Tuesday 23 July 2019

#CBR11 Books 47-48: "Neanderthal Seeks Human" and "Neanderthal Marries Human" by Penny Reid

Total page count: 720 pages

#CBR11 Bingo: Reading the TBR (has been on my TBR list since 2015)

Neanderthal Seeks Human - 3.5 stars

There are three things you need to know about Janie Morris: 1) She is incapable of engaging in a conversation without volunteering TMTI (Too Much Trivial Information), especially when she is unnerved, 2) No one unnerves her more than Quinn Sullivan, and 3) She doesn't know how to knit.

After losing her boyfriend, apartment, and job in the same day, Janie Morris can't help wondering what new torment fate has in store. To her utter mortification, Quinn Sullivan- aka Sir McHotpants- witnesses it all then keeps turning up like a pair of shoes you lust after but can't afford. The last thing she expects is for Quinn- the focus of her slightly, albeit harmless, stalkerish tendencies- to make her an offer she can't refuse.

This box set has been on my shelf since early 2015. Since then, Penny Reid has published at least sixteen additional stories (I want to say novels, but think some of them may be novella length), so she's clearly rather prolific. I know that several of the kissing book set among the Cannonballers have read and reviewed several of her books, among them Mrs. Julien and Emmalita, but this is my first foray into Ms. Reid's writing.

As far as I can tell, this is Penny Reid's first book and I suspect some of the flaws in the writing can be chalked up to this. There's a lot to like about the book, but also quite a few things that annoyed me, both as I was reading the book, and have kept bugging me in the weeks since I finished the books.

I liked that Janie, for all that she was painfully socially awkward (not kidding, I full body cringed on occasion when reading about her), was extremely intelligent and very good at her job. I do like a good bit of competence porn, and the fact that she is so very skilled at her chosen profession helped alleviate some of the things that bugged the shit out of me about her.

I also really liked the heavy focus on friendship in the book, like the close and supportive community of the knitting group. Janie doesn't even do any kind of yarn crafts, be they knitting or crochet, but just hanging out with an awesome group of supportive ladies, talking about guys and other problems and drinking a lot of wine - they were all great. I also did like that while Janie doesn't do any crafting, Penny Reid's references to needles and various types of yarns suggest that she does. While the members of Janie's knitting group are important supporting characters, her most important support is obviously her BFF, Elizabeth, who lets Janie move in when she catches her boyfriend cheating on her AND loses her job, all on the same day. I probably liked Elizabeth more than I did Janie, overall.

Janie's pretty immediate and close friendship with her new colleague Steven was great, as well.

In the first book, I think there was more I disliked than actually liked. Janie's continued belief that she was some sort of hideous troll, despite all evidence to the contrary and all of her friends assuring her that this is not the case. I hate heroines who are clearly gorgeous, but refuse to believe it. That Janie would believe herself to be impossible to date because of her tendency to spout weird trivia at all times, and that she frequently also puts her foot in her mouth, figuratively speaking - that I could have believed. But thinking that she's some sort of uggo - just no! Generally, Janie spends far too much of the book being mean to herself. The "neanderthal" in the title of both books is how she refers to herself. You're never going to find lasting love until you learn to at least like yourself, lady.

Quinn is a little bit too much of an alphahole for me to really like him in this book. That he's impressed with Janie's intelligence speaks in his favour (but we've also already covered that she's a redheaded, hourglass-shaped bombshell, so he probably doesn't just like her for her brains), but some of the secrets he kept from her and the way he dealt with them when they came to light were not great.

Janie's judgement of Quinn's bachelor ways and the heavily implied slut-shaming of the women he used to hook up with also pissed me off. Sorry, "slamps", because apparently Janie needs to make up her own words when she's judgy of other women and their lifestyle choices. I got more annoyed every time that term was used. Janie's attitude is somewhat redeemed in the second book, when she not only has a conversation with one of Quinn's former lovers, but ends up helping this woman (and in the end, being helped in return), but in the first book, it was pretty dire. Women should be helping and building up each other up, not tearing one another down.

