A laconic auto-body shop owner hopes to woo a longtime crush, but he has to overcome his past trauma to convince her they belong together.
Rena Jackson has started her own hair salon in Seattle and wants her personal life to rev up, too, but she has almost given up on Axel Heller’s making a move. Though she finds the German transplant attractive, she worries that he is commitment-phobic and not ready for true intimacy. With both their upbringings shadowing them (his involves domestic violence and hers a single mother who has looked for love too often), can two strong, wary people become vulnerable to love? Harte (Delivered With a Kiss, 2019, etc.) provides readers with passages about Axel’s painful memories and his fear of being a physical threat to a woman. This is a useful counter to some novels’ tendency to romanticize the threat of male power. But the limited, alternating perspective leaves Rena in the dark for much longer than the reader, with the result that her complaints about Axel’s attachment style edge her into unlikable territory. The novel is threaded together by Axel's awkward (albeit funny) attempts to court Rena with gifts and other gestures but doesn't allow her similar space to show her personality and get us to root for the couple. The quick references to, and scenes with, numerous peripheral characters bog down the romance arc further. The handling of the white supremacists who have been threatening Rena, who's African American, is a broad-stroke attempt to acknowledge racism but lacks nuance, as does a scene involving homophobia. While the novel’s title and cover allude to recent successes like The Kiss Quotient and The Hating Game, it lacks the former’s thematic firm-footedness and the latter’s tonal mastery of comedy and emotion.
Starts out promising but never quite gets out of first gear.