Desert Isle Keeper
Mr. Hotshot CEO
Jackie Lau is a Canadian author writing diverse romantic comedy, something she definitely achieved in her first Kwan Sisters novel, Grumpy Fake Boyfriend. I thoroughly enjoyed that story about the romance that results when an introverted male science fiction writer does a friend’s sister a favor by playing her boyfriend for a beach weekend. In Mr. Hotshot CEO, the author turns her sights on another of the Kwan sisters, who ends up in an unusual situation with a handsome, very rich, workaholic CEO. She also tackles the more serious subject of depression in an authentic but not depressing way (a feat in itself) to make for a thoughtful, funny and uplifting romance.
Julian Fong, CEO and President of Fong Investments works long hours every day and even when he’s got free time he ends up doing something productive like studying another language. As his father recently had a heart attack and retired, his family worries that the same thing will happen to Julian and gives him an ultimatum – he has to take two weeks of vacation or Po-Po (his grandmother) will start bringing possible brides to the office every day to distract him and get him married off. He acquiesces – to the vacation – and on his first day off ends up at a coffee shop eyeing the ‘latte lady’ whom he’s seen several times before. She always seems to be so delighted by a simple cup of coffee. Maybe she can show him how to enjoy his forced vacation.
Courtney Kwan is a research scientist who has clinical depression. Every five years she goes through an extended episode where just getting out of bed in the morning can be a chore. With experience, she’s learned coping skills and the important self-care that helps her get through it. As a result of her illness, when she’s not depressed she takes great joy in the little things in life, like a good meal or a hot cup of coffee, or the scent of flowers. Julian approaches her with a proposition – come live with him for two weeks and show him how to enjoy life the way she does. In return he’ll pay her $5000, a sum which will enable Courtney and her sister to take a planned trip to New York City that they’d had to cancel for financial reasons.
Had any other man come up with this offer, Courtney would have dismissed it as a bad come-on. But Julian’s reputation as a generous, smart man with a philanthropic family precedes him. She decides to take the opportunity for the money, and though sex isn’t part of the deal, there’s no denying the attraction between them and it soon becomes apparent they won’t be able to resist temptation. Courtney can’t afford to fall for anyone because the devastation of a breakup, especially at this time in her life would make her depression that much worse. But when Julian wants more, will she be willing to take the chance that it could last?
Depression is a topic not usually seen in romantic comedies. The depression that Courtney suffers has been life threatening for her in the past, and she has tried all manner of treatments, from medication to therapy and hospitalization. None of them have worked and she’s tired of well-meaning people suggesting ‘cures’, knowing that the best way to work through it is to follow her own self-care plan. The author has said that she’s written Courtney’s experience as a mirror of her own battles with depression, and it’s an eye-opening experience to understand how some people experience this devastating mental illness. When Courtney experiences some symptoms while with Justin, she reluctantly shares her struggles with him. She’d hoped to be able to hide it from him for the two weeks are together, but in the end, because they are connecting so well, she tells him about it. Instead of being deterred, Julian is all the more determined to show her that she’ll be able to count on him in bad times as well as good ones. Courtney’s struggle to decide whether to trust Julian with her heart makes for a compelling story with legitimate reasons for her concerns.
Because both Julian and Courtney are of Chinese descent there are lots of references to the Chinese Canadian community in Toronto and its history. Julian is in the unique position of being very rich and also of ethnic descent, and his family worked hard to build their reputation and wealth from very humble beginnings. Racist attitudes towards the Chinese in the early parts of the previous century made for extra challenges for their family. Fong Investments is a multicultural company, a reflection of Toronto which also prides itself on its diversity. A warning, too – don’t go into this story hungry! The descriptions of food will have you wanting to make a trip to Toronto for all the culinary treats! From pineapple buns, to dim sum, to banh mi and gourmet restaurant meals, you’ll want a snack beside you while you read.
Family is important and Julian’s Po-Po adds some humour and fun as she is definitely the matriarch in charge. She’s delighted when she meets Courtney and has no qualms about wanting her to become a daughter-in-law. For all their wealth, the Fongs are down to earth and very likable. Courtney’s own family is not as supportive as she needs them to be, except for her sister Naomi, who takes Courtney’s depression seriously, while her parents and brother didn’t think she was seriously ill in high school when she ended up in the hospital after a suicide attempt, and they still struggle to comprehend the seriousness of her illness. But there are positive signs that they are changing for the better and that is heartening to see.
This wouldn’t be a romance without the development of a relationship between Julian and Courtney and that proceeds at a pretty quick pace, since there’s a two week time limit at the start. Friends first, and then lovers, there are several sexy scenes that cement their emotional connection even as Courtney is trying to keep herself from falling for Julian. He has no such qualms though, and definitely wants to continue things once he goes back to work. Balancing their new relationship with his normal working hours means making some compromises and figuring out how to show Courtney he’s serious about sticking around no matter how bad her depression gets. All in all, the author does an excellent job of combining laughter and romance and sex with the reality of depression, giving an uplifting story and hope to everyone who suffers from mental illness that they deserve to love and be loved in return.