The plot in the first novel also goes all over the place. Why did we need the subplot with the Boston gangsters and Janie's sociopath sister? How is THAT the romance complication you present before getting the couple firmly together? I did like how the knitting group banded together to deal with the thugs, but it would have been a better and more realistic group without that interlude altogether.

Neanderthal Marries Human - 4 stars

There are three things you should know about Quinn Sullivan: 1) He is madly in love with Janie Morris, 2) He’s not above playing dirty to get what (or who) he wants, and 3) He doesn’t know how to knit.

After just five months of dating Janie, Quinn—former Wendell and unapologetic autocrat—is ready to propose marriage. In fact, he’s more than ready. If it were up to Quinn, he would efficiently propose, marry, and beget Janie with child all in the same day—thereby avoiding the drama and angst that accompanies the four stages of pre-matrimony: engagement, meeting the parents, bachelor/bachelorette party, and overblown, superfluous wedding day traditions. But Janie, much to Quinn’s dismay, tosses a wrench in his efficacious endeavors and challenges him to prove his devotion by going through the matrimonial motions, no matter how minute and mundane.

Will Quinn last until the wedding day? Or will he yield to his tyrant impulses?

Regardless, one thing is for certain, Quinn Sullivan will have to learn to expect the Spanish Inquisition (i.e. the unexpected) if he plans to have and keep Janie Morris as his wife.

This book is described as Knitting in the City 1.5 and cannot be read as a standalone, according to the author. It's a direct continuation of Neanderthal Seeks Human. In this book, we occasionally get the POV of Quinn, which gives us more insight into his way of thinking, and made me like him a lot more. The plot is also structured somewhat better, with fewer of the things I was unhappy about in the first book.

Quinn proposes to Janie after they've been together for five months and wants a short engagement. She argues that it's impossible for them to know whether they are going to be able to survive long term if their relationship hasn't gone through some of the stressful situations that people with longer engagements have. She agrees to a three month engagement on the condition that they have a massive wedding, where they put their relationship truly to the test with all manner of stressful wedding planning and family events, so they can be sure that they really ARE ready for "the better and worse" when they get to their wedding day.

As someone who had been with my now husband for eight years (engaged for a year and a half) before we finally got married, I cannot argue with Janie here. I'm sure there are people who find lasting love at more or less first sight, and who successfully stay together despite having a short courtship period. But knowing more about the person you've decided to live with and share your life with is a good idea.

Meeting the families comes with their own set of problems. Janie's not really in touch with either of her sisters (the youngest one is a hardened criminal who tried to blackmail Quinn in the final third of the first book), her mother is dead and her father seems entirely indifferent to her. Quinn is very close to his rather peculiar sister, but is entirely estranged with his parents after they blamed him for the death of his older brother back in the day. For all that she struggles in a lot of social situations, Janie manages to charm Quinn's parents and mend the rift between them rather well over the course of the story - that was possibly my favourite bit of the entire book.

I saw some people complain that the love scenes in the first book are fade to black. That is certainly not the case in the second book. Let's just say, I hope Quinn pays the staff of his private air plane a LOT for what they have to put up with.

Based on these two first books (that I have as a box set) and some of the reviews from trusted fellow romance readers, I will probably check out at least some of Reid's other romances. One of the benefits of being late in discovering a writer a lot of reviews have been written about already, is that I can be more picky in which books I choose to give my time and money to.

Judging the books by their covers: Both of these books claim to be "smart" romance. I genuinely don't know what supposedly makes these in any way smarter than other contemporary romances out there. By now, I see from Ms Reid's website that the books have gone through at least one cover redesign, but I kind of like the original covers, with the heroine's face on the first book and the couple (who seem to be kissing) on the second book blocked off with big hearts. It's just the right amount of cute and quirky, and made them stand out to me in a positive way.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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