Genres: Adult, Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Source: Libby (My Library app)
"I bet you a kiss you can't resist me."
Rena Jackson is ready. She's worked her tail off to open up her own hair salon, and she's almost ready to quit her job at the dive bar. Rena's also a diehard romantic, and she's had her eye on bar regular Axel Heller for a while. He's got that tall-dark-and-handsome thing going big time. Problem is, he's got that buttoned-up Germanic ice man thing going as well. With Valentine's Day just around the corner, Rena's about ready to give up on Axel and find her own Mr. Right. At six foot six, Axel knows he intimidates most people. He's been crushing on the gorgeous waitress for months. But the muscled mechanic is no romantic, and his heart is buried so deep, he has no idea how to show Rena what he feels. He knows he's way out of his depth and she's slipping away. So, he makes one crazy, desperate play...
I’m reading The Kissing Game, amongst others, for a vlog of me reading a handful of popular romance releases. This was the first book I read for the vlog and I have to say… we’re not off to a good start. The Kissing Game follows Rena, a dive bar employee nearing her last day to open her own hair salon, and Axel, a regular who Rena’s been waiting to ask her out for about a year.
I would first like to point out that after finishing this book, I have no idea what the kissing game was?? Unless it was the two-second bet that they “bet” each other to say that they liked each other? It was very odd, and definitely not even a plot point, and not title worthy. I’ve enjoyed Marie Harte’s books in the past, and this cover is completely different from her past cover, which I think is indicative of her feeling pressured to enter the “rom-com” subgenre that’s so popular right now. The description, the cover and the title are all very cute and lovely, but they don’t match the story.
I would also like to mention that this is not a standalone book. This is a kind of crossover between two different series that she’s written, and it was immensely obvious as we started the book, and it felt like we were dropped in the middle of a story, with the – 20? – side characters that were immediately in the story and interacting. It was completely overwhelming 😨 The writing was just very disjointed, and that hasn’t been her writing style in the past. Disappointing.
“I bet you a kiss you can’t resist me.”
I’m a very character-driven reader, which was part of the reason this book was such a miss for more. Not that there was much plot to tie me in, either… but Axel, the hero, was the “big, dumb oaf” German stereotype. AND YES WE GET IT, he looks like a Viking. Please end the endless references. He was so, so, so sweet (he often blushed) and very shy! But also acted in that #bookboyfriend alpha-asshole way. And don’t get me wrong… I love the alpha type. But he was just so un-genuine in this that it felt very tacky and gross. He worked his ass off to earn Rena. He read manuals on hair to impress her, censored his words so that she wouldn’t get the wrong idea of him, and spend so much money! on giving her a gift every. single. day. Bad gifts! Like a gift card to Claire’s. To a grown-ass woman. But he spent so much money and she just didn’t say anything about the horrible gifts?? Plus, his working so hard and disingenuous woo-ing was never brought up. Like, be yourself, man. I think you’re (mostly) great, if a bit blank.
Rena was portrayed in the blurb as fierce and sassy, but instead, I found her to be flighty, judgemental, naive and entitled. She rubbed me the wrong way for most of the book. First, she was supposed to be a huge reader and therefore a huge romantic. But we never heard about any of her favorite books or heard anything more about it. So clearly this was just meant to make her seem Different and Intelligent. Second, she wanted kids and marriage NOW and wrote off Axel as a possibility because he waited so long to ask her out (six months after his mother died, how rude!!) and then asked her for coffee on her first date. Apparently, that’s not a romantic choice…? But despite the fact that she wanted to settle NOW, she was skittish at any kind of long-term commitment Axel mentioned.
Rena could melt him with a smile.
If only she’d give him one.
But there was just no chemistry. No banter. Hardly any conversations between the hero and the heroine. And so much miss-placed common sense? Her business is on fire, and she’s talking to the firemen about fostering cats, Axel got a custom paint job order from another fireman and just a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t happen while you’re in front of your burning business!
They never fixed any of the problems in their relationship, either. With Axel suppressing himself / always being conscious of the end-goal: winning Rena by Valentine’s Day (what was with the obsession with Valentine’s Day???), with Axel not wanting Rena to be part of any of his family problems… and just a whole lot of odd stuff that just made me wince. Like when Rena left her dog at Axel’s while they were fighting, so she just went to go buy a new dog. Or when Axel suddenly turned into a mafia guy when he asked Rena if she wanted some guy’s throat slit. Or when Axel put Rena’s mom in his lap to soothe her while she was crying. Ummmm???
Overall… this was a huge miss for me. I didn’t connect to the characters or the storyline, especially the very odd white supremacy sub-plotline that popped up? It was handled in such an odd way!! I didn’t mention, Rena is African-American, and Goodreads reviews are quite critical of the portrayal of this interracial relationship and that the way that it is handled. I appreciate the diversity effort, but not sure that it was followed through in the best way. Especially with the white-supremacy thing. That was just handled so weird. I could have not picked this one up again after 50 percent of the book, and I had a serious conversation with myself about DNFing at 75 percent. But I pushed through, and don’t recommend this one. Pick up Ms. Harte’s other books instead, because they’re much better ✨
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What are some rom-com’s that you enjoy? Have you read a book that was a miss from an author you otherwise loved? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!