fiction · romance

Book Review: The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

One of the things 2020 has taught me is to balance my reading better, that it’s better on both my mental health and my stamina and ability as a reader to inject plenty of lighter books among the heavier subjects. Although I’m still drowning in the all-my-books-came-in-at-once deluge, it was actually a pretty good thing that my library notified me that my copy of The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren (Gallery Books, 2020) had come in about eight weeks ahead of schedule. I needed something on the lighter side after finishing Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin, and this fit the bill perfectly.

Carey has worked for home decor and redesign power couple Melissa and Russell Trip since she was 16; at 26, she’s given a huge amount of her time and talent to them and it’s a bit like trying to keep an angry hippo on a leash at this point. They’re *not* getting along, and with a new show and, of all things, a new book about how to have a great marriage, things are in serious trouble, especially since she and Russ’s new assistant, James, just discovered Russ balls-deep in their last show’s host. OOPS.

Now Carey and James have been thrown together in order to supervise Melly and Russ on their book tour. Carey’s not so sure about this; James isn’t exactly her cup of tea, but after being stuck with him in such a small space and with the common goal of keeping their bosses from destroying their own empire, they find themselves falling for each other. As Melly and Russ fall apart, Carey and James grow closer, but it’s a precarious kind of closeness when the stakes are *this* high…

Cute book. Carey has been with Melly and Russ since she was a teenager; they seem to have somewhat took over some parenting duties and given her opportunities she otherwise wouldn’t have. Between that and the fact that she suffers from dystonia, a neuro-muscular disease (for which she needs the insurance they provide), she feels a loyalty to them that won’t allow her to envision more for herself. She’s somewhat trapped in an uncomfortable, semi-abusive relationship with her employers from which she’s not safe enough to leave, and that sums up a lot about what it’s like to be young-ish and employed in the US today, unfortunately.

James is a bit stodgy and self-important at the beginning. He’s an engineer who got shafted by his last employer shutting down due to white-collar crime (I hate that term; it’s insulting. Rich upper-class crime, let’s call it), and he needs this job to improve his now-dismal resume. He was hired on to be an engineer for Russ and Melly, but he was almost immediately shoved into the role as Russ’s assistant and it’s obvious he feels he’s too good for the role. That might have been why I didn’t get immediate warm fuzzies over him like I do about the majority of Christina Lauren heroes. He does come around to value Carey for who she is and what she’s contributed to the brand, but the whole attitude of “I’m too good/educated/classy for this job” is an instant turn-off.

Melly and Russ are a hot, hot mess. They’re a Chip-and-Joanna Gaines-like couple and Russ is absolutely over Melly’s famewhoring, claw-her-way-to-the-top-and-drag-my-husband-behind drive. He just wants to build things and drink beer and watch sports, and this causes him to make some terrible decisions. There’s no excuse for infidelity like that, even if Melly is basically the Cruella de Villa of the design world. I felt bad for him for putting up with so much for so long, but he also let Melly steamroll Carey and let some bad stuff go down for years that he knew wasn’t right (trying not to spoil anything here!), so I had plenty of issues with him too. So while they were both kind of terrible people…they’re well-written. They’re both constantly screwing up and showing their worst selves, and then they let a bit of decency peek out so you can’t entirely loathe them, just mostly.

I didn’t love this the way I’ve loved some other Christina Lauren books- again, I think James’s initial snobbery ruined that for me a bit- but it was a nice read that helped break up some tougher books. I saw that Christina Lauren’s next book is a Christmas-themed one, and honestly, I’m kind of ehhhhhhhh about that. I’ll still end up reading it at some point, I’m sure, but Christmas books don’t really call to me that much. If you’ve read an ARC of it and loved it, though, I’d love to hear about it!

Visit Christina Lauren’s website here.

Follow them on Twitter here.

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fiction · romance

Tangled- Emma Chase

While not something I necessarily would have picked up on my own, Tangled by Emma Chase (Gallery Books, 2013) fits a prompt in the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challege: a book with the same title as a movie or TV show but is unrelated to it.

