romantic renovations coverRating: 2.75 stars
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Length: Novel

Bennett Jackson runs a reality show about renovating properties he inherited from his late grandfather. He’s had a hard life, having been abused by his father, who is in prison, and living on the streets with his mother, who continues to have a relationship with his dad. She’s been a basketcase most of Bennett’s life, and it’s only recently that they’ve had any financial respite. Bennett’s dream is to restore his old homes to glory, but his partner and best friend, Frank, has conned him into restoring 12 homes in 12 months for a reality show gig—a schedule that means folks will cut corners. And, when Bennett stands up for quality over quantity, Frank assaults him.

The network likes the show and Bennett, and they want to keep it going, sans toxic Frank. They send in Leslie Cooper, a bear of a contractor, to bring Bennett’s project back online. Bennett and Leslie are immediately attracted to one another, even as Les is aggravated at having to uproot himself from his Boston-based family once again. His last show was a nightmare, but he finds an amenable partner in Bennett, and the work they look to do is producing great television.

It isn’t long before the Bennett/Les team is firing on all cylinders. They’re even looking to restore Bennett’s grandfather’s estate home, a project that could net a million-dollar payout or more. However, Les will have to face potentially uprooting his life to make it all work.

From the blurb, I got that there was danger lurking, but I was NOT prepared for the depth of melodrama this story held. First off, it’s a bit instalove-y, with Les and Bennett falling gaga for one another nearly from their introductions. Les is calling his family to move out to Seattle within days of his own relocation, which seemed . . . abrupt? And I had big qualms about their ability to integrate into the Seattle building/restoration scene as easily as Les intimates. Every time I thought “Would that really work like that?” I was assured by Les or Bennett that “Yes, it’s just that easy.”

The characters, despite lot of stuff going on, didn’t show a lot of depth or growth, to me. Bennett is nearly as terrified at the beginning of the story as he is at the end. And, Les is a fixer, who can clean up any mess Bennett throws his way. Beyond this, Frank is a constant problem and his antics are only overshadowed by those of Bennett’s father, whose machinations from prison were pretty much unfathomable. The “What now?” refrain started ringing in my head pretty early in this story.

Continuing on the melodrama bandwagon, the sheer volume of police corruption that the story hints at seemed way out of proportion to reality. Also, all of it was told to the reader, rather than experiencing it through a character’s viewpoint, so the plot wrapped with too neat a bowtie. There are so many Coopers—who are all almost magically able to make reality suit their whims—that I was concerned I’d fallen into an urban fantasy instead of a romance. Need a bodyguard? We got a Cooper for that. Need a general contractor, or a business partner? We got a Cooper for that, too.

As a huge fan of renovation shows and handymen finding love, this read really flat for me. The twists didn’t bring my interest, only concern that we were falling deeper down a rabbit hole of drama. The plot seemed unnecessarily complicated, with killers, kingpins, and kidnappers on the loose and after an unsuspecting Bennett. His parents are both criminals and, without Les and his enormous family, it seemed like Bennett would have been a corpse in an unmarked grave by chapter 4. When the situation wasn’t complicated, then every other problem was too easily solved, and the lack of balance was draining. Even the Epilogue brought extra problems to bear, though they were good for Les and Bennett, who are true love life and business partners for the long haul by then. If this story was real estate, I’d have kept looking for something a bit less flashy and way more substantive.

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