Grade : A-

Every time I read a Kristen Callihan book I’m reminded how talented she is.  I love the variety in her storytelling (if you haven’t yet read her historical/fantasy series Darkest London, or her sports series Game On, you need to get on that), and in her characters.  Managed is a delightful and engaging follow-up to the first book of the VIP series, Idol.  This time around, Ms. Callihan re-introduces us to biggest rock band in the world, Kill John, and its band members, but pivots away from the band itself (I’m hoping those stories are still to come) and focuses instead on their manager Gabriel Scott.  He’s handsome, arrogant and prickly - and I loved him.  If you’re new to the VIP series, this book can be read as a standalone.  There are a few plot points related to events in Idol, and I recommend you read it first to understand them, but it isn’t essential or necessary in order to enjoy Managed.

Sophie Darling is feeling fortunate.  She’s traveling to London and just discovered she’s been upgraded to a first class seat.  Her happiness is short lived.  Not long after she sits down (and somehow manages to break the privacy screen between her and the adjacent seat), she meets Gabriel Scott, her seatmate for the international flight.  Or rather, she overhears him complaining to the flight attendant about her.  Apparently, he purchased two seats and intended for the one next to him to remain empty, and instead, the airline has given it to Sophie.  When he finally takes his seat and tries to raise the broken privacy screen, Sophie cringes but decides to greet him anyway.  What follows is an amusing tit-for-tat conversation - with neither giving any ground - in which Gabriel tries to ‘manage’ his chatty neighbor, and his chatty neighbor - who’s taken to calling him Sunshine - resists him at every turn.

Though they share little information about themselves, the forced proximity on the flight forges an odd intimacy between Sophie and Gabriel - and sparks fly.  When Sophie discovers Gabriel is afraid of flying, she does her best to distract and entertain him.  Her efforts ease Gabriel’s anxiety, and he finds himself drawn to his overly chatty neighbor.  Sophie finds herself similarly attracted to Gabriel, despite his reserved and arrogant nature.  Both believe their odd friendship will end when the flight does... until Sophie reveals she’s traveling to London for a job interview to work as a media specialist/photographer for a famous band (whose identity she doesn’t know), and Gabriel realizes it’s Kill John - the band he manages.

Gabriel and Sophie are both disappointed by the discovery, but for very different reasons.  Gabriel won’t let anything come between him and the band.  Despite his surprising attraction to Sophie, he would never pursue a relationship with someone he works with.  Sophie, shocked to discover the interview is with Kill John, knows that as soon as the band realizes who she is, they (and Gabriel) won’t want to have anything to do with her.  After a restless and sleepless night for both, they find themselves reunited with the band for Sophie’s interview.  Gabriel’s eager to see his chatty girl; Sophie dreads the moment her past is revealed.  I won’t reveal Sophie’s secret here; suffice it to say the secret is shameful and ugly, and only a last minute revelation by Jax (Kill John’s co-lead singer), turns the tide in her favor.  Ultimately, the secret only briefly colors the start of her relationship with  the band, but later proves pivotal to the one she forms with Gabriel.

Once Sophie starts working for Kill John, it’s just a matter of time before she realizes she’s fallen hard for Gabriel - and wondering if he’s fallen for her, too.  Gabriel’s self-discipline is a thing to behold.  Determined to keep his romantic distance from Sophie, he limits his exposure to her and tries to resist his intense attraction to her until finally, sleep deprived and desperate, Gabriel reaches out to Sophie for help.  His unconventional, ‘only in a romance novel’ solution (fortunately) pushes these two closer together and his plan, though successful, ensures resisting Sophie is all but impossible.  Ms. Callihan teases and torments her readers by drawing out the sexual tension between ‘just friends’ Gabriel and Sophie.  The unfulfilled longing in their dual PoVs is terrific but  frustrating!  He wants her but won’t pursue her.  She wants him but can’t convince him to give them a chance.  This TORTURE (truly) goes on for almost three quarters of the book until Gabriel finally breaks.  When he does - finally admitting Sophie consumes his every thought and action - they come together in an explosive, sexy and frenzied coupling.

Early on, I was a bit uncertain if I believed in the instant attraction between Gabriel and Sophie.  I’m not a huge fan of the insta-love romantic trope, and I wasn’t fully buying in here, but Ms. Callihan has a deft hand with dialogue.  The conversations between Gabriel and Sophie are smart, witty and often funny, and I loved the internal PoVs of both characters over the course of the flight - well, I loved them throughout the book.  Any doubts I had about the opening chapters quickly faded once Sophie started working for the band.  The romantic tension is intense.  OH READER!  You just want them to get it on already.  But they don’t - and it works. When they finally get together YOU feel relieved.  Well, I did.

The long delayed relationship is almost too perfect… and you just know Ms. Callihan has one more twist/trick up her sleeve (she does!).  Both characters are so fully developed, it’s easy to imagine how all Gabriel’s sharp edges match up and balance Sophie’s soft curves.  The contrasts between them - she’s chatty, he’s brooding; she’s warm, he’s cool; she overshares, he holds it all close to the vest...Everything works.  Unfortunately, Ms. Callihan doesn’t quite deliver the HEA for Gabriel and Sophie after they finally admit their feelings for each other.  Past history (his and hers) nearly derails their love affair before the novel reaches its conclusion.  Only a last minute ‘grand gesture’ by Gabriel saves the day, but the gesture, his words, her response... everything about it is romantic, swoony and wonderful - much like the book itself.

I wasn’t so enamored by the relationship between the principals and the Kill John band members (and assorted staff/families).  It was all a bit too lovey-dovey perfect family for my taste, but it didn’t overly detract from my enjoyment of the evolving relationship between Gabriel and Sophie.  Killian, featured in the first book, Idol, does play an important role towards the end of the book, and he steals every scene he’s in; but most of the band members come across as a bit too good to be true.  Managed also includes an epilogue (something this reader usually loves), but I’m not sure this one added anything to the novel.  Gabriel’s grand gesture at the end is sweet and satisfying; the epilogue, one more Kill John lovefest, just felt like overkill.

Managed is an excellent addition to the VIP series - I can’t wait to see which Kill John member is featured next

Buy it at Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes and Noble/Kobo

Reviewed by Em Wittmann
Grade : A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : November 13, 2016

Publication Date: 11/2016

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Em Wittmann

I love romance novels - all kinds. I love music - some kinds. I have strong opinions about both and I like to share them.
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