Wednesday, July 17, 2019

#TBRChallenge 2019: Losing to Win

The Book: Losing to Win by Michele Grant

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, 2013, Kensington Dafina, still in print (although stock number shaky at time of this posting), available in digital.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  I impulsively picked it up at the one and only RT convention I went to (in Las Vegas - whatever year that was...).  It was up for grabs, the model on the cover caught my eye, and the back cover blurb intrigued.

The Review: I watch very little reality television, finding the majority of it pretty gross.  But when used for the backdrop of a romance novel?  I'm all in.  It's ready made conflict (in the form of competition) for the hero and heroine and oftentimes it requires them to work as a team.  It also means they're thrown together a lot and if the author plays their cards right?  It can be a great way to start building tension.

Losing to Win is an amalgamation of contemporary romance, chick lit and women's fiction. Let me explain.  Carissa Wayne lives in tiny Belle Haven, Louisiana, an area still reeling from Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Oil Spill.  Belle Haven is a small town, with limited resources, and frankly just the type of place that was largely forgotten in the wake of the devastation in larger, glitzy, flashier, New Orleans.  It's the last day at the school where she teaches.  She's kind of grungy from cleaning out her classroom when she's called into the gymnasium.  What does she find waiting for her?  A camera crew.  A cheesy TV host.  Her family and friends.  Yeah, they've blindsided her with the "opportunity" to go on a reality TV weight loss show called Losing to Win.  Lose some of those pounds she's packed on over the years and a chance to win a pile of money while doing it.  Carissa is hot though.  Really not happy.  Until she learns the finer details.  The show will film in her home town.  Publicity.  Dollars.  Opportunities for the local businesses (she's friends with many of them) to make some cash.  Literally she can't say no.

But she almost reconsiders when she finds out her ex-fiance', Malachi "Mal" Knight, will be her partner on the show.  Mal was a star athlete that made it all the way to the NFL.  He and Carissa were an item since junior high.  But then he got into professional football and started believing his own hype.  Carissa was expected to wait at home and be the good little woman.  One day, sick of being treated like crap, she left.  Taking Mal's brand new BMW with her.  Her heart broken, his heart broken, both single ever since.  And now here he is - on the show with her.  Along with other folks from her past and present (her BFF, a former friend from college, her high school nemesis etc.).

Written in dueling first person point of view from Carissa's and Mal's perspectives, the tone and vibe of this book reminded me a lot of chick lit from back in the day.  Carissa is funny, sassy, and self-deprecating.  It's also a bit women's fiction - with Carissa still smarting over her failed relationship with Mal, but also being her own woman, knowing her own mind, and having her own dreams.  Carissa wants what she wants and frankly?  Mal treated her badly, taking her for granted, steamrolling and disregarding her dreams in favor of his own.  In other words, he was a selfish ass taking her for granted and she left.

Mal sees the show as his ticket back.  A knee injury sidelined him after Carissa left and those two events led to a downward spiral.  He packed on the pounds and while he's lost some, he's go about 40 more to go to get back into playing shape.  He's not ready to give up on his NFL dream just yet, but he's a 33-year-old wide receiver (ancient in NFL terms).  His agent has gotten him a try-out with a team, but he's got a lot to prove.  And there stands Carissa.  The woman he can't forget and wants back.  But damn, what will happen when she finds out why he's doing the show?  Will she feel railroaded all over again?

I liked the humor, I liked the authorial voice and the tone of the story - but that said?  It's not perfect.  This reads very Small Town Romance most of the time which means there are eleventy billion characters.  No, not just the show's contestants, but also the people working on the show, local townspeople not on the show, various family members etc.  I felt like a lot of this fat could have been trimmed (ha!).  Also, Mal flat-out did Carissa wrong and for a while I wasn't sure I wanted him to win her back.  I mean, girlfriend had a legit beef.  The author does do a good job of showing Mal "growing up" but then a new problem comes in...Carissa.

One of the contestants on the show is a guy Carissa knew in college.  He had a thing for her back then, but she was with Mal.  Well, now Carissa is no longer with Mal and he's divorced.  He's going to make a run at her.  Carissa still has the hots for Mal, but recognizes that Jordy is a nice guy.  They also share a steamy kiss that has her intrigued.  So what does she do?  Strings Jordy along with the ol' "I Need Time" argument and knocks boots with Mal because they can't keep their hands off each other.  She's not fooling around with Jordy (she's monogamous with Mal) but damn - SHE'S STRINGING THIS GUY ALONG!!!!  And for real, he's a NICE guy.  The kind of guy you'd want to take home to meet Mom.

Between this and some minor pacing issues I had (it sags a bit in the middle) - this makes the book a B-.  I get it.  Carissa was badly burned by Mal.  So she doesn't want to close the door on Jordy and she's still running a little scared.  But then The Black Moment comes and by that point I was just so disgusted with her.  Again, I was with her for a while - but over the course of the story Mal was saying all the right things.  He was doing all the supportive things.  And then this chapter happened and ugh!!!!!!  The only saving grace (and I mean ONLY) is that the author doesn't drag out Carissa's boneheaded move.  It's all pretty well resolved before the next chapter ends.  But still.  Girl, get yourself together.

And just like that?  What was a B- read slipped down to a C- read.  There was a lot I liked here, the voice, the plot, even the "small town" vibe plays well if you gravitate towards those types of stories.  But Carissa's running scared move at the end of the book that basically further drags Nice Guy Jordy under the bus AND completely disregards the positive steps Mal has made to repair their relationship?  I wanted to slap her into next Tuesday.  Even more insulting?  She needs her BFF to clue her in to what an idiot she is after said BFF eavesdrops on a conversation.  Not sorry I read it but disappointed it didn't work better for me.

Final Grade = C-


Dorine said...

phew! that sure sounds like a lot going on for such a small book. Sorry it didn't pan out as good as you'd hoped. Contemporary is a hard category for me when it comes to my TBR pile. I find that I like new titles much more than the old ones I have. I think it's time for a clean-out and donation to the library so I can quit digging through it. LOL

Wendy said...

Dorine: I did a purge about a year and half ago - timed right around the time I moved to a new Bat Cave. I culled about 200 books (whew!). What I really need to do is better organize the digital TBR. I haven't really cataloged it and Lord knows what's lurking in there LOL

azteclady said...

Damn, you make it sound so good, but honestly, very few people write first person that I really like. Add in two first person view points, and...not for me.

But what really gets me is the "stringing the nice guy along" bit. No,no, no, NO. That's just...No. Don't do that.

(I'm not even touching on the "reality show premised on losing weight" because that's a whole atomic-bomb-level ranting for me)

Wendy said...

AL: Yeah, the weight loss reality show could have been a complete dumpster fire, but it's mostly OK here. What I liked best was that the hero was not just "out of shape." Dude had already lost a bunch of weight but still had Forty. Pounds. To. Go. That's...not a little. So often the heroine's weight is the one in sharp focus and generally speaking I felt like the author handled it WAY better than some of her contemporaries.

The stringing along Mr. Nice Guy - yeah, that was a major deal breaker for me. I just could NOT overlook that. The one saving grace? Mr. Nice Guy basically calls out the heroine at the end by saying he's nobody's consolation prize - and I was like Right On Man!