Friday, 5 May 2017

#CBR9 Book 38:"The Thing About Love" by Julie James

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Jessica Harlow has just returned to Chicago and is eager to prove herself to her new FBI colleagues. Her divorce to a Hollywood producer just finalised and she's looking for a fresh start closer to her family. She's always enjoyed undercover work and wants to do well on her first mission with the Chicago office. Considering her husband pretty much asked for the divorce because he felt Jessica was spending too much time on her work, Jessica wants nothing more than to really forget him by becoming the best field agent there is.

John Shepherd came back early from an undercover mission in Detroit to surprise his girlfriend, who had been a bit distant on the phone lately and clearly unhappy with how much time he spent away. He walks in on said girlfriend literally on top of one of his best friends in bed, and to make matters worse, he soon discovers that two other close friends had known about the affair and not told him. Cutting his ties to all four people, John is ready for a change and decides to go for the gruelling try-outs for the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team. While waiting to hear back about whether or not he'll be excepted, he's going to do one last mission with the Chicago office he's worked at for six years.

Jessica, a former lawyer, and John, a former army ranger, have a history. They met during their training at the Academy, and neither remembers the other one fondly. Having developed a fierce rivalry, constantly competing with each other to be the best in their class, they are now both surprised and dismayed to find themselves partnered on an important undercover case. But since both are professionals, they are determined to hide their animosity from their superiors, and make things work. Tasked with proving a Florida politician is taking bribes, the two will pose as business partners to get the evidence the prosecution needs. The job requires several trips to Florida, working closely, staying at a luxurious beachfront resort.

Working together so closely means Jessica and John have to bury their hatchet and start actually communicating honestly with one another. Once they start opening up about what made each of them so determined to best the other back at the Academy six years ago and begin to realise just how much they also have in common, it starts to become more difficult for them to ignore the blatant chemistry and attraction between them. This is likely to be John's last mission before he moves across the country to start a new job, while Jessica has just moved back to Chicago. Surely acting on their attraction for a short, no-strings affair is a very bad idea?

Julie James is one of my favourite authors of contemporary romance, because even when her books aren't hitting it out of the park, they are always entertaining and she always writes novels with such competent and hard-working characters. Her books are pretty much competence porn - her protagonists are always very good at their jobs (although not suspend your disbelief great at them, just diligent and really professional). She also focuses on career professionals, most often lawyers and FBI agents, there are no billionaire CEOs here (although she does have a movie star hero in her very first romance, a notable exception to the rule). The characters have realistic career trajectories and a good network of supporting characters around them, either friends, family, colleagues or all of the above. No sad loners with super dark and tragic back stories for her. Another bonus - the characters have perfectly normal names. A heroine named Jessica and a hero named John - that's almost unheard of in romance today.

OK, so they are both absolutely gorgeous (Julie James has admitted on Facebook that she modelled John on Chris Hemsworth (and there are literal Thor comparisons IN the book) and Jessica on Margot Robbie), but really, there has to be escapism in there somewhere.

There isn't a lot of external conflict here. The major hurdle isn't that Jessica and John misunderstood each other's intentions back in the past and were fierce competitors, it's that they now both think they want a quick and passionate rebound fling before moving on with their lives, which are going in very different directions once their undercover mission wraps up. A lot of what conflict there is could probably have been solved with a frank and straight-forward conversation or two, but instead there are a whole load of misconceptions and misunderstandings.

One of the reasons this isn't a full five star read for me is that the book gets unnecessarily dramatic towards the end, when there is a dramatic action sequence that seems a bit out of place, with a lot of added drama and danger that I'm not sure the story needed, since both the characters had pretty much made up their minds about what they wanted to do next, and did not need a serious brush with danger to have their priorities made clear to them. John's reveal at the hospital also seemed a bit excessive to me, while the romance built quickly between these two, it was never insta-love, as they had a shared past and also worked together under a lot of pressure, that could make them fall for each other faster than would otherwise be entirely realistic.

Still, I always look forward to a new Julie James novel, and this book did not disappoint.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm guessing the designer stiletto heel crushing a lollipop heart (fun fact, everyone, did you know that the Norwegian expression for lollipop translates word for word, I swear to God, as "love on a stick". Look it up - kjærlighet på pinne). has something to do with both characters being on the rebound at the beginning of this book. But more importantly, the shoe (sans a foot in it to give it any weight) is trampling love both figuratively and literally in Norwegian. While there are designer heels (or so I'm assuming, Jessica seems like the sort of woman who would wear them) in the book, as far as I can recall, no sugary confections were harmed over the course of the book. But aren't you glad I told you that bit about "love on a stick"? You're welcome.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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