Sunday 31 December 2017

#CBR9 Book 127: "Roomies" by Christina Lauren

Page count: 368 pages
Audio book length: 9 hrs 35 mins
Rating: 3 stars

Holland Bakker is trying to be a writer, but two years after graduating from college, still doesn't really feel like she has anything to write about. The apartment she lives in is in part paid for by her wealthy uncles, and even her job, as a stagehand/photographer at the Broadway theatre where her uncle is the musical director is thanks to him. She's feeling adrift and like a bit of a scrounger, and desperately wishes she could find some purpose. For more than six months, she's been going several blocks out of her way to and from work, just so she can see the handsome busker at the 50th Street Station. One night, after a few too many drinks, she actually stops and tells him how much she loves his music. Shortly after, she is the victim of an attempted mugging, and ends up unconscious on the subway tracks. When she comes to, the paramedics suspect she tried to kill herself, and say they came thanks to an anonymous tip. Holland is confused as to why her mystery crush didn't identify himself, but has more to worry about as she's taken to the hospital.

Holland's uncle Robert is the creator of a wildly successful Broadway show, but as the original star is leaving and about to be replaced by another prestigious star, the lead violinist quits in a huff, and his music is integral to the show. The show could be doomed, unless they find a replacement musician. Holland suggests Calvin, the mystery busker, and takes her uncle to see him playing at the station. It turns out that Calvin trained at Julliard, and would be delighted to audition. Once he's actually offered a job, however, he's forced to confess that he's in the country illegally, his student visa having run out four years ago. That's also the reason he didn't actually give his name to the police or paramedics when he called 911 after Holland's mugging. He doesn't want to get deported.

One of the theatre employees jokes that Calvin could easily be hired and get a green card if Holland were to marry him - she's had a crush on him for months, after all? While everyone brushes it off as insanity, Holland sees an opportunity to finally pay her beloved uncle back for all the things he's done for her over the years. She's already deeply infatuated in the busker and adores his music. After thinking it over for a few days, she asks Calvin (who she's been calling "Jack" in her head until she learned his real name) to come to lunch and suggests the mad plan to him. Since working on Broadway is Calvin's dream, it doesn't actually take all that long to persuade him to agree to the marriage of convenience.

After mooning over him from afar for more than six months, Holland now has to share an apartment with her crush. It doesn't take long before Calvin is a runaway success on Broadway. Her uncle Robert is happy, Calvin is living his dream and Holland is feeling more adrift than ever. Even as she's growing closer to Calvin and they start acting on their mutual attraction, she's not entirely sure if he's starting to genuinely return her feelings (not that she's fully honest about how strongly she feels for him) or if he's just playing her until he can get his green card.

I've seen Roomies included on more than one "Best of the Year" romance lists recently, most notably the Entertainment Weekly one and it made me curious to read the book, as I thought the premise seemed a bit forced. Having greatly enjoyed their previous novel Dating You/Hating You earlier this year, I assumed from its inclusion on EW's list that this book was going to be even better. It's not.

My disappointment in the book may stem from the fact that its inclusion on more than one Top Ten Romances of the Year list made me heighten my expectations. By all means, this is not a bad book, but it's not even in the top 4 Christina Lauren novels I've read. The premise of the whole book, as I said, felt too forced. An actual marriage of convenience story is more difficult to pull off in a contemporary story than a historical novel (where this trope is pretty common, but strangers could more often marry in those days for any number of reasons). Yes, you have the "I'll pose as your fake girlfriend/boyfriend/fiancee for reasons" situation, but the couple rarely actually complete the legally binding ceremony before living together and falling in love.

As well as the complication that Holland isn't honest about the fact that she's been more or less stalking Calvin from afar for more than six months before she ever spoke to him, there's a whole bunch of other drama that gets thrown into the mix to make their relationship more difficult. Holland was not a particularly engaging heroine - she seemed a bit too whiny and ungrateful, considering the hugely privileged situation she was actually in - very few people have found their "calling" at 25, and at least she lives in a cushy apartment and has a job, even if this is thanks to generous relatives.

Normally, in Christina Lauren's books, the supporting cast of characters is excellent. Both the hero and heroine tend to have excellent and loyal friends, as well as family. Here, yes, Holland has amazing gay uncles and her brother seems pretty cool, but her so-called best friend is a jealous harpy who treats Holland, her own boyfriend (who she refuses to call anything but fuck-buddy) and others dreadfully and keeps hitting on Calvin in front of Holland and it made me literally uncomfortable to read several of the scenes she was in. I couldn't really get fully invested in the main romance, and the comforting friendships that were supposed to help flesh out the book were also missing.

This book is going nowhere near any "Top 10 of 2017" list for me, and frankly, because I got my expectations built up and then smashed, it's more likely to end up closer to my bottom of the year list. There are so many great other novels by Christina Lauren out there - and Dating You/Hating You (which I've also seen on even more Best of 2017 lists, thankfully) is much more worthy of your time.

Judging a book by its cover: Well, if you were in any doubt of which city this novel was set in, the Manhattan skyline should tip you off. I'm wondering if Christina Lauren's publisher wants to market them to a more varied crowd than the regular romance readers, since if you overlook the wedding rings in the title font, there isn't a lot to this cover that screams "romance". While I'm not super excited by their previous covers, I think this is just rather dull.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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