The Man She Loves To Hate
Broken record time: Harlequin Presents are my guilty little romance reading pleasures. The independent woman in me feels a twinge of guilt over my fondness for alpha men rescuing damsels in distress and whisking them away to a glamourous life, and The Man She Loves to Hate is probably the best HP I’ve read in quite a while. Since it’s from the HP Extra line, the characters seem a bit more modern and the alpha male/less dominant female dynamic definitely gets played with a bit, and in this author’s hands, it really does work.
Back in her hometown in New Zealand, Jolie Tanner has a heck of terrible legacy to contend with. Her mother had a long-running affair with the local business tycoon, who has recently died. The affair came to light when Jolie was a child, and the ensuing scandal caused her to lose friends and face the mockery of townspeople for years to come. Jolie now makes her living as an artist in Christchurch, but when she comes home to see her mother, she also struggles with a lot of her old demons, and at the beginning of the book, she spends a fair amount of time trapped with one of them.
While traveling down a ski resort’s mountain in a gondola, Jolie finds herself trapped by a sudden avalanche. And as equally foul luck would have it, the gondola’s other passenger is Cole Rees, the son of Jolie’s mother’s late paramour. Cole’s sister Hannah had been Jolie’s best friend as a child, but the two rather viciously rejected her and mocked her after their father’s affair with Jolie’s mother came to light. “Awkward situation” doesn’t even begin to explain this dynamic.
In the course of the gondola encounter, Jolie and Cole end up having to seek shelter and Jolie helps to save an injured Cole. This initial part of the book was a little heavy on the instant lust and was a little jarring in spots, but the more emotional story that follows really saved things. Cole and Jolie have to explore both their hurt over their parents’ affair as well as their own attraction to one another. It’s not an easy road, but it makes for wonderful reading. Add into this Cole’s struggles related to taking the helm of his father’s businesses while dealing with the added complication of him taking up with the daughter of his father’s mistress, and you’ve got a very dramatic story.
Lots of little things make this book work. First of all, the author manages to convey emotion without going too far over the top. Beginning with the prologue, we feel the heroine’s disbelief and anguish as her best friend Hannah discards her and the entire school ostracizes her. Not surprisingly, Jolie has grown up to be a bit of an outsider and she still carries some of that hurt inside her when she returns to her hometown. The pain feels relatable and it’s drama without being melodrama.
In addition, Kelly Hunter knows how to tell a story. There are a few minor bobbles, but by and large the story flows very well and the relationship between Cole and Jolie flows with it. This is one of those books that I didn’t want to put down even for basic things like sleep. The story moves between Jolie’s small hometown and her somewhat financially stressed life in Christchurch and in these scene changes we get to see a lot about what makes Jolie tick and about her identity as an artist, and this all added a lot of color to the story. I appreciated that the entire tale was not compressed into one week because given the history between Cole and Jolie, they really needed more time to create a believably solid relationship.
Having read a lot of series romance, I’ve noticed that it’s the little things – assured word choices, subtle use of emotional language, the ability to show aspects of character in a single sentence – that set a book apart in a subgenre driven by ever-decreasing word counts. The Man She Loves to Hate has a lot of those good little things going for it, and it’s a book that stands out from the crowd in a very good way.