Love Hard is the third book in the Hard Play series, a fact you can’t miss because the book opens by narrating the wedding of previous characters – for EIGHT CHAPTERS. Eventually, you’ll get to the actual plot of this book, and it’s quite nice, but it takes way too long to get there.
As a teenager, Jake Esera was left a single father to his daughter Esme when his girlfriend Callie was stricken with bacterial meningitis. He has since dedicated himself to a squeaky clean, simple family life, which is not so easy when Jake is a member of the New Zealand rugby squad. Meanwhile, Callie’s best friend Juliet Nalisi became a scandal magnet when her cricketer ex-husband dragged her name through the tabloids. She’s the last person Jake should be interested in.
So let’s start with the beginning, which is hands-down the least successful part of the book. Jake and Juliet are reunited at the wedding of Jake’s brother Gabriel and Juliet’s friend Charlotte, and if you’re wondering if Gabriel and Charlotte are in love, don’t worry – Singh will tell you about six hundred times. She will also tell you about Charlotte’s wedding dress, and how it perfectly suits her, and the flowers at the reception, and how they capture Gabriel and Charlotte’s personalities, and we will learn about the careers and love lives of members of the wedding party we will not see again for the rest of the book. It’s like five straight chapters of insufferably saccharine epilogue mixed with advertisements for other books in the series, and I would never have stuck with it if not for the fact I had committed to writing this review. I have read books where the main characters fall in love at someone else’s wedding and the author manages to keep the writing tight and focused on the present protagonists. This is not one of those books.
Once I dragged myself through the first eight chapters to the part of the book that was actually about Jake and Juliet, the story picked up. It’s not ground-breaking, but it’s a pleasant read. Juliet turns out to work for an underwear company that’s hired Kiwi rugby players as models, including Jake, which gives the two of them an excuse to get back together after the wedding. The sex scenes are good – Jake is one of those ‘it’s always the quiet ones’ intense, adventurous lovers, and his former relationship with Callie is handled sensitively. I liked how Jake’s family life was a great fit for the lonely, family-less Juliet, too.
The story is anchored in fame. Juliet’s sleazy ex has talked about her to the tabloids to try to boost his own celebrity, and Jake is a hot commodity in New Zealand but wants to preserve his daughter’s privacy. Therefore, Juliet’s Big Obstacle is ‘I’m too controversial to date Jake, so I should just go.’ It’s just… not realistic. The number of people in this world who are of permanent interest to the media is pretty slim, and a lot of them are in the British Royal Family. If Juliet and Jake got married and then were just boring, it would be fine.
I really liked the New Zealand setting, and once the story ‘proper’ gets going, Love Hard merits a solid B. But the first few chapters were so annoying that I have to bring the whole grade down a step because of it.