I’ve had my eye on this one since before it came out (not that long ago) because the reviews, from the start, have been so glowing. Everyone who has read it has liked it. And I’m always in for a universally popular contemporary romance. Plus, as a bonus, it also checks a box for The Reading Women Challenge 2020, for Prompt #16: Featuring a Woman with a Disability.
Chloe Brown has decided that it’s time for her to get a life. She’s spent years slowly shrinking her world, because suffering from a chronic illness has made it too hard for her to maintain relationships or take risks. But enough is enough. Guided by a self-created list (because how else would this computer geek “get a life” but with a carefully crafted list), she moves out of her family home and starts checking off her boxes. However, she didn’t count on her new apartment building’s handyman, Red, with his tattoos and motorcycle and easygoing support and general sexiness. Between getting to really know him, and what lies underneath his rugged exterior, and rescuing a rogue cat, Chloe may get even more of a life than she was looking for.
First, I just want to address the writing! This was the most fantastically sarcastic novel I’ve ever read and I couldn’t get enough of it! The dialogue was smart and layered with “other” meanings that constantly made me feel like I was in on some kind of inside joke between Chloe and Red. And I really couldn’t get enough of it. That feeling extends to the inner thoughts/monologues from the characters as well, not just the spoken dialogue. In fact, the playful sarcasm of their inner thoughts was straight up fantastic, one of my favorite parts. Basically, I loved Hibbert’s style.
As far at the plot, it was fairly typical, as contemporary romances go, especially for enemies-to-lovers stories. They didn’t like each other to start, then they slowly started to realize internally, then externally, that maybe they’d interpreted their feelings/interactions wrong. They get together. Then there’s a conflict that pushes them apart, but in the end the overcome and: happily ever after! But I mean, that’s a common plot for a reason, and it’s very satisfying to read when that’s what you’re looking for. (Which, for me anyways, it was.) So to that end, the overall pacing of the unfolding plot and attraction were well written. But in addition to that, there were some great additional layers/concerns that helped give this story a little something different, as far as depth. Chloe suffers from fibromyalgia – debilitating, but also easily dismissed by others. And that has made her prickly and self-protective (as far as her heart) to a dangerous degree. As for Red, he is recovering from a previous abusive relationship (emotionally, in particular, but with a bit of physical violence mentioned as well). So, he, too, is coming to the table with walls that he’s put up to protect himself. Overall, both characters backgrounds and “baggage” (for lack of a better word) are ones that I haven’t read, ever, before in a romance. A male protagonist being a previous subject of abuse and either party suffering from a chronic illness. Also, just as an extra diversity bonus, Chloe is black and plus-size (Is there a preferred way to say this? If so, please tell me, so I can do better.). And most of this is beautifully recognized and celebrated on the cover – LOVE IT – as well as being spectacularly woven into the the in a nonchalant and matter-of-fact way. Anyways, I (luckily) do not suffer from a chronic illness, (thankfully) have not been in an abusive relationship, and just generally look very physically different from both characters… So while I can say nothing from personal experience as to whether or not all those issues were handled with complete insight and/or accuracy, I felt that at the very least it was all addressed very respectfully and sensitively. And for me, the look at how chronic illness not only affects a person physically, but also mentally and in all their relationships, was affecting and compelling.
The last thing I want to mention is the way the romance played out. First, I loved the sexual tension build-up. It was paced so well and, though there were not a lot of sex scenes, the ones we did get were very steamy and also, wonderfully, very sweet and thoughtful. With, of course, the trademark sarcastic dialogue (the character consistency there was fantastic). And in general, the chemistry between Chloe and Red was great. More importantly though, I loved, so much, the focus on how a healthy, strong relationship is not necessarily perfect all the time. For Chloe and Red, both dealing with many personal and past difficulties, they both (as we all do, to different extents) bring flaws and struggles into the relationship. And they do face a moment where those flaws threaten to “win,” if you will. But with the help of family and therapy, both Red and Chloe realize that they have something amazing. And that even though love really hurts sometimes, and it’s definitely not always easy, it’s worth fighting through/for. They both realize they can use their own strengths to fill in the other’s holes/flaws – and that’s such a gorgeous message about what makes the perfect life partner, for you as an individual.
This was a longer review than I normally end up writing for contemporary romances. But there were so many things I really appreciated about the way the author represented and handled such a breadth of diversity in her main couple. It’s fantastic and real and important. Plus, like I said, I just really got into her writing style. Overall – a really fun, sweet and unique romance. I’m definitely looking forward to her next book(s), in which Chloe’s sisters get their time in the spotlight!
One sweet passage (cause, you know, it’s a romance…) and a nice insightful thought about living with chronic illness and an understanding moment re: being aware of other people’s needs/what they’re hiding. There were a lot of wonderful moments in regards to being cognizant of others’ limitations in this novel, on top of all the typical romance pieces, that I really appreciated:
“He wondered what it was like, to cope constantly. Tiring, probably. Stressful, definitely. Doing it alone didn’t sound healthy at all.”
“She split time into something endless and wonderful, like crystal splitting light into rainbows.”
“You were hurt, and you reacted. You were in an unhealthy situation in more ways than one, and you panicked and cleansed everything with fire. Don’t dismiss your emotions and your self-protections just a fucked-up decision. Don’t reduce something so complex and real and important to nothing.”