You use weakness as a weapon. You’re so ashamed of your own mistakes in life, so afraid of your own fragility, that you accuse everyone else around you of being soft just for the crime of basic human frailty.
I am still a baby when it comes contemporary romance and since I enjoyed the first book in the Bromance Book Club series, I thought it is sensible to continue on this track. I have gotten my wife to read these as well, and she told me that the sequel is better—so that’s good enough of an endorsement for me.
Undercover Bromance follows the story of Mack, one of the other book club members who supported Gavin’s bid to win back his wife. The book’s other protagonist is Liv, who is the rather shrewy sister of Thea (whom Gavin was trying to win back). And I said “shrewy” because that was how she was portrayed in the first book. She has a huge chip on her shoulder against men because of daddy issues she shares with Thea, and in book 1, she played an antagonistic role towards Gavin. However, in Undercover Bromance, she is portrayed more as a tsundere-type of character (leaning dere dere rather than tsun tsun). The premise of Undercover Bromance revolves around Liv who was fired from her job by her celebrity chef boss who she discovered had been sexually harassing his employees. Mack got involved because he played a part in getting her terminated. Mack and Liv “hate” each other, but they decided to team up to expose this scandal of Weinsteinian proportions. The book helpfully told me that Mack and Liv is in a enemies-to-lover romance, which is apparently a common romance novel subgenre. You see, this is why I chose to read such a meta romance series—I need all these tropes and conventions of the genre explained to me like I am six.
I don’t know if I like Undercover Bromance more than the first book. Perhaps because I am a married man, I identified more with Gavin’s struggle than Mack’s but that is not my only gripe. I have expressed on many past occasions that I absolutely loathe Brandon Sanderson’s brand of romance, where two characters basically exchange witty repartee and sarcastic remarks until they get in bed together: and that is largely what happened between Mack and Liv, but I am being unfair because Lyssa Kay Adams is definitely much more adept at creating chemistry than Sanderson (who is a fantasy novelist so inept at creating sexual tension that he would struggle to find sparks in a forest fire). No, Undercover Bromance does not suffer from a lack of chemistry because Liv and Mack always felt like they were one clever quip away from sucking face. And that is a problem because I never believed that Liv hated Mack, and I never felt like there were anything legitimately challenging standing in the way of their happily ever after (unlike with Gavin and Thea). And Mack is just… too damn perfect. He is the literary character equivalent of someone saying “I am too hardworking” when asked what his biggest flaw is during a job interview. It almost made the “black moment” for Mack in Undercover Bromance feel contrived and manufactured because he is just so flawless that I cannot imagine any woman would seriously reject him for long (I learned what a “black moment” in romance novels is from this book, by the way).
Undercover Bromance also largely sidelined the premise of its preceding book (of men using romance novels to fix their relationship woes) and whenever that element is involved, it felt like an afterthought rather than baked in. Gone is the book-within-a-book conceit. Yes, the colourful cast of book club members are still very much involved, and yes, Undercover Bromance does rope in lessons from a romance novel that the club happens to be reading—but I feel like I wouldn’t really miss anything if we cut all that out.
I remarked on Ms Adams’ reliance on the expression “slanting” when she describes characters tilting their heads to kiss in The Bromance Book Club, and it seems she had found a replacement in Undercover Bromance. Mack growls. He growls all the time. Sometimes when he is kissing and constantly in bed. It got to a point when I began to wonder: do women like men to growl during sex? Is it growling like a bear or a big cat? What about barking and meowing? I have so many questions.
All in all, Undercover Bromance is a fun and quick read which I knocked back in just two days of very casual reading. I think it gets marks for the portrayal of men who are woke; who fall squarely on the right side of the #MeToo war, and its clever premise which continues to pay dividends in how it interrogates romance conventions. I am certainly open to visiting other types of romantic plots through this series’ lens, but it wish in subsequent novels, Ms Adams would start subverting romance tropes instead of playing them straight. What good is a meta-fictional device if you don’t skewer the medium once in awhile?