***This is a review of an upcoming release. This title is scheduled to be released on May 17, 2022.***
I was pretty late to the bandwagon, but I’ve been a huge fan of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings since I read The Unhoneymooners last summer. This is my fifth CLo book, and it had big shoes to fill, considering how much I LOVED The Unhoneymooners, and The Soulmate Equation. Did it measure up?
Growing up the daughter of notorious treasure hunter and absentee father Duke Wilder left Lily without much patience for the profession…or much money in the bank. But Lily is nothing if not resourceful, and now uses Duke’s coveted hand-drawn maps to guide tourists on fake treasure hunts through the red rock canyons of Utah. It pays the bills but doesn’t leave enough to fulfill her dream of buying back the beloved ranch her father sold years ago, and definitely not enough to deal with the sight of the man she once loved walking back into her life with a motley crew of friends ready to hit the trails. Frankly, Lily would like to take him out into the wilderness—and leave him there.
Leo Grady knew mirages were a thing in the desert, but they’d barely left civilization when the silhouette of his greatest regret comes into focus in the flickering light of the campfire. Ready to leave the past behind him, Leo wants nothing more than to reconnect with his first and only love. Unfortunately, Lily Wilder is all business, drawing a clear line in the sand: it’s never going to happen.
But when the trip goes horribly and hilariously wrong, the group wonders if maybe the legend of the hidden treasure wasn’t a gimmick after all. There’s a chance to right the wrongs—of Duke’s past and their own—but only if Leo and Lily can confront their history and work together. Alone under the stars in the isolated and dangerous mazes of the Canyonlands, Leo and Lily must decide whether they’ll risk their lives and hearts on the adventure of a lifetime.
This was a fascinating book, possibly made more fascinating by the fact that CLo are the darlings of the romance industry, and this was not a romance book.
I mean…ok, there was a central romance, yes. And there was the obligatory HEA. But while I would certainly call this a romantic book, I would not call it a romance.
This is an adventure book, full stop. It’s Romancing the Stone, rather than When Harry Met Sally. it’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle rather than Pretty Woman. It’s The Lost City rather than The Proposal.
Whether that’s good or bad depends on how you feel about romance as an element of the plot versus romance being the plot.
I am not a huge fan of adventure as a genre, but I enjoyed this one quite a lot. Hobbs and Billings (I would just call them ‘Christina Lauren’ but that leads to a tricky pronoun issue for this former English teacher, so Hobbs and Billings it is…) are gifted storytellers, and this was a well-paced story, full of intrigue, romance and very real danger. The specter of Lily Wilder’s late father hovers over every page, informs almost every decision, and is brought, ultimately, to a satisfying, if kind of infuriating, resolution.
The things that didn’t quite work for me—and I deducted about half a star each for them—both had to do with the romantic relationship between Lily and her erstwhile boyfriend, Leo. Lily and Leo were together for a brief time ten years ago, and their break-up was abrupt and gut-wrenching. It’s not long into their unpleasant reunion that they figure out that it was all a grand misunderstanding, which they then move past unbelievably quickly. I wanted more from this subplot. I wanted a knock-down, drag-out fight. I wanted the betrayal that they should have felt—why didn’t you try harder to find me, why didn’t you try calling again and again, why didn’t you show up on my door a month later, rather than ten years later—on the page. It wasn’t, and their reunion therefore rang a little false to me.
Also, there is surprisingly little steam in this book. There is one sex scene on the page, but it’s surprisingly clinical. Again, these are people who should have a fair amount of barely-suppressed anger, if not toward each other, then toward the situation they find themselves in—they stupidly walked away from a great love ten years ago, and now that they have found one another again, they are literally running for their lives. That setup should have lead to an explosive reunion. Instead, the way it was presented felt pretty flat.
Having said that, I was rooting for the adventurers to find the damn treasure and get out of there alive, and there were moments of great payoff, as well as an unexpected betrayal, and lots of the bad guys gettin’ what’s comin’ to ‘em, so overall I really found the experience quite satisfying.
Strongly recommend if you are a fan of adventure, with a slightly less enthusiastic recommendation if you are just in it for the romance.