Book Review

Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey

Love Her or Lose Her is a contemporary romance between a married couple on the verge of divorce. Dominic and Rosie started dating in middle school and are now married adults. They have no kids or pets. Dominic finished a military deployment overseas and is working in construction. Rosie works at a department store and dreams of opening her own restaurant. Frustrated by Dominic’s failure to communicate anything to her other than lust (every Tuesday night), Rosie moves out, but Dominic will do anything to win her back, even attend marriage counseling with a hippie therapist.

This book succeeds because of the warmth and empathy it extends to its characters. Armie, the therapist, is both funny and perceptive. Dominic is a type of character I don’t often read about in a romantic context, one who struggles with toxic masculinity but also has positive traits and wants to do right by his wife. He was raised by a quiet man who demonstrated that the way to show love for one’s family is to provide, so Dominic focuses on providing at the cost of communicating with Rosie or spending meaningful time with her. In the military, Dominic’s view of the world expanded, but he also learned not to complain or demonstrate weakness and he extends this to not showing vulnerability to his wife. Meanwhile Rosie’s frustration at feeling ignored and trapped is palpable.

The book relies a lot on the concept of “love languages,” the idea that people express and receive love in different ways. As Armin explains:

“Each of us has a preferred way of expressing love. And having love expressed to us. Dominic expresses love through deeds. But you need to receive love through words.”

“So…that’s it?” Dominic asked. “Ten minutes and we already have a solution?”

“You would love that, wouldn’t you?” Armie laughed, eyes twinkling.

“No. You have an answer. The solution requires a lot more work. And practice.”

I admired this book because it made me empathize with two people with whom I don’t have much in common, and it made me respect their relationship even though I would not want to be in a relationship with the dynamics that theirs has (when it’s working). I liked it that the characters are blue collar as opposed to billionaires or dukes. I liked the roles that ethnicity, family history and social class played in the story. I LOVED the friendship dynamics between Rosie and her friends and Dominic and his friends. The dialogue in the book sparkles, and I’m always happy to see therapy portrayed in a positive way.

However, I would have been much happier with this book had Rosie and Dominic indicated that they would be continuing some form of therapy going forward past the end of the book. They leave an awful lot of questions unanswered. They indicate that they want children – what’s their timeline? How does that fit into Rosie running a restaurant, which is a much more than 40 hour per week job? Dominic learns that he has to “share” Rosie, which is great, but his possessiveness of her in the first place is a huge scary red flag that I never felt was adequately addressed. Dominic and Rosie never do talk about his deployment in any detail and that worries me as well. I figure in five to ten years they will start having kids, and with the first pregnancy their relationship will be in turmoil again.

This book made me want to root for Rosie and Dominic, but I see trouble ahead for them. Too many elephants are left in the room – Dominic’s deployment experience and low self-esteem, his possessiveness, Rosie’s desire for a new life and new experiences, the fact that neither of them has ever dated anyone else, the realities of running a restaurant in terms of hours – I don’t think this couple’s problems are over. I’m rooting for them, but not sold on their HEA. Fingers crossed for these two and I hope they don’t lose the therapist’s number.

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Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey

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  1. 1
    FashionablyEvil says:
    2+

    Are overly controlling men just a thing in Tessa Bailey books? I’ve read one of hers (Getaway Girl) that made me uneasy in places and I’ve heard similar complaints about Fix Her Up.

  2. 2
    Nicolette says:
    1+

    @FashionablyEvil I came to post the same question! I’ve only ever read Fix Her Up and hated it. I’ve avoided her books in the past because male possessiveness/control seems to be a Bailey signature based on book info and it’s really not my thing. But it would be helpful to know from someone who’s read more of her stuff.

  3. 3
    Nick says:
    1+

    This review actually has me intrigued. I did just come off several weeks of lighthearted fluff, and I’m in the mood for something a little more complicated. I have enjoyed Tessa Bailey’s books in the past—particularly “Worked Up” as it’s maybe one of the few romance novels I’ve read where the hero isn’t completely shredded and muscular (he has a bit of a beer gut which I found refreshing after so many years of soaking up wish fulfillment).

  4. 4
    Lisa F says:
    1+

    Bailey’s had a thing for alpha, dominating heroes for awhile – interesting to see that this hero is more of the same.

    I imagine that his possessiveness will ultimately extend to the kids and that iwll make life even worse for them.

