I read a lot, maybe too much to write a review for every single novel I tackle. But because I still love sharing my thoughts with you, I decided to occasionally gift you with some mini reviews. You’re welcome.
In today’s edition I’m introducing you to two contemporary romance novels – one YA, one Adult – and talking about what worked, and what didn’t work for me in them.
💔 – means a negative
❤️ – means a positive
Taylor Simmons is screwed.
Things were hard enough when her single-minded dedication to her studies earned her the reputation of being an Ice Queen, but after getting drunk at a party and waking up next to bad boy surfer Evan McKinley, the entire school seems intent on tearing Taylor down with mockery and gossip.
Desperate to salvage her reputation, Taylor persuades Evan to pretend they’re in a serious romantic relationship. After all, it’s better to be the girl who tames the wild surfer than just another notch on his surfboard.
💔 I couldn’t for the life of me stand the male lead. The way he thought of girls was, quite frankly, disgusting, and he didn’t really change, as far as I could see. He pulled off some cute shit for Taylor, but he thought she was “different” from the other girls he knew. Kind of treating one woman right, but writing off most/all others he knows as “the same” perfectly showed his lack of respect for women.
💔 On that note, I was massively uncomfortable by how the novel portrayed girls. I’ve never understood, nor could I even stand the concept of a guy who is sooo hot that (nearly) every girl is throwing themselves at him. So much so that he remembers Taylor because she did the opposite of that when their paths crossed… as if that never happened before. The cherry on top of this rotten cake was the catty ex-girlfriend trope and the constant “Taylor’s not like other girls” passages.
❤️ Despite my misgivings, Jenn P. Nguyen is a great writer – she’s constantly pulled me back in the novel, and she made me feel for the characters and relate to their emotions despite not truly liking them.
💔 There were a lot of things that could have been strong, complex parts of the novel, but were forgotten somewhere along the way. Taylor’s single-minded obsession with getting into her dream school had multiple characters frowning at her, and for good reasons. She’d have worked herself to death trying to get into her stepfather’s alma mater if needed, and was unable to even consider that she might not be able to get in. I know lots of teen pressure themselves about university to this extent, which is why I’d have loved to see this discussed, especially when Taylor’s stepfather, best friend and fake boyfriend clearly recognized this mindset as unhealthy.
Overall, this was a disappointment. It started out well enough, but quickly went downhill for me, mainly because the male lead didn’t develop and, to be fair, neither did Taylor.
In this village, I’m an outcast: Griffin Everett, the scowling giant who prefers plants to people. Then I meet Keynes, a stranger from the city who’s everything I’m not: sharp-tongued, sophisticated, beautiful. Free. For a few precious moments in a dark alleyway, he’s also mine, hot and sweet under the stars… until he crushes me like dirt beneath his designer boot.
When the prettiest man I’ve ever hated shows up at my job the next day, I’m not sure if I want to strangle him or drag him into bed. Actually—I think I want both. But Keynes isn’t here for the likes of me: he makes that painfully clear. With everyone else at work, he’s all gorgeous, glittering charm—but when I get too close, he turns vicious.
And yet, I can’t stay away. Because there’s something about this ice king that sets me on fire, a secret vulnerability that makes my chest ache. I’ll do whatever it takes to sneak past his walls and see the real man again.
The last thing I expect is for that man to ruin me.
❤️ While I’m always massively affected by Hibbert’s novels, Work for It might be one of her most – if not the most – emotional novels. I found myself bonding with our main characters – Olu and Griffin – from the get go, and I was rooting for them not just as a couple, but also as individuals who were battling their own demons.
❤️ Following a breach of privacy Olu has been unable to be physically intimate with anyone; he tries and tries but the revulsion he feels when touching someone isn’t going away… until he meets gruff, quiet Griff. Genuine attraction, however, is not a cure, and Griff, seeing Olu’s discomfort, tries to talk to Olu, and well, that doesn’t work out. In his frustration, Olu lashes out at Griff, hurting his feelings and destroying the connection they had, creating a great lust to hate to love dynamic.
❤️ There’s a huge emphasis on mental health – Olu is taking medication for depression, while also battling with the issues I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraph. Griff, on the other hand, is familiar with depression as his mother took her own life, and he has his own issues to conquer – mainly that, as the town outcast, he is used to being ignored and looked down on, which is absolutely not okay. Seeing Griff slowly realize that he 10000% deserves better than these fuckers was beautiful.
❤️ Work for It deals with painful issues, but there’s a lot of light in it too. Olu is funny and charming, and that makes for an interesting combo with prickly, silent Griff. I loved their conversations, and the way they connected despite coming from vastly different backgrounds.
Overall, Work for It was exactly what I’ve come to expect from Talia Hibbert – it’s thoughtful, complex and charming all at once, and it stole my heart with its wonderfully written characters.
Have you read either of these novels? Can you share a contemporary you’ve enjoyed recently? Maybe one you didn’t enjoy?