Tag Archives: JustOne!Bed

While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

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While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

Guillory, Jasmine. While We Were Dating. Berkley, 2021. 352 pp. ISBN 9780593100851 $16.00

***1/2

Ad-man Ben Stephens gets to lead on a pitch to a technology company because of a travel snafu–he’s aware that he did most of the work on the presentation: and knows he will get the least amount of credit from his firm, being not only young but a person of color. He rises to the occasion in spite of being flustered when the talent–beautiful and bodacious Ocsar-nominee Anna Gardiner–shows up; she and her smart manager wrote veto power into her contract. Ben gets the gig contingent on Anna’s request that he be the lead producer on the phone commercial they’re going to make.

To Anna’s delight, Ben is a safe, respectful person for the cast and crew and sensitive to institutionalized misogyny in many small moments, in part from his brief stint as a back-up dancer. Ben and Anna share similar interests and sense of humor, and they hit it off. When Anna’s father has a health scare and she can’t get a flight home, Ben offers to drive her. Bonding happens during the road trip, filled with requisite tunes and snacks. They get to the hospital just as her dad is checking out, and Ben has to pretend to be her driver. Crisis averted, there is #JustOne!Bed at the hotel and she sleeps with him, NOT because she feels she owes him anything, but because they genuinely like and respect one another. Her manager thinks Ben might be the perfect foil to pose as her boyfriend until her most recent film premieres, Ben good naturedly agrees (he’s not looking for anything long term and only his therapist seems to see a problem with his reluctance to commit), but then …. falls in love.

Subplots include Anna’s management of her anxiety and how fame and celebrate strain mental health; Ben’s discovery that his absentee father had a third child, a sister who found him through a DNA matching service–should he tell his older brother Theo? He wants Theo all to himself, and there might not be enough love to go around!) and the power struggles in the superficial film industry over race, color, size, gender and popularity. Each protagonist has a wonderful support network: a best friend to confide in, and family is really important: Ben is close to brother Theo, and his girlfriend Maddie, a stylist, saves the day. Anna, too, has a loving brother and parents who might not always understand her, but support her completely.

I didn’t find this as compelling as Guillory’s first novel, and am trying to pinpoint why. I struggled to get through this, didn’t write a review right away, wanted to provide one to boost my NetGalley completion rate, couldn’t remember a thing and had to re-read it… and slogged through it again. While We Were Dating has a lot going on, and the writing and characters felt simplistic. The author absolutely elevates important issues to the forefront for the romance readership without being didactic, using humor and empathy. The red carpet details were fun–and the publicist realities and paparazzi behaviors are abhorrent and terrifying. I like celebrity/regular person pairing but do find them very … fanfiction-y.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #WhileWeWereDating from #NetGalley.

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

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The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

Center, Katherine. The Bodyguard. St. Martin’s Press, 2022. ISBN 9781250219398 $27.99

*****

Executive Protection Agent (EPA) Hannah Brooks is having the worst week ever. On the day after her mother’s funeral, her boss grounds her from work and her boyfriend breaks up with her. Like a shark, she needs to keep moving and is desperate for a gig that will help earn her a promotion heading up the new London branch of the firm she works for, so she can’t say no when her next assignment is protecting a reclusive movie star who’s returned home to his parent’s ranch to help care for his mom. Hannah will be the primary agent for handsome Jack Stapleton, who decides that to avoid upsetting his world-class worrier mother, recovering from surgery for cancer, Hannah must pose as his girlfriend. And the next thing she knows, her cheap off-the-rack business suits have been traded in for embroidered sundresses, and his mother wants Jack and his cute new girlfriend to come stay at the ranch through Thanksgiving. For a month. And there’s #JustOne!Bed.

Jack, it turns out, has a local stalker and needs to avoid the paparazzi; he also has a brother who believes he’s the cause of their other brother’s death. Hannah’s issues to work through include her alcoholic mother who put up with abusive boyfriends (it’s no wonder Hannah learned to protect herself with a jujitsu class as a teenager). They are both trying to honor last requests of loved ones.

Hannah might look perfectly ordinary, but can kill a man with a corkscrew, pilot a helicopter, and blow away a line of bottles with a shotgun–shooting from her hip. Having never experienced a cozy family, the Stapletons are a breath of fresh air for her. Guarding a celebrity client on five hundred acres consists of gathering wildflower bouquets, making fish tacos for the family and looking for fossils on the banks of the Brazos River. It’s a paid vacation for someone who hasn’t taken one in eight years, except she’s also always on. The forced proximity breaks down Hannah’s usual client boundaries: she answers some of Jack’s questions, he answers some of hers, and as they begin to get to know one another, the lines between real and pretend begin to blur. And then pictures of them surface, and a stalker decides Hannah is a more of a threat to Jack’s well-being, and she gets pulled off the job.

The unexpectedness of Hannah’s career and the lengths the author clearly went through to research her topic make the EPA details authentic and honestly, fascinating. The characters are wonderful and leap off the page. Hannah’s ex Robby is an oblivious asshole (HE TOLD HER SHE WAS A BAD KISSER!) and nearly not to be believed; insult to injury, they work together, and he’s part of the surveillance team (it’s delicious that their boss Glenn, who exudes exasperation, tortures Robby by forcing him to watch Hannah falling for and being loved by someone else). Co-worker Taylor–that Hannah thought was a friend–isn’t, but tries to do the next right thing after sleeping with Robby.

The eventual kisses are more soulful than steamy, and the relationship is consummated behind closed doors.There is a lot of wit and laughter in the face of weighty themes of grief, forgiveness, accountability and abuse. And the writing. The WRITING. It slips into the profound amidst the drama and awkwardness with lines like “I think just because you can’t keep something, doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. Nothing lasts forever. What matters is what we take with us.” To everything we’ve lost. And to what we hold onto, indeed.

The cover art is gorgeous; the depiction of shaggy-haired jack look slike Ryder Lynn from Glee, and Hannah’s red cowboy boots are spot on. I’m generally not a fan of yellow, but the spill of wildflowers across the front to the back cover is lush and vivid.

With it’s chemistry, suspense, banter, ranch setting, kick-ass female lead, and all the feels, The Bodyguard is a great readalike for fans of Something Wilder by Christina Lauren (fun aside, Center references The Honeymooners as if Jack has starred in a movie version of the book, and quotes it–I love when things get meta).

I missed this in NetGalley and borrowed a copy from my local public library when I saw it on the new book shelf (I’m so happy we buy romance now!)