Why I read it: I had this one on the TBR and I started it immediately upon finishing The Boss because I don’t do cliffhangers. Fortunately, it’s only 99c so the two books cost less than $2.00.
**SPOILERS FOR THE BOSS FOLLOW – BE YE WARNED**
It’s possible some may consider my review to be spoilerish for The Girlfriend too. But I can’t talk about the book without talking about these things so… I have hidden the worst of it under a spoiler tag.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Unemployed, blacklisted, and pregnant, Sophie Scaife’s life is totally upside down. Her relationship with publishing magnate Neil Elwood is on the rocks. Her best friend’s career is igniting. And Sophie is afraid she’ll make one of the toughest decisions of her life alone…
When a devastating diagnosis forces Neil to return to London, Sophie throws caution to the wind to follow her heart across the Atlantic. Keeping a scorching D/s affair as red-hot in sickness as it was in health is a challenge, even for two lovers as inventive as Sophie and Neil. But Sophie is more than willing to try anything her Sir commands, and their fantasies of control become a welcome refuge from the daily stress of illness.
While Neil’s wealth and privilege make adjusting to her new situation easier, Sophie finds herself rebuilding her life around an uncertain future. And while both of them face the changes between them head-on, they’re all too aware that their happiness may be fleeting—and Sophie could lose Neil forever.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): In this second book in the series, Barnette dials up the angst factor but she does it in a way that, at least to me, felt organic and believable and… grown up. I don’t really have a clear understanding of what “id vortex” reading is (I’ve read a few definitions but they’re all slightly different, which I find confusing, so as a concept it’s still pretty vague for me) but I guess this series would probably fall into that category. However, while it does have plenty of drama, I felt it was grounded in reality and not ridiculous jealousies, stalking and such. Authors manipulate my feelings all the time – it’s part of why I read (or watch tv or see movies for that matter). There are times when I willingly go along for the ride even though it’s a bit ridiculous. Which is how I’d describe something like the Crossfire series – over the top and with a side of cheese; I say this with some affection. (Even though I only read to the end of the second book, I had been enjoying the series. I would have read the third book but then the whole saga was extended to five books and I was out.) I have fond memories of Bared to You and Reflected in You. This series seems different to me. The set up of the characters feels smarter and more believable and the problems they deal with feel more real world. Yes, Neil is a billionaire but as the book shows, while his wealth can give him some serious advantage, it can’t protect him from everything.
I’ve not read that many books where the heroine has an abortion. And I’ve read even fewer books where the heroine doesn’t spend a lot of time angsting over it. Sophie had decided she didn’t want children. By the end of The Boss, Sophie had decided on terminating the pregnancy, she had just to tell Neil. And she did. She didn’t shy away from telling him; she told him face to face like a grown up. Neil, who had made it clear he did not want any more children, was perhaps more ambivalent about the abortion but he never ever gave Sophie any grief over it and he was 100% supportive of her decision, right down to holding her hand when the procedure was taking place. Both took responsibility for their mutual carelessness about birth control and Sophie made the decision that was best for her, without apology. I’m so pleased the author didn’t go off into melodrama here and create more trauma for them, with things like big misunderstandings and recriminations. So far at least, that hasn’t happened at all in the series and I ardently hope that continues. One of the standout features of the books to me has been that Sophie and Neil talk to each other about problems. Neither of them are perfect, both make mistakes and hurt each other and make each other angry from time to time – but they talk about it and resolve their issues without hanging on to hurt and bitterness. I can’t express sufficiently how much I appreciate this.
At the end of The Boss, Neil was in hospital and he and Sophie were sorta-kinda broken up (and she had recently found out she was pregnant). The sorta-kinda break up and the pregnancy were resolved early in the story. The main issue and the one which is the focus of the book is that
Neil has leukaemia.
This is an erotic romance and the hero has cancer. And it works. I admit I was a bit dubious about this. Let’s face it, cancer just isn’t sexy.
Sophie is unemployed and the love of her life may not survive the treatment for the disease let alone the disease itself so she decides to spend as much time as she can with Neil. She moves in with him while he has treatment and helps to look after him, holding the bowl when he vomits and doing all manner of unsexy unromantic things because she loves him and wants to be with him.
I recently read Reward of Three and I had a viscerally negative reaction to it. One of the things I struggled with was that it was an erotic novella which purported to deal with some pretty heavy shit. The juxtaposition of the sex and grief didn’t sit well with me. Partly it was because of the length of that story. The Girlfriend is a full length novel and that certainly helped. There was time for sexy and there was time for the heavier stuff and it was rather cleverly intertwined as well. The cancer aspect wasn’t overplayed or underdone. The author didn’t shy away from the serious and nasty side effects of chemotherapy and the risks of stem cell transplant treatment.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Neil is still around at the end of the book – I already told you it had a happy ending so of course he’s still there. The advantages Neil had in terms of finances to make the treatment suit him better (private home nurses, etc) and certain good fortune in relation to treatment (it could have been worse) is clearly stated and I had the sense that while it was a good news story, it was not insulting to those who have been through something similar. In my opinion, it didn’t treat cancer lightly.
In the first book, Neil is presented as a fit, strong, healthy, handsome, wealthy man in the prime of his life. He is the dominant in their sexual relationship and is generally a bit of a control freak. He’s very much the alpha personality without in any way being an asshole about it (a non-asshole billionaire – hooray!). In The Girlfriend, cancer systematically breaks him down. He’s no longer fit; he’s weak and sick, his hair falls out, he’s nauseous and/or vomiting all the time, he’s weepy, he loses muscle tone and all of his money can’t protect him from any of it. Even though the story is again told from Sophie’s first person POV, I thought it was a very interesting dynamic in terms of his character. And, that he was willing to be vulnerable with Sophie in ways he was unwilling to be with just about everyone else spoke strongly of how important she was to him.
I admit to needing a few tissues along the way. Sophie saw all the changes in Neil. She didn’t pretend they weren’t there or gloss over them. The nosedive their sex life took as a result of
Every time I thought the bag must be empty, he brought yet another item out. It was like he’d hijacked Mary Poppins’s luggage on her way to a fetish weekend.
What else? This book wasn’t quite as well copy edited as the first one. There was one occasion where a butt plug had been removed and then magically reappeared on the next page requiring removal again – I imagine that’s quite uncomfortable. There were some typos. After the excellent quality of The Boss, it was a little disappointing. However, the book wasn’t riddled with errors and the story and the writing, the emotion and the characters were very, very good, so I got over it.
I really appreciate how the billionaire/ingenue trope has been twisted to make these characters seem real and grown up rather than soap opera caricatures. The book did put me through somewhat of an emotional wringer and I’ve decided for a little while that I will leave Sophie and Neil happy and healthy before diving in to the next book. I think I need to imagine them enjoying life for a while. I definitely plan to read the others (The Bride is already on my TBR and The Ex (oh please tell me they don’t split up!) has no release date yet that I can find. And according to Goodreads there is at least one further book planned in the series).
In the meantime, for readers who don’t mind an angsty read, I do recommend The Boss and The Girlfriend. They brought my reading mojo back.