Hilarious, romantic comedy set in jolly old England
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: July 26, 2018
Pages: 360 pages
Publisher: Bubble Books Ltd
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Grantley James is a gorgeous, 30-something, American movie star whose wildly popular action-flick series is filming its fourth installment in Manchester, England.
Phoebe Drinkwater is a twenty-six-year-old, English actress who has made a successful career working as an extra on movies filmed in the Manchester area. She lives with her divorced, older sister, Beth, and her six-year-old, twin nephews, Callum and Mack. “Auntie Peepee” helps her sister with childcare, and the two siblings share expenses. In the process, their already strong love for each other has grown into an extremely tight, family bond.
When Phoebe gets a job on Grantley’s film, her initial encounter with the spoiled, cranky star is anything but friendly. She accidentally bangs into him while talking on her cell phone, and Grantley’s first words to her are, “Could you watch where you’re going instead of looking at your damn cell?” From that unpromising start rolls out a barrage of clever zingers and counter-zingers between them, which creates the most hilarious Meet Cute I’ve read in years. And every subsequent comic scene with these two feisty protagonists is equally full of fire and fun.
Phoebe is a strong, compassionate and loyal heroine, and Grantley is a terrific version of the classic, sexy, alpha-male hero, so treasured by romance fans. Phoebe’s precocious, little nephews contribute greatly to the general, comic mayhem. And Grantley’s African-American bodyguard, driver, and best friend, Barney, and his foul-mouthed agent, Marcia Silva, with her “thirty smokes a day growl,” add tremendously to the joyful absurdity as well.
I absolutely adored the first half of the book, with its endless witty banter between Phoebe and Grantley during their enemy phase. I was constantly laughing out loud. Midway through the book, after the two protagonists have become friends, the emphasis of the story switches over to Grantley’s family melodrama. The story becomes a bit soap opera-ish at that point, which is not generally a flip in tone from light to dark in a romantic comedy that I’m a big fan of. However, Phoebe and Grantley are such sympathetic protagonists, they make even a slide into non-comic melodrama enjoyable.
The romance in this book is “slow burn,” with the first kiss not occurring until 40% of the book, and the first sex scene not until 67% of the book. I have no problem with slow burn. I actually like it. However, what did bother me a bit is that we are told they have sex, but we are shown nothing beyond a few initial kisses and a few references to outward physical signs of sexual excitement. I experienced this blanking out of sex scenes as a jarringly puritanical inconsistency because otherwise, throughout this book, Phoebe’s thoughts and conversations about sex are very blunt and free-spirited.
Avoiding even mildly graphic descriptions of sex is a standard way to handle sex in young adult (YA) romance novels if they are so-called, “sex positive” books. (Which basically means the teen heroine is presented by the author as being sexually active minus gratuitous, morality-play-style “slut-shaming” by other characters in a banal attempt to, presumably, make it clear to impressionable teen readers that premarital sex is a Very Bad Thing.) In contrast, the usual approach to sex in adult romance novels is either for the author to offer explicit sex scenes, or to include no premarital sex at all, and even if the characters are married before the end of the book, to keep the bedroom door firmly closed. Debbie Macomber’s romance novels and Hallmark movies are classic examples of this G-rated approach.
I admit freely that, as a jaded romance reader, I can easily become bored of clinically graphic descriptions in romance-novel sex scenes. But I definitely enjoy a romantic and passionate sex scene when it is very well done, and I thought these attractive, lovable protagonists deserved an openly passionate portrayal of their lovemaking. To me, putting it all offstage represents a missed opportunity.
In addition, this book is an odd amalgam of a G-rated avoidance of sex and a PG-13 use of a massive amount of cussing. Frankly, I have almost never read a romance novel with as much foul language, including frequent F-bombs, as this book contains. When authors go the G-rated route, they almost invariably eliminate foul language as well, because the vast majority of romance readers who don’t like graphic sex also don’t like swearing. So the question here might be: “Who is the intended audience for this book?”
I am not grading this book down for either its YA approach to sex or its profuse profanity, however, because few romance authors I read these days write sex scenes well, anyway, and in my opinion, the scenes that are the most chock-full of obscenity are actually among the most riotously funny in the book.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Comedy Plot: 5
Family Melodrama Plot: 3
Overall: 4.5 rounded to 5 stars