Desert Isle Keeper
The Love Experiment
When the Chicago Courier’s Jackson Haley, king of hard news, is ordered to help lifestyle reporter Derelie Honeywell recreate an ‘intimacy experiment,’ he’s not just unamused; he’s downright hostile. But farm girl Derelie can’t bear the thought of running back to her small town a failure, so she’ll get answers from Jack or get fired trying. The Love Experiment is the best new release I’ve read this year. It’s a smart, engaging, funny, and authentic look at two journalists learning that when it comes to people, headlines don’t always tell the whole story. I loved this book and I recommend it without reservation.
At the beginning of this book, Jack is, frankly, a dick, condescending, curt, and indifferent when he’s not being outright mean. In order to deal with his emotions, he goes to an underground fight club – scenes which bothered my concussion-phobic self. He humiliates Derelie in front of colleagues, leaving her in tears. However, the more problematic characters are, the more satisfying the transformation is if the author can pull it off – and Ainslie Paton can. Jack’s embarrassed by his own behavior and develops a respect for Derelie’s persistence because it shows her dedication to her career. He’s convincingly written as an elite reporter (“walking competence porn”, as Derelie thinks), meticulously pursuing a whistleblower tip regarding a major insurance fraud. He’s also a sucker for his cat.
Derelie is a good person without being a naïve cliché. She is willing to work hard and learns from her rookie mistakes (painfully real to anybody who’s ever been the newbie in an office.) She’s escaped her small hometown where, as she tells Jack, “if you want to do anything important, you have to wait until the person already doing it has died or moved away.” The big city, however, has failed to make Derelie happy just as it’s failed Jack, leaving her isolated. She’s also a sucker for Jack’s cat.
Their mutual isolation means Jack and Derelie are ripe for each other. It also justifies the intimacy experiment triggering such a dramatic transformation in their lives – it’s not the experiment per se (that would be too gimmicky), but the fact that the experiment is also the first time they’ve opened up and formed a real relationship. In their first session, Jack blows off the questions, saying to the ‘any-person-living-or-dead as your dinner guest’ question that he just doesn’t have dinner guests. Later, his disrespectful behavior weighing on him, he tells her his true answer: he’d like to eat with his late grandfather again. It’s a great example of how the experiment works on two levels. The answer shows Derelie a new side of Jack – she had predicted a newsworthy guest like Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates. But answering the question at all in a sincere and serious way is a step for Jack, showing that he’s opening up and that he won’t leave Derelie and her career out to dry. Yes, the intimacy experiment works, and that closeness gives ballast to their sexual attraction. Boy, do these two have highly combustible chemistry. The sex scenes are hot, intimate, and personal.
The Chicago Courier’s modern newsroom setting feels detailed and authentic. We hear all about the crisis in circulation, the pressure to have appealing digital content (Jack insultingly nicknames Derelie “Clickbait”), the lack of jobs, the endless cutbacks – and also the power of accurate, motivated reporting to make a difference. I do, however, question the idea that a newspaper reporter has the face recognition and female groupies that Jack has.
The book is deftly plotted and well-paced. The insurance plot is interesting and reads like real life, not a wild spy story. Just when Jack and Derelie start to find their equilibrium and I wondered where the book was going to go next, the author throws up an unexpected obstacle – unexpected because it is thoroughly realistic, and books usually go for some sort of Big Mis or dramatic action sequence. Instead, the author tests Jack and Derelie’s growth. The fact that they come through makes the HEA so satisfying and you finish the book completely confident that this couple can handle anything.
The last time I read a Paton book, I had some issues with the prose. Thankfully, hooking up with Carina Press seems to have been just what she needed. The Love Experiment is rife with the delightful turns of phrase I’m coming to expect from this author. Derelie imagines that if you cut the die-hard journalist Jack, “he’d bleed the alphabet.” Jack thinks Derelie is “not quite glossy enough around the hair and lips and the shoes to be one of the women who wrote for the fashion pages and read books with Girl in the title.” Derelie and Jack’s in-jokes, especially the one around Jack’s dinkus (look it up!) are comic in a way that always feels rooted in the characters, and not contrived so the author can put ‘funny’ in her blurb.
This funny, realistic look at a couple falling in love in a modern newsroom is the contemporary romance you’ve been waiting for. An enthusiastic DIK!