Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-4240-6
Contemporary Romance, 2018
Jane Denning is a responsible lady. Among her friends Buy, Our, and Books, she can be counted on to do the right things and all, and hence, she is the one who is tasked by her soon-to-be married friend to babysit the bridegroom-to-be’s estranged, naughty half-brother Cameron MacKinnon. She should make sure that the fellow does not cause too much trouble, embarrass his brother, or heaven forbid, ruin the wedding. Alas, Cameron has just been discharged from the army, and all he wants to do is to make up for lost time and party the house down. Can this Jane coral her Tarzan from being too much trouble, and will she be able to stop herself from falling for that fellow? Does she even want to?
Reading Jenny Holiday’s One and Only is like agreeing to go out on a blind date with while having low expectations – please god, at the very least, let the food be good – only to go by the end of the date, “Honey, let’s get married!” The author has been around for a while, although since her other publishers are allergic to taking money from grubby Malaysians like me, I end up opening this book without having read anything by her before and hence, I have no idea what to expect.
The first few chapters can be quite on the cringe-time side though. Jane of course stumbles onto Cameron, an excuse to have her impressive bosoms pressed up against him and have him reevaluate his opinion of her as the plain Jane. When she has had enough of him and storm away, I hope that she will stick to her plan, but no, she just has to go back to him for plot purposes. These and so forth are all predictable, overused set-ups and for a while, I worry that this is going to be another story which has the author so impressed with her hero that it ends up being all about him with the heroine existing solely as an empty placeholder for the reader to imagine herself in the heroine’s place. Fortunately, after a few chapters, the author finds a comfortable groove and the story takes off from there very nicely.
What really works for me here is how smooth and so wickedly fun everything just comes together here. The humor works – instead of wincing or cringing, I find myself smiling or chuckling along with the characters. The author does sarcasm and cynicism well without trying too hard to be edgy or the second coming of Joss Whedon, and as a result, Jane comes off as smart and witty rather than bitter or unpleasant. Indeed, Jane is a fun heroine with the added plus of having genuine friends and interests outside of the hero. She is also level-headed and self aware – all good traits for a heroine in my book.
Cameron is a man’s man, just the way I like them, without coming off too much as obnoxious or boorish. Actually, I think the author makes him too nice by the time the story ends; I kind of want that lovable jock from the early parts of the book back, but that’s probably just me. The hero of course has some vulnerabilities and depths underneath his manly man exterior, and his layers will be slowly peeled away as the story progresses.
The chemistry is palpable and so much fun to follow. Still, I feel that the tension deflates way too much after they get down to business, and the last quarter or so of the story drags considerably as the author resorts to increasingly eye-rolling contrivances to keep the story going a little longer.
Still, even if the first and last few chapters may feel draggy compared to the other parts of the book, One and Only is so much fun, fun, fun to read. The heroine is adorable, the hero is an adorable beefcake with a good amount of woobie factor, and the romance is too cute for words for the most part. So, this is what Jennifer Holiday has to offer, huh? Sign me up if the party is going to keep being this entertaining.