Bare It All
Bare It All was a difficult book to grade because despite its many flaws, I also had a hard time putting it down. In the end, though, when I look back at the reading experience, I remember more of the book’s problems and less of why I turned the pages so quickly.
The book picks up immediately after the end of Run the Risk, the first book in her Love Undercover series. There was just a shoot-out at Detective Reese Bareden’s apartment, and one of the bad guys involved in a human trafficking ring is dead. As his home is now a crime scene, he’s sleeping on the couch at his neighbor Alice’s apartment. Alice is a bit of a mystery — she’s standoffish and reserved, but quickly bonded with Reese’s dog.
Alice has reason to be circumspect of who she lets into her life. She is the victim of kidnapping and human trafficking herself, and spent a year in captivity being forced to be the personal secretary of a trafficker. A mysterious vigilante freed her and now she’s trying to get on with her life. She instinctively trusts Reese, and they are certainly attracted to each other. However, when she intervenes and frees a young woman being trafficked, she turns the attention of the ring on herself.
As the early stages of Reese and Alice’s relationship were developed in the previous book, I wasn’t able to appreciate the trust already built between them. To me, it seemed like Alice told her story to a near stranger far too quickly, just because she trusted her gut that Reese was a good guy. The chemistry was certainly there, though, and I enjoyed seeing them figure out a relationship. That said, Alice’s insecurities were a bit much; Reese had to reassure her multiple times that, yes, he’s interested, and no, he’s not abandoning her. It got old really fast.
Another thing that got old was the characters’ reliance on gender roles. Now, romance novels are not exactly known for breaking barriers in this regard, but multiple times, characters talked about how woman are, or how men are. Not as individuals, but as a monolithic group. All men would want to see Alice naked. All women would want to go shopping and get make-overs. It didn’t cross the line to being blatantly offensive, but it definitely fell into the realm of annoying and casually sexist.
While the book hits most of the plot points and character types that attract readers to romantic suspense, it doesn’t offer much variation from the norm. The relationship dynamics, plot progression, and characterizations are all standard RS fare. Alpha men, women with old emotional trauma, an evil enemy out to get the heroine — I’ve seen it all done before, both better and worse than it was done in this book.
This book was fast-paced and had some great romantic moments, but the book as a whole didn’t hold up under any scrutiny. If you’re a fan of Lori Foster, it might be worth the price of the book to revisit old characters, both from within this series and also from past series of hers. But in the end, there’s not much to truly recommend this book or put it above a simply average read.