Roni Loren’s series, The Ones Who Got Away, about the grown-up heroes and heroines who share a high school shooting, is one of the best contemporary romance series I’ve read; therefore, any new Loren series comes with anticipation and high expectations. This latest “Say Everything” series sees Loren pull deep from her counsellor background in creating her protagonists. Her heroine, the lovable Hollyn Tate, has Tourette’s, and her hero, the less lovable Jasper Deares, ADHD. Their portrayal, Hollyn’s in particular, is sensitive and knowledgeable. The premise is a tad ludicrous, but aren’t many in romance fiction? The blurb will give you an idea of it:
Everyone knows Miz Poppy, the vibrant reviewer whose commentary brightens the New Orleans nightlife. But no one knows Hollyn, the real face behind the media star…or the fear that keeps her isolated. When her boss tells her she needs to add video to her blog or lose her job, she’s forced to rely on an unexpected source to help her face her fears.
When aspiring actor Jasper Deares finds out the shy woman who orders coffee every day is actually Miz Poppy, he realizes he has a golden opportunity to get the media attention his acting career needs. All he has to do is help Hollyn come out of her shell…and through their growing connection, finally find her voice.
Hmm, this doesn’t quite honour the novel’s attempted complexity: Jasper is the barista in Hollyn’s work co-op. When she learns his acting expertise is improv, they strike a deal to help her prepare to do video using improv games and help him get his theatre troupe off the ground with a Miz Poppy review. In some muddled and muddy way, they also end up agreeing to a pretend-relationship/affair: something about helping Hallyn emerge from her sexual naïveté and give her amorous wings? But the heart will do what the heart will do and Hallyn’s heart, and eventually, I guess, Jasper’s, falls in love.
Therein lies my problem with Loren’s Yes & I Love You; well, one of several. Hallyn is seemingly vulnerable, because of her Tourette’s and the bullying she endured as a child. But she’s built a successful career and is stronger than she believes herself to be. Jasper is, I also believe, genuinely attracted to Hallyn. Loren keeps telling us so, certainly, but I found the love scenes, of which there are several and graphic, strangely flat and unconvincing. Frankly, the improv’s scenes’ wit was more compelling and engaging. Jasper is also coming out of a disappointing relationship, is recovering his career, trying to make a buck as a barista, and make it up to his improv group, whom he’d abandoned for Hollywood and a girlfriend who dumped him when her career took off and his didn’t. Without indulging in spoilers, Jasper is a guy who leaves and his maturity level is at nil, IMHO. (When his sister asks him to move out, for example, where he’s been freeloading, he’s pouty and needy, even though she has every right to move in with her boyfriend.) Jasper never convinced me of anything.
Hallyn is terrific: she is anxiety-ridden and self-conscious, but she’s also built, step by step, and review by review, an amazing career. Whatever she’s feeling, however difficult and triggering situations may be, Hallyn takes risks, not careless, stupid ones, but ones bringing her closer to not being defined by Tourette’s, or her past. Though Jasper helps her with the improv games to emerge from her shell, what neither realizes is that she already had. Jasper, happy-go-lucky “nice guy,” pulls several immature “dick” moves. Their hurt-o-rama factor, as far as this reader was concerned, was in unforgiveable territory. When the grovel scene comes (and admittedly, it might be worth reading the romance for its cleverness) and the HEA-epilogue a year later … I couldn’t help but feel that Hallyn was short-changing her wonderfulness. And when Hallyn concludes, “Part of her couldn’t believe that he was hers. This gorgeous, talented, kind man was hers”, all I could think was, “Oh, honey, no.”
In the end, while I loved Hallyn, I never bought her love for the fickle, immature Jasper. I also couldn’t help but feel that Loren wrote a romance-HEA-epilogue and tacked it on to what should have been, at best, a new adult romance with HFN (which would have been fitting, but is NEVER what I’m looking for when a novel is labelled romance). Moreover, while I LOVED Loren’s The Ones Who Got Away series, peopled as it was by adults, ready for love and commitment, Yes & I Love You was a romance which felt like Loren didn’t inhabit her characters. She had a plan, an idea, a theme, she had a list and she checked off the boxes. I’m not sure I’m conveying my dissatisfaction fairly, or well, and Loren is still a fine writer, so I’ll give the next book in the series a chance to win me over. With Miss Austen, we deem Yes & I Love You of “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Roni Loren’s Yes & I Love You is published by Sourcebooks Casablanca. It was released on March 2nd and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Sourcebooks Casablanca, via Netgalley.