Angie Hockman’s Shipped is a diverting novel that suffers from an unfortunate case of whiplash as it hops between genres without warning.
Henley Rose Evans works in marketing for a small-scale international cruising company, Seaquest Adventures. She fills her days with work, MBA classes, and a feud with her WFH coworker Graeme Crawford-Collins, who she believes to have deliberately taken credit for a well-received project of hers. Henley learns she and Graeme are competing for a promotion and that the person who clinches it will be whoever comes up with the best new marketing proposal. The company ships them out on a cruise to the Galapagos Islands for active inspiration. Tragically, Henley also brings along her little (relatively—she’s an adult, but younger than Henley) sister, Walsh, who is, it initially seems, eternally unmoored from responsibilities. Despite the efforts of her sister and a Russian chiropractor on a break-up trip, Henley finds herself intensely taken with Graeme.
Shipped gets off to a rocky start. On shore, Henley comes across as stereotypical for a romance heroine; she imagines a fantasy boyfriend appearing “holding a dozen tacos and chocolate cake”, and her female relationships – with her coworker friends and her sister – consist of mostly booze and admonishments to “show him what a badass boss bitch you are.” Once on the high seas, however, Shipped becomes an engaging enemies-to-lovers, forced-proximity romance. Walsh, by some miracle, manages to keep from third-wheeling both Henley and the book. Henley and Graeme’s chemistry does more than enough heavy lifting to get this a recommending grade; I’d classify it (the chemistry) as among the best in the books I’ve reviewed in the last year. Their initial enemies relationship is based more on crossed wires (in this case almost literally) than inborn animosity. Graeme’s interest in Henley is endearingly obvious and their little striptease when they’re required to pick out wetsuits for snorkeling is adorable. Graeme is patient, thoughtful, and gentle – the perfect balance to Henley, who says “I haven’t met a problem yet that I couldn’t solve with single-minded determination and a whole hell of a lot of effort” and desperately needs some respite. I will say, discovering this book fades to black for its sex scenes broke my heart just a bit. I think they would have been great. Next book, please, Angie Hockman?
The book is all first-person present from Henley’s point of view. Her powers of description as a narrator can verge on the banal – boats “bob like a cork”, angry people’s eyes emit “laser beams”. In one scene, the only physical movements Henley describes characters making seems to be fiddling with their sunglasses. The worst of it is that Graeme’s signature gesture – or is it a tick? – is that his “nostrils flare” a lot. Can you imagine how intently Henley must have stared at his nose all the time to see every twitch? Luckily, the dialogue is much better, and the chapters stay compelling even when their content is low-drama.
Shipped’s main problem is that it executes a bait and switch that upends the reading experience. Late in the third act, the book abandons the romance genre . . . to become women’s fiction. The cruise comes to a close and Hockman drops the tropes, relegates Graeme to a supporting character, and promotes the professional plotline to become the main one. It’s so stark a difference that you’d almost expect a big red line to be drawn in the middle of the page to mark the change. There’s no reason that Shipped couldn’t have been a good WF/romance crossover, all it needed was better integration of aspects of both genres throughout the whole narrative. (Adding to the confusion is the fact that on its webpage, the publisher categorizes Shipped as romance and lists Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners and Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game as comparatives, both of which are romance novels and romance authors).
In the cruise business, the big question for passengers is always: would you sail with us again? While this reviewer-passenger didn’t love everything about the Shipped experience, the legit chemistry between the leads, quick narrative drive, and the unexpected ways in which the secondary characters pay off (which I won’t spoil for future passengers) did convince me that I’d be pleased to sail with Angie Hockman on her next literary voyage.