Over the past five years, Melanie Gordon has worked hard to make a name for herself in her field of business. Dating, her social life, family relationships – everything in her life has taken a backseat to her career. When she’s offered a major promotion and named the branch manager of a brand new regional office, it appears that all of her work and sacrifice has finally paid off. There’s a hitch, of course, in that the office is in Cleveland – where she had fled from with her tail between her legs five years ago.
As if that’s not enough, Melanie’s friend and sort-of colleague Raine Mason tosses a spanner into the works by acting on a simmering, unspoken attraction between them on the night she gets promoted. Although she’s notoriously demanding when it comes to men, Mel’s pretty sure he’s the perfect man. He’s smart, handsome, and the dedicated head of a non-profit that finds employment for disadvantaged populations. But he’s in San Francisco, so what’s a girl to do?
I freely admit that I grabbed this debut novel from author Reese Ryan because I was browsing through Carina’s contemporary romances and the black couple on the cover stood out. (I’m easy, what can I say?) While I enjoyed the book, and will try another by this author, I didn’t love it. It felt like a debut novel. I wanted to be transported by her story, but the writing kept getting in my way. It was dry and prescriptive with an overabundance of fiddly little details that bogged down the narrative. Characterization was flat; the good characters were perfect, the bad characters downright villainous.
What kept me reading was the story’s freshness. It transcended a number of tried and true romance conventions without crossing too far over into chick lit territory. I enjoyed reading about a grown-up woman with a serious career, a full life and a history of past relationships. Melanie was this capable, confident woman that you don’t often get in romance. She’s not perfect, and she grows as a person over the course of the book, but she’s complete. Raine doesn’t swoop in and solve her problems or gift her with a sexual awakening, he enhances and supports her. Theirs is a true partnership of equals and, clumsy writing aside, I’m always here for that.
Another element that jumped out at me was the emphasis on the markers of middle-class life. Like a lot of chick lit, the book frequently name dropped brands and specified the food they ate in restaurants. Unlike chick lit, though, they weren’t exclusive brands. They were Sevens jeans and Stella McCartney purses and plates of beef osso bucco. They were the sorts of things you can find at your average suburban shopping mall. I’ve always read brand name dropping as a sort of aspirational escapism, so I found the brands in this book an unusual detail. I’m still not entirely sure how to read it.
Final Assessment: An entertaining read with a strong focus on the heroine’s journey, but it does occasionally bog down in unnecessary detail and bland telling. C+