Better than Fiction is the sensational, charming, sexy new novel from the talented Alexa Martin. While not centered around Thanksgiving or Christmas I’d still describe it as a perfect holiday read because it definitely spreads joy and cheer.
If there’s one thing Drew Young can’t stand it's a novelized HEA. Sure, she enjoyed fairy tales and romances as a girl, but if her parents’ divorce has taught her anything it’s that love stories are for suckers. Her folks' bitter split left her hating books and pretty much everything about them, even if those stories didn’t deserve the blame and her father most definitely did. Her unreasonable hatred of all things novelized, however, did not extend to her grandmother’s shop, The Book Nook. Drew spent many hours of a happy childhood there, playing among the stacks, doing homework in the office, and just hanging out with the grandmother she loved so much. Still, it comes as a surprise to her when, after her nana’s death, she receives not just the necklace she promised but the store as well. Drew is determined to honor her gran’s legacy but can a self-proclaimed book hater really become a successful bookseller?
Fortunately, she has help. The Dirty Birds, her grandmother’s book club made up of seven dear older women who refuse to act their age, are determined to make Drew a success. And not just with the store - they have plans for her personal growth, too. And those plans include getting Drew to be interested in romance in narrative form - which she is actively resisting - and in real life. Which Drew also plans to resist.
But the Dirty Birds like to play, well, dirty. Making sure that Drew has a date with non-other than bestselling romance author - and hottest man alive - Jasper Williams is their first step in changing Drew’s mind about love both on and off the page. Drew tries to hold out, but Jasper’s request that she play his tour guide around her beloved Colorado is one she simply can’t say no to. It isn’t long before she finds herself living the kind of romance she believed only happened in books. But the course of true love never did run smooth and our characters are about to discover how little problems can turn into big hurdles on the way to an HEA.
I loved pretty much everything about this tale. I was initially concerned that a book hater and I would not click but Drew won me over almost immediately. It helps that there is no disrespect of readers or writers involved in her novel issues. It also helps that Drew is a warm, wonderful, independent woman who is a great friend, boss, and girlfriend. I loved that she is vulnerable in her relationship with her truly despicable father - his actions always left her hurt - but that doesn’t make her a pushover. She allows herself grief and anger while remaining strong and honorable. I also loved how she is open to change while still remaining true to herself.
I adored Jasper, too, although he is a touch too perfect. He’s kind, understanding, gentle, generous, and loving - I could fill the page with superlatives and still not do him justice. He’s the ultimate romance hero, which makes him the perfect foil for Drew in lots of ways . With the story revolving around Drew’s lack of faith in happily ever afters, it seemed fitting that her own love story would be the stuff of romance novels. It’s a sweet meta-style joke that lauds the genre while still giving a wink and a nod to the sheer unbelievability of some aspects of it.
As a couple, they’re solid gold. They bring out the best in each other, help each other grow, have natural, wonderful chemistry and it was nirvana to watch them fall in love. And for those wondering, yes he does encourage her to read but no, it is not a big issue between them. They have plenty in common without that.
I also absolutely adored how the secondary characters are handled here. They’re genuine support players, fleshed out enough to be more than cut-outs but not so much that they take up unnecessary page space. Elsie, Drew’s bestie, and her half-sister Daisy are especially well done. Elsie is the kind of friend everyone should have - blunt without ever being mean, honest only when they feel that’s what’s best for you but willing to lie to make you feel better, a cheerleader, a shoulder to cry on and the helping hand that’s always there when you need it. I absolutely loved her frank conversations about motherhood and her willingness to embrace the people who are important to Drew. Daisy has a more complicated relationship with Drew simply because they didn’t grow up together and come from very different backgrounds. Daisy’s rich, white mom had more power in the relationship with their dad than Drew’s own Black, middle-class mom ever did and that affected how their father treated each girl. They work through their issues fairly easily but I appreciated that it does take some effort, honesty, and vulnerability on both their parts.
I did have a few very minor quibbles with the tale, however. Drew makes too big a deal out of Jasper’s one mistake but hey, I understood the novel needed some conflict. Their reunion scenario more than made up for that. The story also really doesn’t resolve the daddy issue, but I’m hopeful that Daisy will get her own book and this situation will receive more attention there.
Better than Fiction is better than most fiction (sorry, couldn’t help myself). I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary romance.
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