Secretly Yours
Grade : C

Tessa Bailey has long been one of my go-tos for hot and sexy contemporaries, but her most recent books, at least for me, have lost something of her old magic.

In Secretly Yours, Hallie Welch is a Napa Valley landscaper reeling from the loss of her grandmother, whose calm presence anchored Hallie’s flightiness. Julian Vos, her high school crush, is a professor visiting the family vineyard in Hallie’s small hometown. They’ll fall in love and bone etc. There’s not much else to say.

The main problem here is Hallie, who is, quite simply, off her rocker. See, her grandmother had a special table, one she always occupied, at an old-fashioned local wine bar, and Hallie is desperate to hang on to it as a remnant of her grandmother. But the wine bar is struggling, and Hallie blames the hip, youth-focused party wine bar next door. The emotions are understandable; it’s what Hallie does about them that’s bizarre. She crank calls the competition. She tears down their flyers. She sticks a piece of mulch in their rotating disco ball to break the motor. She steals “hundreds of dollars worth of cheese” – and both Julian and the author think we should be on Hallie’s side. What in God’s glass hookah are you all smoking???

Julian needs help just as much as Hallie does, and unfortunately, just like Hallie, he never gets it. Several years ago, he rescued his sister during a fire at the family vineyard. After the crisis was over, he locked himself in his room for two weeks. To this day, he only functions in timed increments, using constant timers and clocks to dictate what he does and when. I’m sorry, but ‘meeting a demented anarchist’ is not a clinically valid treatment for this degree of mental distress at the intersection of OCD, PTSD, and panic attacks. Similarly, ‘the love of a rich man who bails you out when you steal cheese’ isn’t a treatment for whatever’s wrong with Hallie. Both of these characters need professional support.

Bailey’s standout skill has always been writing sex, and in particular, writing dirty-talking heroes. Yet in several of her recent releases (see Window Shopping, for example), the hero’s dirty-talking seems forced. Julian is an anxiety-stricken and neurodiverse introvert. When he says “I want you more than wet, Hallie. I’ll play with [your breasts] until the zipper of my pants is your worst enemy” – well, leaving aside the goofy quality of this line, it seems like he’s reciting Bailey hero dialogue instead of saying something a man like him would actually say.

Finally, there’s a weird subplot with secret letters, which begins when Hallie leaves Julian a drunken anonymous admirer note. If I got an inappropriately intimate letter from a mystery writer, I would not respond by thinking I should open up to this rando. I would be incredibly creeped out and put it in a Ziploc bag to preserve fingerprints in case I went missing. The plot is made worse by the cliched spiral into “Oh, geez, I have to tell him I’m the writer, but I can’t do it RIGHT NOW because the author needs the book to keep going because it doesn’t, uh, feel right. For Reasons.”

A quick count of her book listings on Google suggests that Bailey may have released as many as eight books in the last three years. I’d be much happier if she released a quarter as many, but returned to her earlier form..

Grade: C

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : June 17, 2023

Publication Date: 02/2023

Review Tags: Vine Mess series

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Caroline Russomanno

I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.

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