BLOG REVIEW: His Unlikely Lover by Natasha Anders

26y.o. auto-repair mechanic and shop owner has been keeping a secret for 6 years
from her 31y.o. best friend Hero. 
She's in love with him but he doesn't seem to see past their years-long friendship, preferring women who look and act nothing like her.
One drunken kiss on the dance floor completely changed things for them.
Now, Hero can't get her out of his mind and is fascinated by what he previously ignored.
He sets ground rules for their affair and she agrees. 
She's willing to take what she can from him, no matter her disappointment with his rules.
Hiding their affair from their close friends and family becomes a trial, especially since Hero works as the CEO of her father's company.
And it becomes more and more apparent that her appearance and way of life 
is a huge issue for Hero.
How can they keep their friendship when their affair ends?

A mixed read. The first 60% of the book was great. It was exciting, funny, angsty, and sexy. The emotional and sexual tension was electric and ripe. I loved the angst that came from heroine's unrequited love for Hero and the see-sawing between brain and heart about their secret romance by both Hero and heroine.  The tension between their conflicting needs and wants continued to escalate as each day of their 5-day secret romance passed. And then about 60% in the book, Hero did something that felt really out-of-place in the story:

     ----------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details----------------

During the past 4 days of their secret affair, Hero and heroine were often going back and forth between wanting to be with each other and being dissatisfied with their relationship. Hero set clear rules of their affair that both agreed to when they started it and they were: 
1.) their affair will be held in secret  
2.) their affair will be temporary until they get their desire for each other out of their systems
Since the 1st day they slept together, both were secretly chafing at Hero's rules. Heroine religiously stuck to his rules and got dressed and left ASAP after they had sex. When Hero asked her to stay with him that night, she reminded him of the rules he just set a few hours ago and rejected his offer. Hero disliked heroine leaving him after sex wanted to spend some time cuddling and sleeping with her, which was something he didn't do with his former lovers. But he was glad that she was consistent with their bargain and thought that time was going to take care of this desire of his to spend time with her. For the next 4 days, their struggle between wanting more with each other and keeping to their affair's rules heightened. Heroine kept to her part of their bargain, even when it was emotionally hurting her. In the meantime, Hero kept trying to break his own rules and have heroine do the same and would get frustrated at it yet would rationalize later why it was good that she did. In the meantime, their emotional connection, attraction, desire to spend more time together, and frustration about the secrecy of their romance increased. I was loving the tension.

Then Hero had mouth diarrhea on day 5 of their secret affair. It came out of nowhere and seemed so uncharacteristic of him and how the story was unfolding. He basically told heroine off in the midst of their mutual friends at a soccer party. He publicly bulldozed her with putdowns about her appearance and questioned how he could even be in a relationship with someone like her and how someone like her was supposed to fit in his life. He worsened it by then saying: 
"I need someone else, someone who knows how to dress and handle herself in public...someone who won't show up at events with questionable bruises." (p. 145)
I couldn't believe what a jerk he was being to publicly humiliate her like that and cut her so personally. And the precedent for it was him seeing heroine getting a bit bloody from their soccer game. His motive for haranguing her then was supposed to be because her injury worried him and he wanted to protect her. But I don't get the connection at all. His publicly voicing out their secret affair to their friends via his offensive tirade of her person came nothing close to his desire to protect her from further hurt. It's a huge rationale disconnect.  It didn't fit Hero's character and how he'd acted for the last 145 pages to express his frustrations with her in that manner. I really didn't get it.

     ------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS----------------------------------------------------

After that event with Hero occurred, the whole story took a turn for the tepid. The last 40% of the book felt very different story-wise and emotionally for me. It's almost as if I was reading 2 different books with slightly different main characters. I get that heroine matured from that experience with Hero. She did become stronger from it and more determined to want more for herself and not just settle for crumbs. Yet she also presented as unreasonably stubborn about her appearance. To the point that she, who was willing to bend over backwards for Hero just 2 weeks before, now won't bend even a bit just to get a better dress (she only had 1 dress she wore over and over again for parties) and brush her hair for Hero's sake.  

Hero was the one who presented much more differently in the last 40% of the book. He became determined to get another chance with heroine but in a sappy way. His sending her multiple bouquets of flowers with his love poems were corny. There was quite a bit of emphasis of the type of flowers he sent her and what they signified and his attempts at poetry coincided with those flowers. It was to show that Hero was being openly romantic and persistent in his pursuit to get her back. But it was really too sweet for his character. In the attempt to show that Hero was groveling for a second chance with heroine, it ended up making him look like a sap. Especially in light of how hardened and firmer heroine had become in not wanting to be sucked into the emotional mess with Hero again. All that sexual-emotional tension I felt previously was gone. The last 40% of the book was bland. I actually became sleepy from it and found my attention wandering, compared to how riveted I was with the first 60%.

Overall, Hero did do enough to redeem himself from his mistakes with heroine. He did do his best to show her that he was openly proud of wanting a romance with her now and that he found her desirable, no matter what she wore and her degree of dirt. His motive was to get her back with him ASAP but his long-term motive was unclear. He stayed away from any admission that he was in love with her as she was with him. So his wanting heroine back seemed more out of his wanting her company and friendship + sex back. He hadn't thought their whole romance through, making him look selfish and immature. Which was weird because all the flowers and poems and constant texting and phone calls he was sending her made it seem like he was in love with her. I guess, he was being depicted as very clueless about romance. Maybe to add some needed tension in the last 40% of the book. But it ended up just being confusing and ill-suited with his sappy actions. But I did believe that he fell in love with heroine. Just as I believed in his instant attraction towards and obsession with heroine after their first kiss. I just wished it was done better without emasculating Hero and making him look sappy. The switch from friends to lover was done well in the 1st half. I wished those ingredients were applied in his emotional switch from friends-with-benefits to being-in-love in the 2nd half as well.

I moderately recommend this book.
3-star


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