The most notable thing about this romance novel is its heroine, Anika Foxx. She possesses a sassy self-confidence that is frequently funny and never crosses the line into bitchiness. This is one heroine who truly deserves to be in a better book.
Anika is a queenly beauty with an important career, a stylish wardrobe, and a great sense of humor. She directs a company that provides shelter and advocacy for victims of abuse, a job that somehow pays well enough to allow her to dress in up-to-the-minute fashions. At her best friend Chloe’s wedding, she meets the groom’s brother, an extremely handsome and sexy man named Deshawn Jamison. Deshawn is so handsome and sexy that he’s accustomed to every woman he meets falling at his feet; but Anika makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with him. She thinks she deserves better than to be another notch on Deshawn’s bedpost.
Deshawn, however, is intrigued by Anika on every level, and he regards her rejection as a challenge. He’s determined that no woman shall resist him, and schemes to get past her defenses. Meanwhile, Anika is being stalked by a dangerous ex-con, and Deshawn’s jealous ex-girlfriend (the poor thing’s name is Poochie) is stirring up trouble.
I loved Anika. She is funny and smart, but she’s saved from perfection by the fact that she is so individual. She loves Mary K. Blige, is hot for Wesley Snipes, and her default exclamation when she’s distressed is “Lawd, quit.” That made me smile every time. As the book progresses, we learn that Anika’s attitude masks a vulnerability that she reveals to no one – until Deshawn accidentally aggravates it by reminding her of what she fears most.
If only Deshawn were half as great a character as Anika. At the outset of the book he is immature, vain, and obnoxious, a modern-day Duke of Slut whose ego is so fragile he covers up with braggadocio. He attempts to seduce Anika in order to salve his pride when she rejects him. They fall in love, which is right when Anika overhears him admitting that he seduced her to make a point.
That happens less than halfway through the book. It spurs a big separation and sets up a boring spin-cycle of pursuit and withdrawal between them, with Anika insisting for most of the book’s remainder that she can never trust him again, never, never, never. There is really not enough conflict to keep them apart for all that time. I didn’t quite understand why Anika would fall in love with Deshawn when he was so vain and obnoxious, but since she did, it’s fairly tiresome for her to keep resisting him when he changes his ways and actually becomes bearable. When they finally work through the internal conflict, the author throws in some external ones at the very end to stretch things out even more. By the time we got to the HEA, I was more than ready to be done with this book.
Adding to my boredom was all the lust-think. The instant he meets her, Deshawn starts fantasizing about “her full-figured, voluptuous body, nude and draped across his bed as he buried his head between apple scented thighs …” I groaned, and not out of pleasure. It was only page 7! I had over 340 pages of this to go!
They have hot sex, but they never talk. These are two intelligent, opinionated professionals who should have lots of things to say to each other. We don’t ever hear them sharing their opinions or debating anything, even on the most trivial level. Instead, we get lots of repetitions of “She really looked hot in that leather skirt” and “He was incredibly handsome in his charcoal gray wool trousers.” This made both characters seem extremely shallow.
Which leads me to my next point: the author’s frequent mention of name brands. I’m actually of two minds about this. Sometimes it’s effective, as when we learn that Anika’s grandmother never allows any product to touch her face except Noxema. That tells us something about the character, as does Anika’s passionate fondness for Mary K. Blige. Even telling us that she’s carrying a Gucci bag – once – would be fine, as it lets us know about her style. But the constant dropping of product names throughout this book gets really old. By the end, I knew that Chloe had a Sub Zero refrigerator; that Poochie drives a Honda Civic while Anika’s ride is a silver Camry Solara coupe; and that Deshawn is fond of Sean John track suits. All of this detail is not just unnecessary; it lends an air of slick superficiality to the book, implying that these people’s material possessions are somehow the most important things about them.
Niobia Bryant is definitely a promising author. Any writer who can create such a vibrant and individual heroine is one I’ll try again. But that heroine was trapped in a dull book with an unlikable hero, and no matter how much I liked her, I probably wouldn’t have finished this Heavenly Match if I hadn’t been reviewing it. Bryant is an author to watch; maybe her next offering will be better.