Review of Playing for Keeps by Julie Hammerle

A book that made me think: “yikes” several times.

Blurb: Bryce Barrett has disappeared off the face of the earth. Well, technically she’s just temporarily hiding out in a teeny Midwest town, away from her ruined marriage and professional demise…at least until she can figure out her next steps. But when she bumps into her ex—dressed in what could be only described as “dumpster chic”—she does the only reasonable thing a woman can do: panics and pretends the cute security guard on the scene is her new boyfriend.

Free-spirited nomad Jake Warner knew returning to his hometown was a bad idea. It’s bad enough that his family’s pressuring him to step into his dad’s hypercompetitive shoes and settle down, but when a complete stranger (cute, though possibly unbalanced) enlists him as her fake boyfriend, Jake knows he’s making some questionable choices…especially when he inexplicably goes along with it.

Now these two mismatched misfits are temporary allies against a town filled with happy, normal, and annoyingly stable people. Fake dating keeps everyone off their back while they plot their respective escapes. But nothing botches a plan more than unexpected chemistry…

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When Bryce Barrett is passed over for a promotion she feels was rightly hers, she leaves Chicago for small town Wakernagel to the house she once shared with her ex-husband, but which she was granted in the divorce. There she lives on Cheetos but never seems to have enough ice cream on hand which means she has to go to the resort ice cream shop in emergencies. There she meets security guard, Jake Warner, who is called because people presumed that Bryce was homeless and a possible threat. In a separate emergency ice cream run, Bryce tries to hide from her ex- and his new model-esque girlfriend but when her ex- sees her, she says that Jake is her boyfriend. And, thus, a fake romance is begun in Julie Hammerle’s Playing for Keeps.

I have been a fan of Hammerle’s YA romances but have to say that this venture into adult romance is not quite as satisfying. Both Bryce and Jake are dealing with issues. While I’m not quite certain that Bryce’s issues are ever fully explained (it seems extremely dramatic to go off the mental deep end when being passed over for partnership, even if it was deserved; it could have been that it was intended to be humorous, and, if so, it wasn’t), Jake is dealing with Peter Pan syndrome as well as the suicide of his friend.

At the beginning, Bryce is living in squalor with garbage everywhere and she tosses garbage bags into her basement instead of taking them to the trash, which accounted for my very first yikes. While, with Jake’s help, she does manage to clean up her act–literally–this set a tone that was pretty hard to get over.

As far as Jake, initially he comes across as being a nice normal guy, but in two scenes with his father–his father who just had a heart attack, mind you–he’s a complete jerk. No. No. He’s an asshole. He’s an asshole many times, exemplifying traits I just don’t care to read about–even if he does manage to change at the end. At what point is it too little, too late?

Also falling into the unlikeable category is Jake’s sister who is manipulative and believes that her role in the universe is to procreate (she would have a hundred if she could, which scored another “yikes.”). Just the thought of dozens of her mini-mes with careless attitudes running around gives me the shudders.

At this point, you’re probably wondering exactly what I did like about Playing for Keeps. Well, I liked Rita, the new girlfriend of Bryce’s ex-. She is a sweet, caring person as well as savvy. I liked Jake’s dad who years ago learned and grew from his mistakes, creating an admirable sports system. I would have liked Bryce’s character more if more thought had gone into why she had a complete meltdown. She seems like a strong, competent person, normally, that more context should have been given.

Playing for Keeps had a lot of possibility but didn’t seem to have a clear idea of what genre it really wanted to be.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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