My house is glass, and I've got rocks in my pockets.

Hook, Line, and Sinker

by Tessa Bailey

A girl who likes music and a notorious philanderer (who hasn't actually done any philandering since a while before the start of the book) struggle to keep their hands to themselves during a guest room arrangement of their own creation! She's different, because she doesn't want him for sex--except she definitely does!

Will they be able to resist one another? They are a man and a woman, after all...

When I got frustrated with my current romance manuscript, I detoured to write a little bit of pure self-indulgence. Something that was achingly simple, consisting of basically a string of sex scenes with character drama on either side. It helped to get the embarrassing romance cliches out of my system, and when I got back on track to my major project, it was a lot more focused and a lot less sex-obsessed. No shame; just blowing off some steam.

The state of this story makes me unsure whether Ms Tessa Bailey was in desperate need of a similar blowoff story, or she simply decided to take said blowoff story, wrap it in teal, and put it out for publication.

Perhaps that's a little disingenuous; it was someone else's job to make the cover as teal as it is, anyway. Shall we give Bailey a good college try before we judge her for writing according to her most base instincts?

It Happened One Summer

Our protagonist is Hannah Bellinger, a young, privileged girl working as a PA under the wing of an up and coming director. It's worth mentioning while we're early in the review that Hook, Line, and Sinker is not a stand alone book; it's a sequel. The previous book, which I have not read, follows this book's sister in her own cheesy love story. I don't think that context from the other book is necessary to appropriately enjoy this book, nor do I think that reading it would have made this book's experience any better. So, we'll be treating this book as a standalone for the purposes of this review.

I've actually seen this book floating around shelves before, and I'd always assumed that the dude on the cover was wearing a turban, for some reason? I was wrong to think this series capable of such diversity; everyone here is whiter than apple pie.

Our leading lady

So, back to Hannah and her story. As I said, she's wildly privileged, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that. Apparently, she has a stepfather who's a bigwig in the industry, and she says multiple times that she could probably get whatever job she wants if she only flaunted her connections a little more. But no, this girl wants to earn her way into her dream job... while working under a guy who has a crush on her and also barely even knowing what her dream job entails. Hm.

It might not be right to say that Hannah is an unmotivated protagonist. She constantly tells the audience what she wants to be doing, and how badly she wants it--her constantly saying so is a problem I'll address later on--but she lacks something that Sadie from our last review had. We could immediately relate to Sadie as a protagonist since she worked in the notoriously back-breaking field of food service. We as readers don't need any extra context for what being a chef entails to understand from the get-go that someone in that position will have put their blood, sweat, and tears into getting there, and on top of that, we often saw our protagonist putting her entire self into her work on the page. Conversely, Hannah is almost never shown actually struggling with her wants. Her job as a PA is portrayed as slightly demoralizing at worst--and even then, the actor who demoralizes her seems to have a jovial, joking relationship with her, anyway--and she has so effortless a talent at what she wants to do that she only has trouble when her inspiration is arbitrarily blocked when she's at a troubling point in her relationship with the love interest. This lapse in inspiration isn't even a problem, because at that point in the book, no one is relying on Hannah's abilities to get their jobs done. In short, there are no stakes in Hannah's career, which wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that her career is more or less the only character she has.

See, Hannah's thing is that she likes music. That is her character trait. It's the one thing that brings her and the love interest together, aside from the fact that she's vaguely conventionally attractive. As one can probably assume, her music taste is broad and surface-level and recognizable to readers. Beyond that, she's... I don't know, spunky? Heterosexual? I'm not sure. If she's defined almost entirely by her passions and her dream job--to be a producer who picks soundtracks for film and TV--she must work very hard at it, right? Except, I just got done saying that she really doesn't do that. There's about one time in the book when she puts effort into her work, and it's when she calls up a local band to have them pull an all-nighter recording music for her. She doesn't pull that all-nighter. Goodness, no. She has someone else do it while she hangs out with her not-boyfriend. Dedicated.

So, our main character isn't great. Is the romance?

What do you think I'm gonna say?

In case my intro wasn't blatant enough, I'll summarize the romance thusly: it's too horny. And I don't ever want to frame myself as a prude. These are romance novels, after all, and if there isn't gonna be some hot sexiness in some of them, then is it realy romance? However, the sex in this book takes such a front seat that the scraps of what could be plot are left bouncing loosely in the back of the pickup truck. Bailey actually managed to pull a one-two on me by holding off on her particular kind of horniness until a few chapters in. I've got a line in my notes rolling my eyes at a passage that I'd thought was a sign of an author totally unwilling to talk about sex:

"Hannah says hi," Piper purred to her sea captain fiance, who'd obviously just rung her bell, which was a constant event in their household (24)

But, with the sort of description we got later on, I almost wish Bailey had stayed to ugly analogies like bell-ringing. Instead, we get lines like "maestro of feminine wetness" (43), "dropped his mouth on top of hers and begged her with his tongue and lips to save him" (268-9), or "leaving his mouth looking fresh and male" (112). And, a moment that really sold me on how unreasonable the horniness gets...

She turned at the sound of Fox's deep drawl, finding him leaning back on a bar stool, one arm resting along the back.... There was no help for the prickles that ran along her scalp, down her neck, and around to the front, hardening her nipples into points. It happened so fast, she didn't have time to think of something to counter the effect (107).

Yeah, that excerpt about Hannah's nipples was equally out of context and uncalled for in the book as it is here, and the narration goes right back to talking about normal things afterwards. I'm still reeling.