  5. 5
    DiscoDollyDeb says:
    1+

    I call Tessa Bailey “the queen of the dirty-talking alpha hero” for a reason. She’s hot and cold for me: I’ve liked some of her books, disliked others. The book I like best is HEAT STROKE—which is an m/m romance; perhaps it works because, without a male-female dynamic distracting me, I could focus more on character development.

    O/T, but I find the chick-lit, cartoony covers of this series totally wrong for Bailey’s style.

  6. 6
    Aaliyah says:
    1+

    Excellent review! You were able to capture how I felt about the ending. Their problems are far from being solved.

  7. 7
    AmyM says:
    1+

    I agree completely about the book leaving things open in terms of how Rosie and Dominic will proceed. I mean we are told that they’ve figured it all out and that because they understand what the other needs that it will be smooth sailing, but that’s not how I felt upon finishing the book.

  8. 8
    Zyva says:
    1+

    I can’t stand control-freaky people, because I *am* one of the not-the-brightest-idea babies born of that kind of rocky relationship.
    I am intrigued by the therapy though. And I always enjoy the competence characters always have in tandem, although I think it’s a dangerous stereotype to be peddling. Definitely not the case for me, which was people being more controlling of my responses than my environment, often basically “be dragged in my chaotic wake without complaining”. I enjoy the contrast with that, paradoxically.

  9. 9
    Zyva says:
    1+

    Btw At the risk of jingoistically spruiking my homegrown material, Sounds like this might be of interest: There’s an entire Aussie TV mini series on post deployment soldiers, which is being promoted as about the effect on their family lives, called Fighting Season.

  10. 10
    FashionablyEvil says:
    1+

    @ DiscoDollyDeb—I dunno, I draw a clear line between alpha characters and ones that are overly possessive and generally bad news bears. Characters can be powerful without violating boundaries.

  11. 11
    DiscoDollyDeb says:
    1+

    @FashionablyEvil: I think my problem with Bailey is that, in her books, she sometimes conflates overbearing, controlling, boundary-less males with strong, powerful alpha males. I enjoy a good alpha male character as much as the next woman (cf., my on-going crushes on ALL of Kati Wilde’s heroes), but some of Bailey’s heroes lack the self-awareness to know they’ve crossed into alpha-hole territory.

  12. 12
    Star says:
    1+

    @DiscoDollyDeb I have the same problem with her. She’s wildly hit-or-miss for me. I continue to be willing to take the gamble on her because she’s genuinely sex-positive and because when her heroes do have some self-awareness, they’re often lovely. But it really is a gamble! and this series so far hasn’t interested me enough to make me want to take the gamble. (The covers aren’t helping… had the same problem with the most recent Rai. Too much cognitive dissonance.)

  13. 13
    CateM says:
    1+

    I actually thought the hero’s possessiveness worked well in Getaway Girl, because the heroine has been cast out by her family (i.e., the people who are supposed to claim you as their own), and because the hero’s whole life is about public service and there’s nothing that gets to be just his. The possessiveness felt specific, and real, to them as a couple. But it’s definitely a trope that needs to be handled carefully, and even when handled carefully won’t work for everyone.

  14. 14
    Adrienne says:
    1+

    I’m looking forward to this. Fix Her Up was my first Tessa Bailey, and unlike a lot of people, I guess, I really enjoyed it! But then I tried and earlier book of hers (the name escapes me right now) and just couldn’t get into it at all. So I’m hoping this one will be another hit for me.

    I agree that I’m not a fan of the cartoon-y covers that are so popular these days. Not everything has to be naked chests or clinches with stepbacks but they never seem to match the tone of the books, and. I feel uncomfortable about the overlap of ‘books with PoC heroes and/or heroines and cartoon covers that sort of obscure characters identities – Maybe I’m reading into it but it just feels too close to the old romance publishing trend of putting random objects on romance covers with black characters.

  15. 15
    Sharon says:
    1+

    I have to say that Fix Her Up really did not work for me, and now I’m extremely hesitant to try another one in this series.

    I hadn’t noticed the overlap of PoC in romances and the overuse of cartoon covers. Is it a publishing effort to try to make diversity less uncomfortable for white readership? I will definitely be more attentive to covers now, as I have generally been fine with many of the cartoony cover art as a trend. Having said that, just looking at a collection of books I want to read in 2020 shows that the majority has cartoony covers. That is a big leap from just two years ago.

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