The Perfect Date
The Perfect Date is the most frustrating reading experience I’ve had all year. The heroine and her son are extremely engaging, but the hero is less than worthy of her most of the time, the plot is overly dramatic and the gobs of girl hate that spatter the novel and a number of poor editorial choices all conspired to drag the final grade ever downwards.
Nearly-graduated nursing student Angel Gomez is a single mom and has worked her butt off to get where she is. She and her young son, Jose – a die-hard Yankees fan – live over the beauty salon owned by her friend, Gabriela, who often looks after Jose while Angel tends bar at a strip club during the night. When Jose has an asthma attack he can’t self-treat, the two women rush him to the ER, where he meets a calming stranger.
Unbeknownst to Angel, that calming stranger is Yankees pitcher Caleb ‘Duke’ Lewis. Duke has a nagging ankle injury, but he’s been lying to the team manager that his joint is healed and is in fact working injured – against his doctor’s advice. Between the trauma of the incident, the pain of his injury and his last break-up, Duke has taken to heavy drinking and has thrown himself even deeper into the partying lifestyle that’s brought him so many problems.
Angel and Duke meet again at the club she works at, where he drunkenly taps her on the shoulder and asks if she takes her top off for tips. She throws an old fashioned in his face. Clearly, true love is brewing here. When he finds out her boss fired her for assaulting a star baseball player with booze, a guilty Duke tries to apologize to her. This leads to an impulsive kiss – which results in them being spotted by the press. To avoid having the true reason for his repeated ER visits discovered, Duke asks Angel to pose as his girlfriend. That causes a ton of problems – for Angel with her creepy doctor boss, for Duke with his greedy father, and for the both of them with Regina, his model ex-girlfriend who might be violent enough to part them before their story can truly begin.
Ignore the blurb and cover for this book – if you’re expecting a gentle contemporary romance, it’s not going to be your cup of tea. In fact it’s like Dynasty meets the latter seasons of The Game; loud, brassy and angry.
The Perfect Date starts out feeling like a spicy, fun contemporary jaunt through New York. I loved Angel and the world she comes from right from the start, and that affection continued throughout the book. She has realistic flaws (a nasty temper that causes violence on at least one occasion and that unfortunately gets more extreme and cartoonish as the book progresses) and she felt like a realistic person when she wasn’t behaving like a D-level reality show contestant thanks to narrative circumstances. Her relationship with Jose and friendship with Gabriela are beautiful.
But the book has a big problem, and its name is Duke, who, with his arrogance and alcoholism, becomes the second least-attractive hero I’ve read about all year. He often comes off as wildly self-centered and more about shaming other women than respecting Angel. Oh, and he’s a murder suspect for most of the book.
In fact, the book has a general dearth of likable characters. Many are hateful – for instance, to Duke and the narrative alike all women are bitches; or rather everyone except for the magical Angel, who is “real”, curvy, non-glamorous and has attitude. The book counterbalances that with Angel’s circle of close friends, who are diverse and funny, but since we see half of the book through Duke’s eyes we don’t get to hang out with them nearly enough to make this worthwhile. And to be fair most of the men besides Duke in the novel don’t come off that well, either.
These unlikable characters group together to form a resistible package. It didn’t help that I honestly couldn’t buy Angel and Duke’s relationship at all. I did believe them as friends with benefits who might grow a grudgingly respectful relationship. But true love? Nah. He physically manhandles her, dragging her around by the arm on one occasion, hard enough to leave bruises. She sleeps with him directly after he does this. The narrative and Angel constantly excuse Duke for his behavior like an abused ex. He’s kidding! He’s drunk! It’s ‘okay’ because she snaps and snarks and yells at him (hint: it’s not) . The sex is good and he’s good with her son, but I shudder at the notion of them permanently being together. Their romance and the way it’s written strongly hints to me that the book started as a women’s fiction novel that ended up being marketed as a romance when it got no bites.
The plot is really convoluted. Do the authors expect me to believe that Angel wouldn’t recognize Duke by name when her son constantly listens to his games? Did they bother to do any research about baseball at all? Do they think a press corps so dedicated to following Duke’s every move wouldn’t have been tailing him around or know that Angel wasn’t with him while he’d been clubbing around the city? That a famous supermodel could do what she did without someone else figuring it out first? There’s an entire subplot where Angel is sexually harassed by a supervising doctor – a man who makes her so ill with his harassment that her hands shake – and after pages of build-up it’s dealt with with four pages and a shrug.
The writing acumen of the authors – one of whom is a star of the VH1 show Basketball Wives and is apparently trying to aim the novel at fans of the show – is fairly average and extremely florid. The story is plagued by frequent head-hopping; every single time the narrative moved between Angel and Duke, there was no transition scene or notation – simply a newly indented paragraph. This was horribly distracting and made the novel hard to follow.
It hurts me to say this because I desperately want to see more romances with PoC characters in them, but I have to call the authors on the wooden, clichéd voices used for the black and latinx characters in this story. As a latinx woman I cringed at some of the crude, cheap stereotyping here and noticed multiple awkward ‘fuck it, let’s run it through Babelfish’ style uses of Spanish. The Perfect Date is a perfect flop. Well, in all ways but one. Too bad the story isn’t about Angel, Gabriele and Jose running around New York. That’s a story I could’ve believed in.