Sunday, September 6, 2020

Review: Cinderella Unmasked

Cinderella Unmasked Book Cover
Janelle "Nelle" Lassen is back in the Bay Area to lick her wounds after her finance job on the east coast flamed out in spectacular fashion. She's landed a job at a non-profit thanks to a friend vouching for her, but the executive director lets it be known that Nelle is on a very short leash.  That's why she's at a swank masked ball at San Francisco's historic Ferry Building. A lot of wealthy folks will be there and the non-profit needs donors to survive.  Sure, Grayson Monk being honored at the gala that night is less than ideal, but what are the odds she'll run in to the man who ruined her family?

Grayson Monk is a hedge fund wunderkind who is worth a bazillion dollars (so basically a Harlequin Desire hero).  Anyway, he decides that tonight is the night to drop the bomb - he's turning over the hedge fund to his partners and stepping down.  What he isn't ready to announce yet?  His father, a long time member of the House of Representatives is stepping down due to health issues, which will trigger a special election.  Grayson plans to run for his father's seat, thereby continuing the family political dynasty.

Thanks to an errant glass of red wine, Grayson finds himself changing out of his tuxedo into a borrowed costume.  Annoyed at first, he soon realizes that it might be great fun to mingle among the guests completely in disguise.  That's when he meets Nelle.  Sparks fly, a midnight kiss that could peel wallpaper is shared and then the masks come off.  Nelle is horrified to realize that she was climbing a Monk like a jungle gym and takes off - Grayson never getting her name.

Of course Nelle still has a job to do and her boss knows that she knows Grayson Monk (remember: donors, money, non-profit).  Also the Cinderella-like kiss ends up getting splashed all over the local society pages and Interwebs thanks to paparazzi.  Nelle is still freaked about keeping her job - so yes, it's an impromptu visit to Grayson's soon to be former office to talk turkey with the man.  

I really enjoyed Erwin's debut novel and this, her second book, populates the same universe but stands alone well.  I have a low tolerance for family feud conflict in contemporaries - but Erwin tweaks it here.  Nelle is all set for push-back from Grayson when he finds out what her last name is - but both he and his half-sister are like "Who?! What?! Huh?!"  Which leads to Nelle wondering how much her father spun "The Monk Family Done Us Dirty" shtick to make himself the hero of his own story.  This conflict eventually picks up steam in the later chapters, but for the majority of the book it's about Nelle making contacts, bringing in donations, to keep her job and Grayson pushing back on his sister, his campaign manager, who wants to milk the Cinderella story as much as she can for his campaign.

This book never goes in the direction you think it will, and frankly that's what makes it so good.  I was thinking, "oh sure, the hero will protest, and he'll spend time with Nelle and they'll fall in love and then Nelle will overhear half-sister talk about the Cinderella campaign, she'll be hurt and run off and that will be the black moment."  Um, no.  Nelle does overhear that conversation but doesn't fly off the handle, mainly because Grayson keeps trying to put his sister in her place.  But inevitably Nelle does agree to help the campaign because she likes Grayson, he likes her, and why not see where this attraction takes them?

While I have a low tolerance for politicians and political backdrops in fiction in the best of times, Erwin counteracts this by making Grayson a decent man.  Tired of reading about heroes who change bed partners like they change their socks?  Early on in this book Grayson lets it be known that he's not a one-night, casual-sex kind of guy.  He's not wired that way.  He's smitten with Nelle right from the start and legitimately wants to get to know her, spend time with her, and explore the chemistry that's shooting off sparks all around them.  He's not one of those, "Let's burn up the sheets and just get it out of our system" sorts.  

The pace if fairly leisurely for most of the story and Grayson and Nelle are nice people who share some sizzle.  Also, the author keeps the reader guessing for a while as to the nature of the "family feud" and the question of how much there really is to it.  And the ending?  It's grand gesture territory and so darn dreamy I nearly swooned.  

To be honest the Cinderella trope is not usually one of my favorites in romance, because it's too much Rescue Fantasy for my tastes - but while Nelle is at a low ebb to start this book she's working to claw her way out of it.  Grayson doesn't rescue her so much as give her the opportunity to rescue herself.  And Grayson, despite the silver spoon upbringing and running for office, is a genuinely nice guy.  Not a jerk.  Not a playboy.  A nice guy.  Someone pass me my smelling salts.

This story felt like a warm hug with sexy times thrown in the mix.  I really enjoyed it, and Erwin lays groundwork to write more books in this world.  Frankly Desire needs to give her another contract because if I don't get a romance featuring Grayson's sister I'm going to burn everything to the ground.  

Final Grade = B


azteclady said...

Sold, sold, sold, even with the political backdrop---because the hero not being the rescuer but merely giving the heroine a stepping stone/platform for rescue herself? oh yes, gimme.

Bea said...

Adding this to my wish list, thanks!

Wendy said...

AL: The non-profit the heroine works for is based around children's art education and the hero is like, "You know, there's some people you should meet who love to donate to these sorts of causes" - and we're off to the races. Plus, to be honest, the fantasy of a decent hero getting into politics was shockingly appealing right now.

Bea: You're welcome!

Bea said...

Children's art education? Oooooo, I may have to bump this up. I have so many thoughts around art art education in the classroom and I'm usually at odds with other teachers and some parents. I like seeing other perspectives.

Wendy said...

Bea: Well, it's a Desire - so it's not delved into deeply. But I did like the inclusion, it was a nice touch.