Ready or Not

Ready or Not - Melissa Brayden The world of lesbian romance readers is divided into two: those who've read the first two books in this Soho Loft series (Kiss the girls, Just Three Words), and those who haven't. For the former group, you can skip the rest of this review and just order the book. As our Savvy ladies are wont to say, the universe just won't be complete without it. :) Now for the other group, either you're a newbie to lesfic or you've been living under a rock for the past couple of years. :)

In every Soho Loft book, there's a very appealing pattern to the love matches: rivals, polar opposites, rich girl/poor girl. The guaranteed conflicts/angst from such pair-ups form the basic backbone of the storylines. None of which are particularly original by themselves (as if anything in the romance genre can feel original), but applied with an overall tone of hip and lighthearted fun, and you have a very enjoyable romantic lesbian chick-lit. That pretty much sums up the appeal of this series.

Anyway, so we've come to the last but most important character in our little Soho loft universe. Mallory, the face, the brains and the financial brawn of Manhattan boutique advertising firm Savvy is the only one left of the Soho gang of four friends who is still unattached. Driven, ambitious and singularly-minded, she's completely focused on Savvy's success in the very competitive advertising market. In the eight years she's been running the firm, she simply doesn't have the time or the inclination to even think of dating seriously. But times are a-changin', as one by one, her partners and friends are coupling up and finding true love, leaving her as the awkward fifth wheel in any get-together. When your business partners are also your best friends, that's like being around lovebirds 24/7. Who wouldn't feel left out?

The ladies' favorite watering hole is manned by a hot bartender Hope, who seems to be the top attraction at the bar, and not just for her considerable bartending skills. But Hope only has eyes for that sexy, enigmatic regular who rocks power suits and Jimmy Choos. A set-up sees them meeting in an informal social setting. But that only highlights how far apart their social standing is, as far as Mallory is concerned. While the physical attraction is there, she just can't imagine spending the rest of her life with a bartender.

The central character Mallory isn't very likeable at the start. It's refreshing that the author chose to portray her realistically. For once, we have a rich girl who acts like one. She can be snobbish and patronizing, when she's not minding her manners. In fact, if Hope was *only* a bartender, I don't think Mallory would have gone forward with the relationship. While not very romantic, it is more reflective of reality. Mallory wouldn't be the Mallory who took Savvy to where it is if she were a saint, if she accepted and fell in love with Hope, knowing they didn't really have anything in common. She wouldn't have settled. In fact, that's one of the things I like most about Ms. Brayden's characters. They're human. They behave like real people. They have common sense. They fight, they offend and they misunderstand, but they reach out and communicate and apologize. Like adults. No contrived or needless angst just for the sake of angst.

But then again, the whole book would have been exceedingly dry if it were mostly about Mallory. Perfection does not an interesting story make. Fortunately, love interest Hope has a more compelling backstory, plus some disreputable family and hangers-on help to liven up the proceedings. Most of the little kinks to the development of their romance (I mean the hurdles, not the bedroom stuff!) are not that surprising. When the author brings something up, I felt myself mentally waiting for the other shoe to drop. So, plotwise, it's nothing we haven't read before. And the sappiness (the couples from the first two books) occasionally borders on toothache-inducing. But the snappy dialog and clever comebacks, the warm and fuzzy friendships, and the sizzling sex all contribute to make this a fitting end to what is arguably the most enjoyable series in all of lesbian romance.

4.75 stars

Advanced Review Copy received from Netgalley