The Harder You Fall
There’s a balance to contemporaries that I look for, that perfect mesh of sweet romance and actual plot movement. I’ve been staying away from this particular subgenre for a while because I have such a hard time finding it. I was hopeful with The Harder You Fall, and it almost worked. The first 300 pages of the story were just what I was looking for. And then it all fell apart as it tried to be every genre of romance ever. So close. And actually there’s a quote in there that perfectly describes this book, as well as the romance found within: “That’s both sweet and wackadoodle at the same time.”
Lincoln West, millionaire video game creator, has a dark past that heavily influences his present, up to and including his dating regimen – he chooses a new woman each year, dates her for two months, and then breaks up with her. The end. Full stop. On the other hand, we have Jessie Kay Dillon, reformed party girl and town slut, who turned her life around after her sister almost died. She’s been working with her sister’s catering company, and trying to put her past behind her, but a lot of the guys in town still view her as community property – not a great start for anyone. But even though Jessie Kay has slept with both of West’s best friends (now her sister’s and best friend’s fiancees), he can’t stop thinking about her, and decides she will be his next conquest. But first they have to get over the anger and bitterness that fills their current relationship (for example, “She wouldn’t say she hated him, but she would maybe probably definitely unplug his life support to charge her phone.”)
And let me tell you, that dark past of West’s? Yeah, it’s a stinker. His mother OD’ed when he was young, and he is a product of orphanages and the foster system, much like his two best friends. And the foster family lottery was not at all kind to him, leaving him with more than his fair share of neuroses. Jessie Kay didn’t come out of childhood unscarred either, though not to the same extent. But basically, both of them have to work through their pasts in order to have their HEA.
As for the sensuality, well, as I was reading it, it felt very much on the sexy side of things. Looking back, though, it’s mostly flirting and one hell of a sexual tension between Jessie Kay and West up until the last . And running through all of that was an absolute tangle of feelings that the two were trying to sort out. It turns a sweet read into a sexy one really quickly, let me tell you. Of course they get together, and do their best bunny impression, but the UST from the first half of the story is the best part.
I love Jessie Kay’s outlook on life – she goes at things head on, and states exactly what she wants. She’s not willing to compromise herself (though she is able to bend to a certain extent) in order to get what she wants – she has personal standards, and she stands by them. West is much more inflexible, as he lives his life in a rigid, highly scheduled, incredibly OCD-ish sort of way. As a former addict, with (what seems to be) undiagnosed PTSD from his childhood and teenage years, West uses his schedules and rules to keep others out, and himself safe. But we have our opposites attracting, and the two fit together really well, balancing each other out for an incredibly stable relationship.
I enjoyed the banter between the two as well, though at times it felt forced, and really enjoyed all the characters’ relationships. The other two couples we see are the main characters from the previous stories, but I don’t feel like you need to go and read them first to get the gist of what happened, and who they are. Definitely a plus.
Unfortunately, in the last 50 or so pages, everything just fell apart. Once they got together, and West dealt with his issues, the entire story took a ride to crazytown and left a bad taste in my mouth. We went from having this lovely romance, with a dark, tormented hero combined with a small-town vibe, to a 50 page romantic suspense with potential death, to a “let’s sum up everything in x number of pages” ending. It just didn’t work for me.
So basically, I enjoyed the actual story, but the ending ruined the entire reading experience for me. It’s still pretty good overall, though, and if you’re a fan of Showalter, or her Original Heartbreakers, it’s worth your while.