I have an innate distrust of any romance with an excess of “baby” endearment and there’s A LOT of “babying” in Love Her or Lose Her, second in Tessa Bailey’s Hot and Hammered series. There were a few things to recommend it: the working-class ethos, that stays working-class, and the marriage-in-trouble trope, which is a rarity and yet should appear more often in contemporary romance. It’s topical and true, after all, and way more believable than ye olde fake relationship. So, my launching into Love Her or Lose Her was with the enthusiasm of the ignorant but tropically engaged. It didn’t take long for my keenness to deflate like a geriatric balloon.
But first, other than the premise, who are the protags and what are their narrative stakes? Rosie Vega works as a perfume-counter girl, then goes home to her taciturn husband, Dominic. He’s a good guy: works hard, doesn’t drink, gamble, or cheat. They share a powerful attraction, which they indulge once a week, on Tuesdays. We don’t really know why they’ve stopped their amorous pursuits beyond Tuesdays, given how hot and bothered they get around each other, but suffice to say, it’s a “symptom” of what’s wrong with their marriage.
Dominic and Rosie have stopped communicating and sharing, not meals, not laughter, not dreams. Rosie can’t take the silence and loss of the boy/man-now she’s loved since middle school and she leaves. Dominic explodes into remorse, guilt, desperation, and incredulity, but he will do anything to get Rosie back … even go to a hippie-marriage counsellor, who, admittedly, is the best thing in the book, hilarious and wise. The narrative plays out against Dominic’s single-minded desperation to get Rosie back and Rosie’s burning attraction and love for Dominic, but reluctance to return to their silent house and silent non-interactions.
Out of Dominic’s distress of being without Rosie, and thanks to Armie the therapist, Dominic opens up and things look up for the two. Dominic is of the macho-humble variety of romance hero: anything for his woman-wife, to be a good provider and give her everything she wants. He’s the doormat version of the romance heroine. Rosie is physically desperate for Dominic, but has aspirations beyond their marriage, to start her own restaurant. Now, Rosie doesn’t sound too bad, does she? When the novel opens, I got her point about Dominic’s silent non-presence, except in the bedroom, where he talks too much if you ask me, but her immaturity and wiping her feet all over the Dominic-doormat didn’t endear her to me.
I have no doubt Love Her or Lose Her has many fans, but I’m not one of them. I grew impatient with it and had to skim much of it, especially the myriad “baby, baby” love scenes. It contained many elements I dislike, so my response is definitely a personal taste and sensibility one. First, I can’t stand a romance that breaks the male and female characters into two caricatured, stereotypical camps. Dominic and his home-reno buddies and colleagues are always talking about protecting their women, ugh. Rosie and her friends, the “Just Us League” spend a lot of time drinking cocktails and announcing their womanly independence. Ugh. Second, there are too-many crude and rude love scenes, simply not to my taste, nor do they seem organic to Rosie and Dominic’s relationship. Thirdly, Rosie and Dominic are cardboard cut-outs, one-note character wonders: Dominic, hero-doormat, dominant-tiger in the bedroom; Rosie, on the other hand, has a trifle more depth and complexity. But she is quick to judge and it takes her a long time to turn the judgy tables on herself. In the end, I grew tired of the copious frenzied love-scenes, hero who had zip-personality beyond his uxoriousness and a heroine with the maturity of a baby banging on a high chair’s table-top. If you want to read a sexy romance with a working-class hero, who’s full of devotion, but isn’t a one-dimensional doormat, and a humble heroine full of aspiration who answers his alpha-call, read Cara McKenna’s After Hours. As for Love Her or Lose Her, it was “downright labour,” Emma.
Tessa Bailey’s Love Her or Lose Her is published by Avon Books. It was released in January and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Avon Books, via Edelweiss+.