Tuesday 23 August 2016

#CBR8 Book 94: "The Hating Game" by Sally Thorne

Page count: 384 pages
Audio book length: 11hrs 29mins
Rating: 5 stars

Lucinda "Lucy" Hutton is working her dream job. Well, sort of. Ever since she was a little girl, she wanted to get into the publishing industry, and she's currently assistant to the co-CEO of Bexley & Gamin, two smaller publishing houses with vastly different business ideas, who merged to save both of them. She would love to be more involve in the day to day process of publishing the books, but her boss considers her too indispensable. She is bubbly, charming and well liked by absolutely everyone in the building, with the notable exception of the man who shares her office.

Joshua Templeman is the other co-CEO's assistant and he is pretty much Lucy's polar opposite. Toweringly tall where she is petite. Coldly efficient, rather ruthless, with absolutely no cares about whether his colleagues like him or not. He dresses impeccably and could very well be a physically intimidating robot subsisting on breath mints, as far as Lucy can tell. He is the only one who doesn't seem to like Lucy, and she loathes him right back. All her passwords are variations on how much she hates him. The two spend their many hours in the office playing a series of games, the object of which Lucy thinks is to make the other one crack a smile, or cry. There's the mirror game, where they subtly mirror the other's movements exactly. There's the Staring Game, the "How are you doing?" Game and best of all, the HR game, where they both keep a comprehensive log of the other's infractions.

For all that they seem to spend much of their long work-weeks one upping one another, Lucy cannot deny that Joshua is handsome. She would find it easier if he looked like some sort of warty cave-troll. When the CEOs announce that they are creating a new position, and that they both consider their assistant the best person for the job, the rivalry between Lucy and Josh really escalates. Lucy is determined that she could never have Joshua as her boss, and will resign if she loses. She makes Joshua agree to do the same if she wins. After an afternoon of trading barbs in their new game: "If I were your boss", Lucy has an exceptionally vivid erotic dream involving Josh, and it throws her off. The next day, she dresses intentionally provocatively, making Joshua question whether she has a date.

Unable to let Josh win this new, strange game, Lucy manages to scrounge up a date. That evening, on the way to the bar where Lucy is meeting her date, they share an absolutely scorching kiss in the elevator. Joshua is mortified when he discovers Lucy wasn't in fact lying, and for a while they manage to pretend that nothing happened, but the edge is off a bit in their games. After Lucy pretty much collapses from flu after a company retreat (where they impress the entire company by how fiercely they defend each other during paintball), Joshua spends the next forty-eight hours nursing her back to health. Can Lucy really hate someone who spent so much time taking care of her? Why is Josh so adamant they can never be friends? Could it be because he wants to be more than just Lucy's friend and colleague?

This romance has a perfect example of the "enemies to lovers" trope, or the "I hate you, I hate you, I can't stop thinking about your hair/dress sense/eyes etc". The whole book is narrated from Lucy's POV, but it's obvious when you look for it that Joshua's feelings for Lucy, even early on, are not really antagonistic, just highly reserved and controlled. Based on what we discover later, with regards to his family life, his last romantic relationship and his personality, he's just built a cast-iron shell around himself, never letting any hint of his true feelings for Lucy show. From a family where everyone else is a doctor, he's made himself vastly successful in the business world instead, and he's much too qualified for the job he's doing - staying in a job he detests mainly so he can see Lucy every work day. He despises his boss and doesn't give a fig for the opinion about anyone else in the place, he just wants them to do their jobs efficiently. He despairs at how often Lucy's kindness is taken advantage of by other employees and a lot of his snark is clearly just to try to make her grow more of a back-bone.

Lucy is really a very lonely person. Her mother was a successful journalist until she met Lucy's father and they now run a strawberry farm (that, and the fact that she's tiny, are the reasons Joshua constantly refers to Lucy as "Shortcake" all the time. There is a third reason, but I don't want to reveal exactly why, as it's part of his extremely touching and heart-warming declaration of love at the end of the book), seemingly struggling to make ends meet. Lucy lost her one real friend when Gamin merged with Bexley, as her friend was laid off, and felt that Lucy (despite knowing nothing of it in advance and would have been unable to stop it either way) had nothing to do with it. Her flat is empty and impersonal and she pretty much lives for work. She's not had a romantic relationship for as long as she's worked with Joshua, and even though she asks another colleague (who'll be leaving the company shortly to go free lance), her heart is clearly not in it. After Josh kisses her in the elevator, the day after she had an extremely graphic sex dream about him, she starts to ponder whether her hate is in fact just her fighting her attraction to him.

I pretty much loved this book and read the whole thing in less than 24 hours. It was only released at the beginning of August, but I saw it enthusiastically reviewed on all the various romance review sites that I follow. Because the description reminded me a bit of Act Like It, still one of my favourite romances this year, I determined that I needed to take a break from the Captive Prince trilogy to devour this. As I was reading, I found several similarities. The initially fairly malicious banter turned more affectionate as the couple admits their attraction to one another. The fact that he takes care of her while she's sick. Joshua's fairly dislikable personality (which unlike Richard is actually more of a front to guard his emotions).

As with Act Like It, The Hating Game isn't perfect. I would have liked some more *insert funky bass line here*. I guess that because this is a book published by a mainstream publisher, marketed as more of a romantic comedy than a full-on romance (oh, how I hate that that term is so unfairly stigmatised), they felt that too much smexy times would be inappropriate? I also saw the reveal at the family gathering of Joshua's coming a mile away, and would have preferred to be a little bit more surprised. These are very small niggles, and my first reaction after finishing the book was actually to just start reading it again. Even now, ten days later, I still find myself thinking about it constantly. I've already re-read Act Like It, and might have to re-read this again to try to get it out of my system.

This should absolutely be the next book that a prominent part of the regular Cannonballers reviews. Sadly, this book costs a lot more, but it is totally worth your money. Otherwise, put it on hold at your library ASAP. It's a delightful book and it deserves a wide readership. It's Sally Thorne's first novel, but I will absolutely be keeping a lookout for more books by her. Now if you excuse me, I may have to start re-reading this book from the beginning.

Judging a book by its cover: I like the cover, but it is unlikely that the cover and title alone would have been enough to make me pick up the book if I hadn't seen it raved about on so many different review sites. This is a book published not by one of the major romance publishers, and it's described as a workplace comedy on Goodreads, hence the cover avoids many of the pitfalls so common with other romances. I love that what is basically a straight up romance, with a little bit less smexy times, is being advertised as a romantic comedy in book form. Although it would make a pretty great movie, if they could get the casting right.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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