One thing I've noticed is especially prominent among the sex content is the...straight-ness of it. I didn't pull heterosexual out of the blue for a character trait for Hannah; she--or rahter, the author--seems to thrill at every chance to mention sexual dimorphism. Not only is there the odd line I mentioned earlier about the fresh and male mouth, there's stuff like "She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him, her smaller chest heaving against his larger one" (177), "Her body had responded like a flower" (238) or "soft lips writhing gently on top of hard ones" (321). Not even touching on how shudder-worthy gentle writhing sounds, I'm at kind of a loss for this stuff. Maybe I'm out of touch, since I'm not hetero, but do straight people really like this kind of thing? Does simply stating things like woman soft, small; man big, hard make things sexy? A lot of it kind of comes across as reductive to me--it makes me wonder why we don't have more interesting reasons for these two to be attracted to one another, besides what the author seems to see as simple biology.

Is it any surprise that the book ends with the leads married with multiple children?

Last time, on One Piece...

Any anime watchers in the audience will surely know what it's like when a series--especially an older one, like Naruto or One Piece--is putting out episodes that are, like, 40% new content. The new stuff is sandwiched with flashbacks and recaps, a mixed effort to make the most out of stuff that's already been animated and to keep the pacing slow, so that the anime doesn't catch up to its parallel manga. It's frustrating, but it's a feature of the medium; animation is expensive!

There's no excuse when a book does this stuff.

If an editor took to this book with a knife and cut around all of the redundancy and repitition, there wouldn't be enough left for a novel. Possibly not even a novella, if we were being especially ungenerous with our knife. Constantly, scenes will come to screeching halts to recap information that we, the audience, already know. Information that was conveyed to us pages ago. Dialogue exchanges that are summarized in prose a chapter later, with bonus internal monologue from the current POV character, because heaven forbid the audience be allowed to fill in any blanks on their own. My reading notes are full of outrage about being recapped on something that I just read. Unless I'm insane, I'm pretty sure reading a book is a solitary experience, in which one person takes everything in first-hand, and is free to go back whenever they want to double check stuff they don't remember correctly. Why does Bailey feel the need to hold the reader's hand so thoroughly?

You can never go too many pages in this book without being reminded the exact circumstances of the lead pair, including the detailed reasons as to why they absolutely shouldn't be hooking up:

Their relationship was a complicated riddle that got more confusing every day. They were good friends, highly attracted to each other. They'd behaved like a couple tonight.... Her feelings for Fox were growing at an exponential rate, with no signs of slowing down.... Hannah might mean more to Fox than the average girl, but that didn't mean he wanted to be more than friends .... Trying to lure this man out of his bachelorhood was flat-out self-destructive, and it could end with her heart in tatters (238-9)

That's right, the above monologue went on for two whole pages, and I didn't cut around anything interesting happening in those elipses; it was just more rambling about the same stuff. This happens at least once every, say, four chapters. Sometimes more. This kind of repitition is cancerous for a novel. It pads the content that the reader might actually want to get to, talks down to the reader, and draws attention to when plot threads are dropped, since everything that happens in the book is stated at least two or three extra times. There's a rival-esque character named Brinely who, around the halfway point, looks like she's going to be a barrier to Hannah's career--in a characterization heel-turn that I could only expect from a very gender-role obsessed author writing a successful woman--only to completely vanish after she starts raising her voice. It's the sort of plot trouble that I might have otherwise not noticed, if not for the obnoxious repitition of every single plot point.

How Hallmark is it?

Eh, well, it's here and there. Obviously, explicit sex isn't really much of a Hallmark thing, but considering how much harder it is to hold attention in a book than it is a TV movie, I'm willing to let that kind of thing slide. What I can't let slide is the ugliness of the sex, or the other glaring faults that make it so hard to enjoy the sex.

There's a subplot about Hannah's late father's sea shanties being the big secret to her breaking through into her career, and, as much as I'm not fond of the plot itself, it's very much in the spirit of the Hallmark storyline, and I need to give it a few points for that. A lot of the romantic scenes that aren't just sex have a vibe and setting that invokes a low-budget movie desperate to make something out of its bland location. That charm is there, even if it's not there often enough to enjoy.

A line early on mentions the danger of the love interest's job as a fisherman: "He'd stood beside Brendan on the Della Ray and stared death in the eye. More than once" (29). And, I figured that such a line was set-up for a climax that would involve someone getting stranded or otherwise put in a life-threatening situation on a fishing boat. How cinematic! How melodramatic! But, no, nothing like that happens. No danger, no capsizing, no nothing. The protagonist's father passed away in a fishing accident when she was very young, but that's the extent of any glimpses at the danger of the sea. If one was trying to make something truly indulgent and Hallmark-esque, wouldn't they have some overdramatic danger? It isn't like the audience would ever actually be worried; the genre necessitates everyone to be safe and sound at the end. But, wouldn't it thrill a little bit? We could have easily replaced one of the gratuitous sex scenes with some scary stuff on the high seas and had an absolute blast doing it. Frankly, I'm disappointed by that more than any other factor.

The Verdict

NOT RECOMMENDED...

There's just to much about this book that's dreadful. At times I dreaded going back to it, and reading a romance should never, ever feel like a chore. There are better places to go to for erotica, and much better places to go for sweet romance, and all of those places will be less boring and repetitive than this one. On the bright side, I know now that I can always look to Ms Bailey for books-a-plenty to review and to look to in order to feel better about my own writing.