In trying to review this book I now know why some of my fellow cannonballers wait to review these series in one fell swoop instead of individually. In praising this effort from Bowen I find myself tempted to just repeat myself from previous reviews. In the fourth book in the series, Sarina Bowen has found her sweet spot and is continuing to write feminist bent romance and in many ways appears to be gunning to be the Courtney Milan of the contemporary new adult genre (as much as I love Milan, I was disappointed in her effort in this genre, Trade Me and if I had been more honest probably would’ve rounded down to a 2 star rating. I have hope for her next work in the series Hold Me next year).
What does Bowen continue to do well in this work? Well, she’s got fleshed out leads. We met Bella in the previous book in the series, The Understatement of the Year and she’s still dealing with the fallout from that book’s events as she starts her senior year at Harkness. We are introduced to Rafe, sophomore at Harkness, and are plunged into his world. Bowen also does my favorite trick that Milan also did in her Brothers Sinister series, she gender-swaps the tropes. In this book Rafe is the wallflower – he’s the quiet, respectful, occasional doormat guy who is trying to figure out how to be him, and also a gentlemen, and perhaps a relationship that works for him. If it’s with Bella, all the better. And Bella is the rake. It’s reinforced in this book, but we learn of her sexual appetite and casual promiscuity. If she wants to get naked with someone, and they return the sentiment, then she is all about it. While this attitude can make it difficult for her to interact with other women who are concerned about Bella’s possible interactions with their boyfriends, Bella owns her choices and builds her life the way she wants it. This is all good.
Rafe and Bella end up having a one night stand when Bella finds him sitting on the stairs in their dorm (can I just mention I drool whenever Bowen writes about the architecture of fictional Harkness? I would have killed to go to school at a campus like this) drinking champagne he is supposed to be having with his now ex for their birthdays. Bella sees someone in need of (platonic) company and takes him upstairs where they each share their tales of woe and the bottle of champagne. Then, because this is a romance novel, things get a lot less platonic.
There’s a LOT of story that follows that moment, the awkwardness from Rafe since he doesn’t do casual, and he certainly didn’t mean to lose his virginity to Bella that night. Rafe’s home life, their class project, and finally Bella’s victimization by a fraternity on campus and its aftermath (note, she is NOT sexually assaulted, but that doesn’t make reading what she went through any easier). Here however, is where the wheels came off a little for me, and while I did enjoy this book quite a bit (you’ll notice a four star rating of this book) it was my least favorite of the series so far. I have not yet read the final book of the series The Fifteenth Minute but it was just released and a lot of the cannonball ladies who have already read it have pointed out some concerns with how Bowen handles that book’s plot fulcrum and I knew about it before I read the final 100 pages of this one. And I can’t help but admit that it colored how I viewed the actions and reactions of Bella and Rafe.
When Bella finally starts to get back to herself following her attack, her neighbor Lianne (Hollywood teen star and computer hacker type) helps her get her revenge. Bella doesn’t want to report her attack officially, but she does want to exact some vengeance. The plot they concoct, and eventually deploy only works for me by halves. The part with the models and the signs, and the pictures – grrr. The part with handing out mugs to everyone in the stands with a warning about being possibly drugged at that particular fraternity and what the code words are for an unsafe drink? Brava! Normally I would also moan and groan about how the laziest plot device is not having your two characters just talk about their issue or misunderstanding, but Bowen subverts that by having Rafe plan to talk to Bella before things go haywire, and then when things do there really isn’t a moment – until there is and they do talk. Then things fall a little too easily into place, one of the frat members finally reports the rest of the guys for their activities following Bella’s prank, Bella and Rafe are called into the dean to testify, and Bella’s fairy godmother nurse practitioner gives her career and grad school advice which means that she gets to stay at Harkness.
This book is good, and my issues with the back third, which I’m having trouble putting into words (but are mostly focused on Bella’s initial reaction to Rafe’s not wanting to be casual and how she phrases her argument to him), aren’t actually that big. I will be reading The Fifteenth Minute soon and I’m sure I’ll have lots of thoughts on that, but for now I’m done writing because my word count is healthily over 900.