OK, OK, it's not Monday. But we're going to pretend it's Monday, just like I'm going to pretend that I did not just spend the last three days dealing with a deer tick embedded in my 1 year old's chest, or the GI- tract virus that turned him into a little Mount Vesuvius O'Stuff.
(This is why we read and write romance fiction, right? It's a nice escape.)
So forget all that and pretend it's Monday, and here I am reviewing Gretchen Galway's new full-length romance novel, Love Handles. As you may recall, a while back I reviewed her novella, Quick Study (and a lucky reader won a copy of her book). Once again, one reader who enters my giveaway contest will receive a free copy of Galway's $2.99 eBook, so read this review through to the end to learn how to enter.
I have one criticism to levy on Love Handles: it starts out a bit slow. Not plodding, and certainly not boring at all. It's more that around page 50, and definitely by page 80, the book takes off in such a compelling and engaging manner that by comparison, the first 50-80 pages seem slower. But do not let that stop you from reading this well-constructed, beautifully-characterized romance fiction novel that takes us through the emotional ins and outs of a San Francisco fitnesswear company, Fite Fitness.
The main female character, Beverly Lewis, is a preschool teacher who considers reaching through her car window for the donut bag at the drive-thru to be a workout. Liam Johnson, the male lead, is a gold medal Olympian with the fine-tuned swimmer's body to match. Liam is a senior vice president at Beverly's grandfather's fitnesswear company. When her grandfather, Ed, dies and leaves her the business, a series of plausible events brings Beverly into the company and -- eventually -- into Liam's arms.
This is a fully-developed novel with real people I want to have over for a BBQ or invite to share a pitcher of margaritas. Beverly isn't your typical female romance novel lead, but she's also not some overblown anti-stereotype, either. She's a real human being who has been underestimated for far too long and finally reaches her breaking point.
Same with Liam. He's tired of being the pretty jock and underneath his cold work persona there is a softy who indulges his kid sister, loves his mom and protects his younger brother. Love Handles is long enough to flesh out these characters (nearly 375 print pages) and the length works well with this story. In many ways, this is more a novel with romantic elements than a "romance novel." Yes, it has the required HEA (happily ever after) but it gets there by treating the characters (major and minor) with respect, letting them be real.
It's evident that Galway has some experience in the apparel industry. I love to learn something new when I read, and even the most formulaic romance novel (which this is not) holds the potential to teach and show. Galway does this well, avoiding too much jargon while patiently explaining how the fitness fashion industry works, and these details move the plot along. They aren't there just as notions.
Without revealing any spoilers, a handy epilogue gives the readers some resolution, but if I may, I'll add one more point of criticism: rather than an epilogue, I'd like to see a sequel. Love Handles is that good, and the characters endure in my mind.
So, to enter to win a Kindle copy of Love Handles, please leave a comment! I'll announce the winner next Monday!