Trigger Warning: The book, and this review, deal with sexual harassment, non-consent, abuse of authority, exploitation, etc.
Braden Mack thinks reading romance novels makes him an expert in love, but he’ll soon discover that real life is better than fiction.
Liv Papandreas has a dream job as a sous chef at Nashville’s hottest restaurant. Too bad the celebrity chef owner is less than charming behind kitchen doors. After she catches him harassing a young hostess, she confronts him and gets fired. Liv vows revenge, but she’ll need assistance to take on the powerful chef.
Unfortunately, that means turning to Braden Mack. When Liv’s blackballed from the restaurant scene, the charismatic nightclub entrepreneur offers to help expose her ex-boss, but she is suspicious of his motives. He’ll need to call in reinforcements: the Bromance Book Club.
Inspired by the romantic suspense novel they’re reading, the book club assists Liv in setting up a sting operation to take down the chef. But they’re just as eager to help Mack figure out the way to Liv’s heart… even though she’s determined to squelch the sparks between them before she gets burned.
It was Navessa’s 4 star review of the first book in this series that excited me for starting it. That was a long time ago, and I finally (with our goal of getting through our NetGalley list) decided to pick this one up.
And I see a very strong theme in these books. I haven’t read the first one, but this quote from Navessa’s review rings very true for Undercover Bromance as well:
The main reason is because while Gavin’s character learns and evolves throughout the story, all of her character growth came towards the very end.
Switch the name Gavin for Mack and you’ve got the same thing happening here.
There were moments that I genuinely enjoyed Liv. I understood her desire for justice and to not want to let horrible men get away with the shit they’ve been getting away with for decades.
But those moments were small in the grand scheme of things. Because the truth is, Liv spent most of the book judging other women for what they did or did not do in response to sexual harassment, and rape. (For anyone wondering: it’s still rape when someone in a position of authority takes advantage of your inability to say no.)
Liv didn’t start recognizing her own faults until she’d hurt nearly every women she claimed to care about. Sometimes surviving is the only thing one can do. Being told you haven’t done enough to protect other women – when that guilt is likely already in the survivor’s mind – is NOT okay. Everyone, everyone, imagines how they would react in certain situations. And sometimes it’s even gut-wrenching to imagine it. But that’s easy compared to actually experiencing something and figuring out how to move forward with your life*. People are allowed to be concerned for themselves, their health, and their safety, too. And if that’s all they have the bandwidth for, then support the ones you love – don’t guilt them. They have enough of that already.
Add to the fact that Liv was a bit of a hypocrite, and it really didn’t sit well with me. That being said, she did recognize her hypocrisy – but it was very far at the end. I won’t say that she doesn’t have reasons for the way she feels and acts. We all have things in our past that affect the way we handle life and certain situations. Liv does, too. When she finally admits that her judgments were based on her own insecurities about herself, and goes about making things right, it made up for some of it.
Mack, on the other hand, was fantastic the whole way through. He had so much compassion and care in every little thing he did. If it took him a while to figure out that relationships aren’t perfect and take some work, despite reading romance novels, I forgave him that. Because he always learned, grew, and rolled with the changes love and life threw at him. His concern was always for the comfort of someone else. I loved the relationship between him and the other members of the Bromance Book Club – though I wish we could have seen more of the actual book club.
Liv had her heart in the right place. She honestly didn’t want women to be hurt, she wanted the perpetrator to pay, and she wanted to protect. And she grew a LOT by the end. She came away with a new understanding – not only of how to treat people around her, but of herself. This is what allows me to believe in the HEA between Liv and Mack.
Take this next bit with a YMMV thought, because humor rarely hits me well in books. I have a very dark, dry sense of humor that leans into sarcasm. Biting wit, I love. Most “comedy,” I do not. There were a lot of moments that I think were supposed to be funny in this book, but most of them didn’t ring right for me. Though the chicken stuff ALWAYS made me chuckle.
Also, just for informative purposes: vegan cheese IS NOT CHEESE. It does not cause issues in people who are lactose intolerant. There is NO lactose in vegan cheese. Lactose comes from milk. Vegan cheese, by definition of being vegan, has no milk in it. And there ends my vegetarian/lactose intolerant** fueled rant.
So, what do I rate this book? If I were rating it on just Mac and the Book Club, it’s a solid 5 stars. The rest … eh. Let’s go with 3 stars.
*I was pressured by friends into coming forward once. And the pain of being disbelieved when I was still entrenched and believing of the “fault” of my own actions, haunted me for years. I know, with all my heart, that those friends honestly were trying to help. But it didn’t. It made me feel even more culpable. More at fault. Less like a victim and more like a woman accusing an innocent man.
**I am a vegetarian, for a multitude of reasons. I don’t really care what other people want to eat, I only care about my own choices. I also am lactose intolerant. And while I don’t drink dairy (cow milk is gross to me), I LOVE cheese. I grew up in Wisconsin and cheese is my comfort food – much like chocolate is for others. I love it. Now I limit myself to hard cheeses (the longer they’ve aged, the less lactose is in them) and know when to stop on softer cheeses. But I also use vegan cheese from time to time, because it’s good and it gives me no problems. It can be made from many things: soy, cashews, other seeds and nuts, nutritional yeast, and a list of others. But one thing that is definitely NOT in it: lactose. Which comes from milk.