Amazon discontinued the ability to create images using their SiteStripe feature and in their infinite wisdom broke all previously created images on 12/31/23. Many blogs used this feature, including this one. Expect my archives to be a hot mess of broken book cover images until I can slowly comb through 20 years of archives to make corrections.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Review: When Grumpy Met Sunshine

I have loved some of Charlotte Stein's erotic romance work. I would go so far as say she is one of the very few erotic romance writers out there that I will even bother to read anymore. Why? She writes passion. Not an endless series of kinks supposedly there to titillate - actual passion. The kind of soul-searing passion that has the reader gripping their Kindle and screaming "OMG WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO KISS ALREADY I CAN'T TAKE MUCH MORE OF THIS!!!!!!!"


Which would make one think that I'd be super anxious to read her new contemporary romance, When Grumpy Met Sunshine the minute I scored an ARC many (many) months ago. Oh gentle blog reader, let me give you a peak inside Wendy's warped reader brain:

1) Apparently the hero of this book was inspired by the Roy Kent character on Ted Lasso. I refuse to get Apple TV (I realize I've sold my soul to Google but I have an deep-seated dislike for Apple), have never seen Ted Lasso, and have no idea if the hero in this book is remotely like Roy Kent. What I do know is I loathe when authors let "inspirational" tidbits like this slip. My mind immediately goes to fan-fiction and stays there.

2) It cannot be overstated how much I hate the illustrated cover trend on EVERY. SINGLE. CONTEMPORARY. ROMANCE. being published. Stein writes sexy. I KNOW she writes sexy.  This cover is about as sexy as my elderly grandmother's cotton dressing gown.

3) While I'm at it - I kind of hate the "grumpy sunshine" thing. Hey remember when we didn't have cute names for everything in the genre?  We just called this shit Opposites Attract.

Thanks, now get off my lawn.

Anyway, the book. Reviews for this one are all over the place. Readers seem to really be loving it or really not loving it. I was firmly set on dragging my feet and probably unearthing this ARC from my Kindle three years from now (as you do), but Azteclady told me to read it, so I moved it up the queue. 

And here I am - word vomiting all over my blog. You're welcome.

Alfie Harding is a grumpy ex-footballer (soccer for us Americans...) who is getting harassed into writing his memoirs.  For that he needs a ghostwriter, of which he's scared off a good many already with his surly, uncooperative attitude.  Finally, in a last ditch effort to get this thing done, the publisher brings in Mabel Willicker, cute as cotton candy fluff, There's bickering, there's a lot of romcom-style banter, and the partnership ends up sticking. She's needling him, getting him (ever so slowly) to open up, and some progress is being made - until this business relationship gets mistaken for a new romance and is splashed all over social media and the British tabloids. There's nothing for it, to extricate themselves from the misunderstanding, and to get the book done, they have to fake it.  That is until they make it - which boy howdy...

Stein has a very particular writing style that takes some getting used to. As much as I have loved some her work, I recognize this as a hurdle not everyone will clear - so I always tell readers to try a sample first. It'll save you time. 

This one kicks off with a lot of banter and a lot of romcom style shenanigans. Unfortunately, after a while, the banter doesn't seem to go anywhere. They're talking in circles. In fact they're talking without really saying a whole lot or worse still - not saying enough.  Stein teases the reader with some really interesting character backstory (both Alfie and Mabel had alcoholic fathers and grew up in working class neighborhoods) but none of it is explored with much depth.  Alfie carries the baggage of his reputation (a brawling, bruising footballer) while Mabel carries the sting of a thousand cuts of living in a fatphobic world.  Girls that look like Mabel do not date guys like Alfie.  This is all good stuff, stuff I could sink my teeth into and yet? Endless, endless banter. Just streams of it.  And for all the talking that these two do they decide to stop talking at the end to necessitate a third act break-up (that lasts a year!) and then we get THE WORLD'S LONGEST EPILOGUE where all the heartfelt emotion comes pouring out and we get the happy ending.

Look, I'm not a monster - this one managed to hit me in the feels in a few places. Even during the THE WORLD'S LONGEST EPILOGUE. But in the end it's the lack of emotional depth (I needed more of the backstory to really root for these two as a couple) and the pacing that held this back for me. The trademark Stein tension seemed muted here (probably because I needed more character backstory...) and the sex is all backloaded in the final third of the story. I wasn't anxious for them to "do it" because the tension was so thick, I was anxious for them to "do it" because I was hoping that maybe more emotional bits would rise to the surface.  They do - in THE WORLD'S LONGEST EPILOGUE but by that point I was ready to move on. Some good parts but I never got the whole.

Final Grade = C+


azteclady said...

I obviously liked it more than you, but all the things that bothered you, bothered me.

That one year separation? THE ACTUAL FUCK.

And the epilogue, condensing what should have been weeks of emotional work into one hour?


Miss Bates said...

*waving from way over* I'm with AztecLady on this, I liked it a whole lot more. But that one-year split, much as I loved the epilogue, I couldn't see the point of the break-up or why it had to last a year, or why Alfie had to climb Everest or something. I never tired of the banter though: it had me in stitches and she even took a stab at Thatcher (*fist pump* YES!).

willaful said...

Right there with you on points 1-3.

Wendy said...

AL and Miss Bates: I was originally thinking B- for this one, but I sat on it for about a day before writing this review and yeah - C+. Ultimately I think the pacing is what sunk it for me. Everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, was backloaded into the final third of the book. And yeah, I basically wanted bits of that epilogue sprinkled in earlier in the story. Instead their separated for a year, we get this big declaration by Alfie at the end, and I should have cared more than I actually did.

Willaful: I started reading romance in 1999 and remember thinking that the readers clutching their pearls over erotic romance were a bunch of old biddies - and yeah, I'm clutching my pearls over cartoon covers and cutesy genre trope names. Welcome to the Old Biddy Club Wendy 🤣

Wendy said...

Edited to add: Yes, that Thatcher dig was hysterical. I actually LOL'ed.