So, given that I like bodyguards and was in the mood for contemporary romances, I picked up The Bodyguard as soon as someone here recommended it.
The basic idea is: extremely famous hot male movie star (Jack Stapleton) needs to stay in this town in Texas for some time because his mother has cancer and she wants him close by, so although he is seriously estranged from his brother, he’s got to be there. The producers for his upcoming movie insist that he hire a protection service. The bodyguard who gets the assignment is a young woman (Hannah) who is very closed-off emotionally. Although he’s required to have a bodyguard, the movie star doesn’t want to worry his parents, so she’s going to pretend to be his girlfriend. On we go from there; as you can imagine, many situations ensue.
So, this is actually not intrinsically super-light in terms of the plot elements. The estrangement is pretty believable and the mother’s desire to force her sons to make peace with each other is one hundred percent believable and sympathetic. I loved both of Jack’s parents, who had small roles but were beautifully drawn and just a pleasure to spend time with. Hannah’s little speech to the parents when the awful truth comes out is genuinely touching.
I liked Jack too, and for that matter Hannah. Both of these characters were believable as well, which is pretty amazing given the character types are kind of over the top.
To me, Hannah seemed to keep getting into fixes that verged on too silly. The thing with the cows, come on. She also kept crying. Yes, fine, this and that would be upsetting; I realize thus and so would be upsetting as well; but she just did not seem consistently competent. At the end, when she briefly thought she was being rejected in a humiliating way, she believed that for about … hmm … it took her maybe five minutes to figure out what was going on. This was approximately four minutes forty seconds longer than it should have taken.
On the other hand, she grew on me, largely because I really liked all the surrounding characters, including her boss, whom I strongly suspect deliberately pushed Hannah into a position where she might be shoved out of her emotionally guarded shell. Also, she did show her competence at other moments.
Things that were clever:
You know what works really well in a Rom-Com? Making the exceedingly handsome and dreamy male lead into a famous movie star. That way, the female lead has every reason to think, “He’s just acting; he doesn’t really like me.” This continual self-doubt usually doesn’t work for me, but here it made perfect sense and was fine.
Katherine Center then does an excellent job making it believable that an incredibly famous, handsome, rich movie star would fall in love with a young woman of average looks and prospects. She really does. This is hard to pull off – well, it’s hard for an author to pull this off for me. I’m bored by extremely handsome / super rich male leads in romance novels. I read a good handful of contemporary romances with leads exactly like this when I was just starting to read romances, and not only that, I’d been reading the Anita Blake series at the time – you know, the paranormal series that turns from adventure into erotica, and where every single important male character is more incredibly, unbelievably handsome than the last. I am just a hard sell when it comes to super handsome, super rich male leads in romance novels. But here we are, this time it was fine. I think the fangirling around the edges was funny enough to help with that, but mostly I think it was just that I really liked the movie star and had no trouble believing in him as a real person, and believing in the relationship. Plus I really liked his parents.
His estranged brother, not so much, and here I would have liked more depth. This is the single relationship where I would have focused more attention if I were writing the story. This kind of estrangement-reconciliation relationship matters to me – you may have noticed I’m not a romance author – and I would have spent more time there, especially at the end. Big revelation, instant reconciliation, I was like No no! Slow down! Show us more depth here! I’d like to have seen the brother be more complicated and the reconciliation be more difficult to achieve and therefore more powerful when they finally got there. I immediately knew just how I would have done this if I’d been writing the story. If you see an estrangement-reconciliation plotline in one of my books anytime in the next decade, you may remember I said this and surmise I wanted to do that because I thought Katherine Center didn’t pull that relationship into the foreground as much as she should; ie, as much as I would personally have liked.
Other things I appreciated:
Center is one of the few romance authors I’ve read who doesn’t feel it’s necessary to open the bedroom door and show the reader a play-by-play sex scene. Thank you, romance author, for not making me feel like a voyeur. It’s not that this never, ever works for me, but not very often. Actually, I don’t think there was even a closed-door sex scene, which is pretty amazing in a modern romance novel and definitely fine with me.
The thing with the beaded safety pin. That’s a nice touch, and it’s used perfectly to tie the story together.
Things I did not appreciate:
The female movie star who makes such a scene. I know she deserves what she gets, but I would have liked her not to deserve that and not to get it. I felt sorry for her. She’s really sad. Certainly a vivid contrast with Hannah.
I liked this story quite a bit, I’m still amazed in retrospect that Katherine Center could make me like an incredibly handsome, rich, famous male lead, and I’d be happy to read something else she’s written. Oh, looks like there are tons of books to choose from. Anybody who’s read more by her, got another recommendation?