Why I read it: Mandi from Smexy Books recommended this one to me a while back and I picked it up on special from Dymocks a while ago. Of course, on special still meant $9.99 but I was having a "support your local bookstore" moment.
What it's about: (from Goodreads) When snobbish book critic Ellery Sharpe screws up at Vanity Place magazine, her boss assigns her the ultimate punishment: write an ode to romance novels, a genre she considers the literary equivalent of word search puzzles. To make matters worse, he hires her sexy former party boy ex, Axel Mackenzie, to shoot the photos.
Axel really wants the project to succeed. For one, the magazine will double his fee if he convinces strong-willed Ellery to write a story no woman can resist. Besides, getting Ellery to fall for romance novels might be just the push she needs to believe people can change...even him. At his sister’s advice, Axel gives Ellery a copy of Kiltlander, a much-adored romance whose warrior hero is utterly irresistible.
To her dismay, Ellery finds herself secretly falling in love with the story — and with Axel, who’s drawing his own lessons from the book’s compelling hero. With her carefully crafted image of herself crumbling and her dream job on the line, will Ellery risk it all to make the leap from tight-lipped literati to happily-ever-after heroine?
What worked for me (and what didn't): No prizes for guessing what "Kiltlander" represents :) Referenced too, is an historical (I'm not sure what that was based on, if anything) and a paranormal romance/urban fantasy too which is kind of a cross between the Black Dagger Brotherhood series (except with a Sisterhood, which was refreshing) and Twilight. The book stands as a defense of romance novels, while at the same time taking a gentle poke at some of the more outrageous aspects. The scene where Ellery and Axel are testing the contortions required for some of the sex scenes are pretty funny. I mean, who hasn't wondered "can they really do that?" at some stage during a love scene? :D
"Mm-mmm," the sociologist said, making that uniquely Scottish sound that seemed to mean anything from Interesting to I don't believe you to I think I may have left my iron on. The woman at the newsstand in the train station had made the same sound when Ellery had told her they appeared to be sold out of the New York Times.
The present-day story takes about a week, but is interspersed with sparing but revealing flashbacks from Ellery and Axel's previous relationship. The flashback scenes showed the sparks the couple had, their initial attraction and passion for one another and then its implosion. What was nice was that I saw it from both sides and could see Axel's regret and his baffled dismay at their final confrontation. Parsed out that way in the story, it was a very effective way of showing me their connection and helping me believe that with the experiences of 5 years in between, that they could get to a HEA in only a week.
I'm not super fond of the euphemism "bud" for clitoris - it's a little twee for me. But I did like a lot of the descriptors used in the novel - like this, when Ellery is describing Axel's boyfriend qualities:
He was a dating iceberg - the sort of boyfriend who looks great on the surface but has the power to sink any relationship with the dangerously bad behaviors hidden underneath.
Axel is charming and gorgeous and talented and, he's had a revelation that he needs to grow up and be present for Ellery and not just flit about. Ellery is uptight and snobby about books but during the course of their week researching the story from hell, she has her own revelation and realises that the literati can learn from genre fiction (who'd have thunk?) and loosening up a bit and letting people in is a good thing.
I like second chance at love stories and what I particularly liked about this one is that both Ellery and Axel made mistakes and owned them and changed so that I could believe in their ultimate HEA. I did wonder a little by the end whether Ellery was shouldering a little too much of the blame. Maybe this was something about the order things were presented in the book, but it seemed she did a bit more apologising than he.
What else? For a funny novel, this has some surprisingly serious themes - a defence of the romance genre runs strongly through it and acknowledgement that romance readers aren't ugly, fat, lonely women with no fashion sense who couldn't get a man any other way. I liked this in particular:
Despite the heroine's betrayal, Ellery knew things would work out between the two: That was, after all, the essential nature of romances. Yet, she couldn't imagine how they could overcome such an obstacle and in fact found herself unable to believe it was even possible. And so, with the tension between the lovers at least as strong as that between Ellery's critical eye and her reader's eye, she found herself once again drawn into the story."This is one of the joys of romance novels for me. I know there will be a HEA (there had better be!) but those special books - the tension of how well, a good author can keep me on the edge of my seat with that.
I would have liked more in the end of just how Ellery was going to manage her career and I'm not entirely convinced that her "compromise" wasn't (at least somewhat) caving (getting back to my earlier comments regarding her level of "blame" for the problems in their earlier relationship) but overall, I enjoyed this one and I certainly believed in the chemistry between the couple.