The Honey-Don't List
Christina Lauren’s spring release, The Honey-Don’t List, with its coworker hero and heroine who don’t like each other until they love each other is – and I mean this in a complimentary way = a less intense, and in some ways more thoughtful, if lower-grade, The Hating Game.
Carey Duncan works for Rusty and Melissa Tripp (Chip and Joanna Gaines), founders of Comb+Honey (Magnolia), a Wyoming (Texas) home-design company and HGTV subject New Spaces (Fixer Upper). Her coworker, James McCann, is an engineer whose latest engineering project is to find a way, with Carey, to support the multimillion-dollar illusion that Rusty and Melissa are doing great, and that James and Carey didn’t “just witness Rusty and his swinging balls” having a grand old time with the New Spaces host, who is NOT Rusty’s wife.
This is a first-person, dual PoV story, and Carey and James are a complex couple. Their differences aren’t just in personality; they have socioeconomic/class differences, too. Carey is a high-school grad who says her “crowning achievement in high school was a C in AP Lit”. She joined Comb+Honey at sixteen, and Rusty and Melissa have been, for all intents and purposes, her parents. James, “Mr. Morality McEngineeringPants”, as Carey calls him, used to work for a prestigious company that imploded (I envisioned it as the design version of Enron). One of the things I liked about the book was how thoughtful it was about working life. It tackles not just what it means to have a quality professional life, but also creative ownership, the value of education, and the realities of economic luck.
As a heroine, Carey can be painful to read about. She has a relationship with Melissa Tripp that James characterizes as “abusive” and he’s right. Carey has accomplished more her in life than that C grade in AP Lit would indicate but after years of working with the Tripps, she still allows them to act as if treating her with basic human decency is optional. Because this is romance, Carey gets out of that place, but if you don’t want to witness that sort of character arc, The Honey-Don’t List will be a bit of a challenge.
I really liked James. He’s a sort of Clark Kent personality, perpetually in glasses and suits, the latter of which bugs Carey until it starts to work for her. (“Have I ever noticed the sound of a belt before? Because right now the slide of leather and click of the buckle are bordering on obscene.”) He’s a ‘rooting for you, babe’ hero, who brings out the best in Carey for herself. One of my favorite things about them as a couple was their Grade-A physicality. The best romance authors, in my opinion, get that people with great chemistry have it 100% of the time, and it comes out in little ways, and is not just a we-only-touch-in-bed thing. James and Carey are a couple that like to hold each other, and I loved how it feels like, as Carey once says, “the perfect combination of safe haven and dirty fun.”
I have one Honey-Do and one Honey-Don’t from this book. Christina Lauren, do keep it up with the ‘faux reality’. The Honey-Don’t List is peppered with excerpts from the Tripps’s marriage/self-help book, Twitter threads (“@1967_Disney_bound is it bad that knowing they hate each other makes me want to watch the show like ten times more?”), and transcripts of police interviews (!). The Twitter threads especially, with all the random handles in their bizarrely capitalized glory (“@aCurlieee_doll”) were a personal favorite of mine.
My Honey Don’t, or rather, my, why? for the book was why Christina Lauren decided to make Melissa Tripp the bleached-blonde, Botoxed, “Walmart Reese Witherspoon” villain, and leave Rusty, a boozing cheater, as The Good One. If Madeleine Albright is correct and “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”, then Melissa Tripp will be roasting at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for a long time to come. If you’re going to put stereotypes in a book, why include the one that says women in power are rabid and natural enemies of all other women? It felt weirdly sexist (not to mention pre-twenty-first century) for a book by two female authors.
Overall, I enjoyed my time reading The Honey-Don’t list, primarily because it was centered around a hero and heroine who were nice in the best way (not in that dreadful “oh s/he’s nice” as in “I never want to go out with them” one). If you’re looking for a romance that’s low-key without being sexually neutered, then Honey, get yourself a copy.
Buy it at: Amazon or shop at your local independent bookstore
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