Fangirl Down
Grade : D+

Tessa Bailey’s latest book drops in February, the month of Valentine’s Day, that holiday devoted to love and romance - in short, the perfect month to read a romance novel. Sadly, I cannot recommend reading Fangirl Down because it shares little in common with the themes of Valentine’s Day - it’s decidedly unromantic and features a flimsy love story.

Josephine Doyle is “Wells’s Belle”, Wells being Wells Whitaker, golf-star-turned-flaming-golf-meteor-headed-toward-Earth-to-implode-and-crater-his-own-career. He’s not playing well and he’s not a graceful loser, but none of that has been able to deter Josephine, who adores him. When she wins a contest to have lunch and a lesson with Wells, he blows her off. But, he can’t shake his attraction to Josephine, who’s followed him for years the way retirees follow a path south every winter to Florida - which is where she lives. So when Wells finds out her town got hit by a hurricane, he goes to find her, and does - in the remnants of her family’s golf shop.

Josephine is in a bind. She has type 1 diabetes, no healthcare, and she’d applied the money for flood insurance for the shop to purchasing insulin instead. Wells makes her an offer - join the golf tour with him as his caddie, applying her fangirl and professional knowledge of him and the game to help him become a victor again (or at least rank high enough not to be the worst loser). Caddies make ten-percent of their player’s winnings plus salary.

The term ‘character-building’ comes to mind with Wells - as in his personality feels like it was deliberately constructed rather than developed organically in the story. You could break him down into a pie chart: 30% abandonment issues, 30% childhood experiences that makes his abandonment issues perfectly logical, etc. Yet even while the strain of Bailey trying to make him a plausible character is palpable, there are also moments when it feels like he’s pure fantasy. Wells’ emotional response to Josephine is so overblown it’s ludicrous. In the midst of their first penetrative encounter “An image of her walking down the aisle short-circuited his brain.” I outright scoffed - the only thing I’ll believe short circuits a man when he’s balls deep is the multitude of nerve endings in his package.

Wells has no meaningful friend or family relationships and is incredibly isolated. It leaves the shadow of a troubling question hanging over the romance: does he love Josephine because they’re truly a great match, or because he’s desperate enough to love anyone who will look his way? (Josephine is option one of one in the romance department; his contact with women other than her in the book is limited to interactions with her mother and her best friend, the latter of whom is destined to be the heroine of the series’ next installment).

As for the character of Josephine, she’s gratingly perky and so beloved she becomes nearly insufferable. She has moments that are indicative of a warm and perceptive person, but there’s way too much telling instead of showing when it comes to her greatness. A side effect of all the telling in this book is that there’s not enough going on. It takes a single sentence for another character to state how great Josephine is, while giving evidence to prove that could have filled chapters. I’ve never been one to beg for secondary plotlines in my romance, but Fangirl Down needed more story. It’s like a novella wearing the outfit of a full length novel, and there’s a lot of empty space where the plot isn’t big enough to fit into the clothes.

Now, let us come to the point that no Bailey reviewer can avoid. How was the sex? My answer - explicit and often as silly as Wells’ bridal fantasies. When a couple’s bond is well-established prior to sex, frantic need usually comes across as a sincere and endearing manifestation of real emotion. When it’s not, franticness reads as vaguely absurd. There’s a moment when Josephine “opened her eyes to find him straddling her hips, sweatpants shoved down around his knees, his grip choking up and down those blunt inches” that made me almost giggle - and there’s nothing more fatal to a sex scene than wanting to laugh at it.

But none of the above was enough to get this book a D. Bailey’s sense of humor, knack for conjuring the allure of a virile male - “a big dopey-smiled lion on the prowl” - and her ability to occasionally write a line more poignant than one of those Valentine’s Day cupid’s arrows would have kept Fangirl Down in C territory... if it wasn’t for the last act.

The third-act drama in this book is baffling, convoluted, and sends a number of mixed messages, including ones that suggest love is about making decisions for your partner rather than letting them make their own; and that, fundamentally, during the biggest moments of our lives, we humans should be able to succeed on own without the love, support, and presence of the people we care about most - because otherwise, we risk being “an obligation” for those people. Imagine putting that on a Valentine’s Day card.

Reviewed by Charlotte Elliott
Grade : D+

Sensuality: Hot

Review Date : February 19, 2024

Publication Date: 02/2024

Review Tags: Big Shots series

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Charlotte Elliott

Part-time cowgirl, part-time city girl. Always working on converting all my friends into romance readers ("Charlotte, that was the raunchiest thing I have ever read!").
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