Obviously, as you can see by the cover, this book definitely has nothing to do with the 2010 Disney retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale. Thank goodness… (Speaking of covers, this was one that I was glad that I finished solely at home, because…I don’t embarrass easily, nor do I ever really feel ashamed of reading any kind of book, but…this was a cover I wasn’t really interested in displaying while I waited outside my daughter’s school with the other parents, you know?)

Drew Evans is a playboy to the nth degree. He’s a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy, one who has never made any promises or commitments, and he’s more than okay with that. The less tying him down, the more fun he can have in his high-powered lifestyle. That is, until he meets Kate Brooks, the sexiest woman he’s ever seen who also turns out to be his new co-worker. His engaged new co-worker, that is. But when has that ever stopped Drew?

Their relationship starts out with a little bit of a friendly (and occasionally not-so friendly) rivalry, as they both compete for the same client, but as Drew gets to know Kate, he finally starts to understand what love might be like as a long-term thing. Kate’s fiancĂ© and her lack of confidence might present a bit of a challenge, but Drew and his massive ego are up for the fight.

Oof. So.

First off, this was well-written, and I totally see why it gets so many stars on Goodreads. It’s steamy, it’s fun (and funny), it’s cute at times, and there are a lot of great tropes at work: Drew is definitely a bad boy with a heart of gold, his rivalry with Kate over that first client tips this a little in the direction of Enemies-to-Lovers, and the book is narrated by Drew, which puts an interesting spin on the romance novel. Big Rock by Lauren Blakely is also narrated by its male hero, and I do enjoy that perspective.

My issues with this book, however, are entirely (and almost hilariously) personal, which makes this a difficult review to write. Case in point:

My husband likes to watch stuff on TV with me at night; it’s pretty much the one thing we’re able to do on our own, since my daughter is still young, we can’t really afford babysitters, and going out is something we have to really plan for (which also means less time he can spend with our daughter, and his time is already limited). For ages he’s wanted me to watch one of his favorite shows, and finally I gave in, so we’re currently on season 8 of the adult cartoon Archer. If you’re not familiar with the show, Archer is the title character, a bad boy secret agent. He does have a decent side, but he also sleeps with anything that moves, can’t commit to any woman, has an ego the size of the sun, and has the same crass vocabulary as Drew in Tangled. Can you see where this is going?

Yeah. I read the entire book narrated in Archer’s voice. It was…interesting.

There were other things that didn’t quite make this the book for me. Kate felt a little under-defined; I wish we’d gotten to know more of her personality. She seemed like a different person when she was talking with or to Billy, her fiancĂ©. I’m not sure if that was deliberate and trying to show that she was a more actualized version of herself with Drew, or something else, but it definitely stood out to me. And there’s a lot- a LOT- of cursing in here. I don’t mind reading that or hearing it, but this seemed excessive even for me (and that’s saying a lot). It became a little tiresome reading conversations with swear words in almost every sentence (although there are a few amusing scenes where Drew’s niece follows him around with a swear jar, demanding money for each bad word, and references to her paying her way through college with the proceeds, so the author isn’t unaware of the excessiveness here).

There’s also a “We’ve only known each other for a ridiculously short period of time and have barely started a sexual relationship, but hey, I’m clean and since you say you are too, despite any kind of proof, let’s ditch condoms right now!” scene, which I am absolutely not a fan of. Nope. TEST YO’SELF, show your partner the paperwork, and then have a discussion about birth control and sexual health like mature adults. I feel like readers deserve that, and this particular “We can skip the condoms immediately, I promise!” scene never, ever works for me no matter what book it appears in.

For my own personal tastes, Drew’s a bit smarmy; I don’t find the kind of guy who sleeps with anything with a pulse attractive or trustworthy, so this wasn’t quite the book for me- which is fine! Not every book is for every reader and there are plenty of people who enjoy all the things that didn’t quite do it for me here. I never quite mind getting through a book that wasn’t right for me, because it’s taught me something more about what I like and what I don’t, what I look for in a book, and who I am as a reader, and that’s something I can always appreciate.

There are sequels, as this is a series, so if you’re into playboys finally finding the one girl with whom they can fall in love and for whom they’re willing to give up their wild ways, you might want to check out the Tangled series!

Visit Emma Chase’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.