The first of my Harlequin TBR reviews is a Harlequin Romance by a new-to-me author, Jennie Adams. I used to buy a lot of HR because I liked the fact that the heroes and heroines were more or less ordinarily people and the settings weren’t over the top. There are a lot of babies in this line, which I prefer in moderation, and I probably picked this because it was baby-free.
It wasn’t a great read. But I read the whole thing, and I get to cross one off the list.
Surprise: Outback Proposal by Jennie Adams
This is an Australian-set romance in the regular Harlequin Romance line. The main trope is older woman-younger man, with workplace romance and road trip as secondary tropes. Sadly, I found the heroine unbearable and I couldn’t believe in the HEA. Jayne is 35, outwardly successful in her career, and attractive. She’s working in the family company and trying to persuade her father, the boss, to promote her to partner, but he’s fixed his eye on a young new male hire as his heir apparent (picture the ambitious shark played by James Spader in Baby Boom but with less charisma). The father is basically a selfish, sexist jerk whose first wife (Jayne’s mother) walked out on him, leaving Jayne and her sister behind. Since then he’s gone through several wives, with each being younger than the last. This upbringing has made Jayne pathologically insecure and distrustful of all relationships. She has no friends we can discern, either. She “socializes” with men to go to events, but these are all entirely chaste encounters so the men don’t stick around.
The hero is Alex, who has his own sad backstory: he was abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage by his mother and he only learned her name and circumstances when he received a posthumously mailed letter from her. He joined forces with two other boys at the orphanage and made a found family, but he’s also wary of attachment. So we have two damaged people.
Given that, it’s a bit disconcerting that the story opens with Jayne and Alex having an introductory business meeting about a potential contract and half of the exposition and internal monologuing is about how hot they find each other. And in Jayne’s case, how unattractive she must be, given her ancient age. My eyes, they could not stop rolling. There are all kinds of problems that can come with a 10-year age gap between a 25YO and a 35YO, but the obvious one of maturity is brushed aside quickly. No, it’s because Jayne is a cougar and Alex can’t possibly want her.
The two take a road trip related to the contract negotiations, Jayne accompanies Alex on his search for his origins (both of which involve going into indigenous communities), and Jayne battles her father. And they endlessly have the hots for each other but Jayne is always playing push-me-pullyu with Alex. It was exhausting and irritating. They’re in a beautiful part of the world, they’re working on an important deal, and the narrative is dominated by their whining.
The writing style doesn’t help, because it’s mostly tell and very little show. The road trip and work stuff is perfunctorily dealt with, and even in the thick of action the reader keeps getting their feelings about each other and their emotional situations. It just goes on and on.
I was relieved to get to the end, but all I could think was “oh Alex, honey, if she’s insecure now, wait until she’s 45 and you’re 35. or 55/45. You’re going to have YEARS of reassuring her before you’re old and gray enough, assuming you both live that long.”
A note on the number in the post’s title: This refers to the number of books I have on my Nook. After writing my last post, I culled the 550+, deleting the ones I was sure I’d read. That got me to 516 as my starting point.