Monday, June 17, 2013

The Couple That Fooled The World, by Maisey Yates - Review

Title: The Couple Who Fooled The World
Author: Maisey Yates
Release Date: June 18, 2013
Publisher:  Harlequin
Imprint: Harlequin Presents
Reviewing: advance e-copy
Reason for reading: Uh.  I think it was because of the phallic salmon.

The Short Answer 
I loved this story!  I love the gender role inversions and the (I thought, anyway) tongue-in-cheek pokes at genre cliches. Fun, authentic, emotional, and deeply romantic.

Wait, Did You Say... "Salmon" ?
Well, yeah.  I did.  After RT12 last year, I sort of developed this Twitter habit.  So full disclosure, Ms. Yates and I have been swapping tweets for quite a while now.  Partly because we tend to be online around the same times, and partly because she cracks me the heck up.  I found myself in the middle of a conversation between Yates and another author about their WIPs.  One thing led to another, and the phrase "Is that a salmon in your pants or are you just happy to see me?" may have come up, and, well, long story short, she sent me an advance e-copy.

I want to assure my readers that if I didn't like the book much or was really lukewarm, I would likely have opted out of the review entirely.  I'm not going to pump up a book that I didn't like.  I have to say though, that reading this book was really just kind of a highlight of my weekend.  I swapped "live-tweets" with Maisey of some favorite quotes as they happened, and honestly, the characters totally pulled me in. I didn't know much about the story other than the afore-mentioned salmon, and the geek-speak at the beginning just KNOCKED ME OVER.  Romance writers, I love you, but honestly, there are not that many of you who do this right.  Yates turns out to be one of them.

Her characters are basically Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, if Gates had invented the Blackberry, and if Jobs was female, and if they were both SUPER ULTRA HOT.  And, um, had not started out in business together and tried to sue each other into oblivion.  And the Blackberry wasn't dying a slow painful death. Anyway, just go with it.

Ferro (iron? steel? I love the name) is the incumbent king of the secure, business-oriented smartphone, while Julia's upstart company is upsetting his applecart (heh, see what I did there) with a sleeker, more useable, more FUN smartphone.  The positioning of their companies and products don't consume very much of the story, but it's an opening gambit that is SPOT ON for what's going on in the industry right now, without a false step.

My Sordid History with Category Romance
It's been a really long time since I read a Harlequin Presents, but I'll tell you, they are the books that lured me into romance at age 12 or 13, with their exotic settings and luridly fascinating sexy sexytimes.  Also, I had this set of ever-so-wholesome "Sue Barton, ____ Nurse" books.  Their covers were falling off.  And those covers? fit just perfectly over the average category romance.  Voila.  I'm sure I FOOLED THEM ALL, HAHAHAH!!

Anyhow, I digress.  I moved on to stand-alones because they had even sexier sexytimes and also because I could read a 400 page novel in like 3 hours back then AND I had a lot more time on my hands.  I haven't been back to category very often, but I'm finding the shorter, sweeter bites to be more appealing these days. In many ways the format suits my available reading time better than a longer book.

Twisting the Tropes
I am more than a little bemused at how adamantly the romance genre continues to push the "marriage of convenience" trope into the modern day.  Is this still a thing?  Do actual people ever do this?  I feel like it's a beloved holdover from historical romance that we can't quite relinquish. It is indeed, a thing, in TCWFTW.  This one wasn't really a twist, but an obedient servant: the two are pretending to team up romantically so that a joint business venture will get more PR and have better odds with the client against a third competitor.  I will say that in today's highly visible environment, I felt that the characters handled their charade-that-comes-true realistically enough.

You can't start talking about the romance genre without someone bringing up the punishing kisses.  I have never found this as offensive as some and I've never taken it literally -- to me, it's visually powerful phrasing to convey a hard, passionate kiss that might leave your lips a little swollen.  Nevertheless, it's a Thing in Romlandia, and particularly in the HP line, so I was delighted to see the author playing with it like a cat with a catnip-bell-toy:
He leaned in, his lips brushing her ear, his breath hot on her neck.  "Think of how angry I make you.  And then kiss me like it's my punishment."
And then she does it! It's not often that a scene can be hott and slyly self-referential at the same time, but this one totally rang that bell.

I'm only going to say a little about this because discovering the characters and how well they fit together is a big part of how this book works.  I will say that their chemistry worked really well for me.  HPs are infamous for giving us couples with a huge power differential, always in the man's favor.  This one isn't like this. The characters are on equal footing in every way.  While Ferro demands a certain amount of dominance in their relationship, it's more of a defense mechanism that the two of them eventually overcome than any kind of kink.  Even so, it's quite clear throughout that Julia is is equal.

Bits and Pieces
I love how Yates uses Julia's wardrobe to trace her character arc. One of the "secrets" of powerful people is not that they are good at everything -- but when they understand their weaknesses, they hire people to fill in the gaps.  On the first page:
She smiled for the cameras, knowing she looked good.  Thank God she had a personal stylist, along with a hair and makeup team.  On her own she was hopeless.
Early in their deal, Ferro invites her at the last minute to be his date for a Hollywood opening; the whole red-carpet deal.  I love that she doesn't freak out over what to wear:

...she hit the intercom on her phone. "Thad."

"Yes?" Her assistant's voice came through the speaker.

"I need a dress. A hot one. Get Ally on it, please. And I need to get my hair done."

"Formal? And by when?"

"Yes, and I need to be waiting out in front of the building at four-fifty."
That's it! No freaking out. I love it. The result:
...he was genuinely stunned by her appearance.  She was utterly captivating in a long black dress-- the woman didn't seem to own another color-- that skimmed the gray sidewalk.  The sleeves were long and full, like a kimono, and the neck high, revealing very little of her pale skin.

Later, when they are staying in the same hotel suite to promote their fake affair, Ferro sees her dressed casually in sweatpants, and it kind of knocks him out:
Lace, silk would not have been as compelling. Because right now, Julia was a woman as he had never seen one."
When Ferro's backstory is revealed-- which twists another trope-- you'll see how perfectly true that is, and it just might pull on your heartstrings a little bit.

Bottom Line
I really enjoyed this story, and would recommend it to anyone who likes contemporary romance, whether you are usually a fan of category or not. 

Around the Blogosphere
Contemporary Romance Reviews
RT has a review in their latest issue if you are a subscriber.
A fun interview at Lady Scribes
(note, since I'm getting this review done ahead of time for a change, the list of published reviews is pretty short.  I'm happy to add more in as they become available.)

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