Review: Star Crossed by Jennifer Echols
Jennifer Echols is one of my go-to writers for quality character development, sharp dialogue and memorable stories. Needless to say, her foray into fiction for adults with Star Crossed was one of my most anticipated novels of the year.
While I adore Jennifer's dramatic novels like Such a Rush and Going Too Far, I have a soft spot for her more light-hearted books, particularly Major Crush. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a good romantic comedy to balance out all the angst and drama.
Fortunately for me, Star Crossed falls into the lighter vein of Jennifer's oeuvre.
Wendy Mann is a publicist to the stars. She's spent six years saving celebrities from their public disasters, rescuing their images and turning around careers. She's blunt and tough, and that's why she's so good at her job. Her beloved career is threatened when one of her clients pushes back and almost gets her fired. In order to save her job at the high powered PR firm where she works, Stargazer, she's sent to Las Vegas to salvage another career--that of a young singing who's nasty habit of posting inappropriate photos of herself on Twitter and publicly sparring with her ex-boyfriend.
Wendy finds herself up against her old college rival, Daniel, who's representing her client's ex. The two competed for top rankings all through school and their firms are also rivals (Daniel's father owns the firm where he works and he's expected to take over leadership of the family business). The pair's history is pretty fun. Daniel secretly crushed on Wendy from afar, but Wendy simply saw him as a rival to be squashed (she's extremely competitive). I enjoyed that their shared history wasn't as dramatic as in a lot of novels of this ilk, it's more of a vague thing that doesn't have a lot of baggage.
She texted Sarah,
I made him laugh like an embarrassed teenage boy.
As she waited for Sarah's answer, she read her text over and considered it. She'd been a teenager, eighteen, and she assumed he'd been the same age, when they'd first met. Except she wasn't so sure they'd ever met, officially. So... when they first became aware of each other. Or when she first became aware of him. She did hope he knew who she was, and that he'd only been pretending to have a hard time placing her. She would hate to think that after all those nights she'd agonized over whether she could beat him for the Clarkson Prize, he hadn't even known she existed.
When they're thrown together thanks to a series of mildly ridiculous, yet reliable, rom-com contrivances, and are forced to pretend they're dating (hell, yeah, there's a fake dating plot!), sparks fly and hijinks ensue.
Despite the fluffy premise, I was was surprised at the depth of the character development in Star Crossed.
While Wendy loves her job and career path, Daniel isn't happy with his. He's obligated to take over the family PR business, but he'd rather be doing something that's more meaningful.
His eye looked as bad as it felt. At least his whole socket wasn't bruised, but the knuckle mark underneath was turning from red to purple. For the life of him he couldn't remember a single piece of advice that GQ had ever dispensed about this.
He hated this job.
Wendy is nearly obsessive in her drive to succeed, terrified of not making it in the pressure cooker of her professional world, and being forced to return to West Virginia.
The tension between Wendy's drive to the top and Daniel's desire for something different makes for something more interesting than many contemporary romances--it actually reminded me a bit of Julie James first couple of books which were pretty light, but brought together high-powered, competent, witty professionals whose goals conflicted. This scenario, which is so respectful of both characters' career path reads as fresh and current and the resolution is one that I didn't expect and is both unusual for romance and realistic (intentional vagueness to avoid spoilage).
I was also struck by what a fun setting Las Vegas was for a comedic romance.
Since Vegas is, well, absolutely ridiculous, the silliness of some of the scenarios in Star Crossed didn't seem particularly off-the-wall. The characters are colorful, the timeframe is condensed and it all makes sense, because it's Vegas. There are all-nighters, visits to strips clubs and even an Elvis sighting, all which makes Star Crossed a lot more fun than your average contemporary romance.
She turned to Lorelei. "Get the DJ to put on some Missy Elliott."
Um... kay." Lorelei scampered away.
As Wendy slipped out of the booth, Daniel slip to the seat where she'd been. "Your stripping soundtrack is Missy Elliott?"
"She was very big in 2003, and this was my small protest against the patriarchy. While stripping. I know. Shut up."
That's not to say Star Crossed is flawless.
The book includes an absurd and unnecessary subplot about a stalker who's been after Wendy for years. It's wholly unnecessary and adds nothing to the plot. It essentially exists to create conflict and tension when the main storyline did that quite effectively. There's also a subplot about the two clients' relationship that is cute enough, but didn't do a whole lot to move along the main plot.
However, despite those niggles, Star Crossed one of the fresher, funnier, more modern-feeling romances I've read.
She teased him, singing, "You're going to get wrinkled," but her voice came out weak and pitiful.
"For some reason," he growled in her ear, "around you, I'm as wrinkled as I've ever been. Metaphorically speaking."
"I metaphorically wrinkle you," she puzzled...
I'm so looking forward to the next book in this series, Playing Dirty, out this fall. That one features Sarah, who is a sharp, snarky friend of Wendy's who also works at the Stargazer PR firm. However, I do think that fans of Jennifer's YA novels may be a bit disappointed in this series because it is so very different from her recent YA novels, particularly because it's written in third person, so the wonderful internal narration of Such a Rush and others isn't there, but it's certain made up for in lots of quirky, witty dialogue. If you enjoyed Jennifer Echols earlier works, then this foray into adult fiction will certainly satisfy you, and it will also likely appeal to fans of Julie James, Ruthie Knox and Shannon Stacey.