. This looks like a cover for a 50’s romance film and doesn’t correlate with the heat level that I know this book will have.

    I don’t like this trend at all. I know that some people don’t like the man-abs covers that adorn some of the hotter books but they fit with the heat level of the story. Cutesy-ing up the book does nothing but promote the view that women should be ashamed of liking reading books with sex scenes. It irks me less than “clean” romance (I have no issue with books sans minus sex, I have issues with it being referred to as clean). I know that a physical book with this cover will sell better than one with a six-pack on and that is a bigger discussion, and I can’t fault an author/publisher for trying to sell more books, but this move doesn’t help – it enforces the view that reading erotic romance is wrong.

    I will be picking up this book though – and I will do it knowing that it probably will contain sex.

  11. 11
    Leigh Kramer says:

    @DiscoDollyDeb 100% agree! The other piece to the illustrated cover conversation, which I now mention in almost all of my reviews of them, is it can be false advertising. People pick up the books, often expecting to get a rom-com (thanks to the “chick lit” era) and instead get books that have intense emotional plots with content warnings galore. I’ve seen so many reviewers get burned by this! I’m fine with publishers trying new things to reach a broader audience—I get they have to figure out how to stay afloat. But I wish they were more thoughtful about the messages these covers convey. And I wish they’d include content warnings in the synopsis but that’s a whole other conversation.

  12. 12
    LauraL says:

    @ Leigh Kramer – I agree and think something like a “hot romance” or “dirty-talking hero” would give a hint to someone looking for a cleaner rom-com.

    This line right here will keep me away about this book. “I’m too hot to give a sweet fuck that you’re my friend’s little sister right now. And that should bother you.”

    Yes, it bothers me. I’m with you, Amanda. I’d be wondering what was going on if someone kept mentioning my brother during sex and doubt I would be around to find out if he was going to mention my brother after sex.

  13. 13
    Lora says:

    Yeah, the fact that he thinks of your brother DURING sex…doesn’t seem like he’s worth sticking around for. Maybe a therapist could help him resolve his unspoken feelings for his bestie.

  14. 14

    I also really did not care for this one. Georgie deserves so much better… not a great sign when you are hoping the main pair doesn’t get together :/

    As for the covers, I guess I’ll say that I’m in the camp that is cheering for marketing that doesn’t always have a “sex first” visual strategy. I like steamy scenes as much as the next person, but I do feel it puts people off from trying great books in the genre and is overly simplistic in communicating what romance genre books have to offer. But of course, this debate has been going on a long time and really is a matter of preference. YMMV

  15. 15
    Vicki says:

    This brother or sister of friend has never made sense to me. I grew up with three brothers, all close in age. Sometimes I dated my brothers’ friends, sometimes they dated my friends, sometimes we dated random people we’d met elsewhere. Who cared as long as the person treated us well? And, twice, someone I dated ended up with someone my brother dated. Now that was weird.

  16. 16
    Lisa F says:

    I’ve always found the overprotective big brother trope to be a creepy 80s artifact that belongs to the dustbin of the past. The hero mentioning the brother is creepy as hell. Their whole lives will me him kinking off of dirtybadwrong fucking his bff’s sister. Gonna make Thanksgiving super awkward for them all.

  17. 17
    Kate says:

    I actually didn’t mind the off limits sibling thing, because there is so much detail about how her whole family treats her like a child, from her looks to her job to her general family dynamics. That made sense to me. But I hated how (mild spoilers) he gets all fixated on her virginity. It gets very fetishizing in a way you don’t normally see recently, especially not in contemporary settings. I was not a fan.

  18. 18
    Katie C. says:

    This is a super interesting discussion and I am going to have to agree with most commenters on one point and disagree with another.

    On the cover debate, I agree that this cover doesn’t match the content at all. I have read four books by Bailey and they were all scorching hot with lots of dirty talk. When I look at this cover, if I had never read Bailey, that is not what I would expect to get. And whether you like hot sexy times or not, it still seems like you would be unhappy with picking up a book thinking you were getting one type of reading experience and then getting something very different. Sometimes I am in the mood for “chick lit” sometimes for a really emotional romance with maybe little to no sex and sometimes for a book where the couple is so hot the sheets will ignite. The cover can be a good indication of what you are going to get. And I don’t like the cognitive dissonance involved when they don’t match.

    I actually like best friend’s little sister type tropes. In addition to seeing good friendships between women in romance, I also like to see good male friendships. And I can totally see someone saying I have a really solid loyal friend here and if I make a mess out of the relationship with his sister, I might lose a friend who is really important to me or at the very least makes things super awkward. Going in WE, as the reader, knows there will be HEA but as an actual character in a book, I can see how the HERO would be worried about how things would turn out. I just read a book where I think this trope worked pretty well – the hero treated his best friend’s family like his surrogate or adoptive family because he had a poor relationship with his own parents. So he worried that getting involved with the sister would put in possible jeopardy his relationship with the hero and the rest of the family.

  19. 19

    I’d like to see the trope flipped–big sister goes after best friend’s little brother. Cougar action!

    @DiscoDollyDeb I have noticed that. I am a YA librarian and I wanted to do a presentation of new YA books for work which would include the title Red, White and Royally Blue. The cover and the young age of the protagonists made me think it was was young adult novel but it isn’t!

  20. 20
    LMC says:

    I am in vast minority, but I like the cover. I like the variety of covers that contemporary romance has. I also understand the author/publisher wanting to expand readership. This book has a more light hearted and definitely humorous tone (“Just Us League”!) though still very steamy (she writes steamy really well). I think it fits unlike Helen Hunting’s MEET CUTE cover, which has a cute cover but is a more serious book.

    My unrelated to cover quibbles:

    How much does a kid party clown make? She doesn’t seem to be doing corporate gigs, can she really make a living doing mostly weekend work?

    Do sports commentators really do only home games? I know for the sake of the story that made sense (for him not being gone all the time), but I would think if your calling the game, you would call all the games.

  21. 21
    Marci says:

    And he calls Georgie “Baby Girl” — not exactly a term of endearment to show that he thinks of her as an independent woman!

  22. 22
    Nicolette says:

    I’ve been following SBTB for a while and usually don’t comment, but I had to share. I read Amanda’s review when it came out and took Fix Her Up off my TBR, but sometime after, that slipped my mind. I ended up reading it yesterday and *this is why* I love SBTB and I tell anyone new to romance that it’s the best resource: You guys have never steered my wrong. I wholly agree with Amanda’s perspective on Fix Her Up and by the time I made it to the first sex scene (and through a number of “what?!” And “oh noooooo”s), I thought, “There is no way SBTB rated this highly. I bet they warned me and I forgot.” And you did.

    I’m not saying other people shouldn’t enjoy this book, but it was very much not for me.

    It was a great example of how SBTB’s critical reviews provide all the info you need to make the judgment for what fits your personal tastes, given the spectrum of what people like in the genre. Even when my experience with a romance book is different from that of a SBTB reviewer, it’s not off by much. Thanks for always being so reliable.

  23. 23
    Amanda says:

    @Nicolette: I love this comment with my whole heart! Sorry the book was a bummer for you, too.

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