Sam Becker manages a branch of a bed and bath retailer. The job wouldn’t be so bad, except for his horrible boss, Jonathan Forest. Jonathan is so focused on the bottom line that he doesn’t care about his employees and micromanages everyone to death. With Sam’s store not keeping up with Jonathan’s earnings goals, Sam knows he is about to be sacked. And when Jonathan calls Sam down to London for a meeting, it’s worse than he imagined, as not only does Jonathan want to fire Sam, but the whole team as well.
When Sam accidentally trips and hits his head in the store immediately post-firing, he ends up in the hospital with a concussion. And when Jonathan and the doctors mistakenly think Sam has amnesia as a result, Sam sees his opportunity. Someone needs to watch over Sam while he recovers and, if he pretends he really has lost his memory, Jonathan will need to take on the responsibility. That means Sam may have a chance for Jonathan to get to know him better, hopefully learn to like him, and ideally change his mind on the whole firing thing (especially since Jonathan doesn’t realize that Sam remembers he has been fired).
It all seems like a good idea when Sam is in the emergency room dealing with a concussion, but it is becoming less so as Sam is living in Jonathan’s house. The two men do not get along at all and the whole situation is uncomfortable. It becomes even more so when Jonathan’s loud and enthusiastic family descends on his house as they start preparations for Christmas. But soon Sam begins to see that there may be more to Jonathan than he first thought. The two are actually slowly becoming friends of a sort. Of course, Jonathan still isn’t an easy person to deal with by any means, but Sam is starting to see that there may be a softer side to him.
Sam is realizing that this may have been a really bad idea, as he has to continue to fake amnesia while navigating his growing relationship with Jonathan. Now that he is beginning to think he may want more with Jonathan than just keeping his job, Sam has to figure out how to navigate the fact that he has been lying to Jonathan and hope there is still a chance of a future together.
I love a good amnesia story and the enemies-to-lovers trope is another of my favorites, so I was eager to check out this latest story by Alexis Hall. Ten Things That Never Happened turned out to be a book that I really enjoyed in many ways, but had some issues for me as well. What I liked here the most is the tone of the story and I found it fun and entertaining. I am a sucker for good banter and, when Sam and Jonathan are clicking, their dialogue and interaction is snappy and amusing. This is a very long story and I felt engaged throughout and moved through it quickly given the length. The set up is absurd, of course, but in a way that I found entertaining rather than frustrating. Sam has a very distinct voice as the narrator and for me he carried the story well.
However, despite enjoying the book overall, there are some key areas where I struggled here. One major issue is that while I love the set up, with Sam faking the amnesia and ending up as an unplanned houseguest, I didn’t feel there was enough follow through to carry this set up through the rest of the book. The idea is that Sam is concussed and needs someone to watch over him for two weeks, but since he supposedly has amnesia and the doctors are in too much of a hurry to really bother with him, he gets pawned off on Jonathan. Sam figures this is his chance to get Jonathan to like him and ideally then not fire the team after all. So as I said, absurd but fun, and I could go with it. But it doesn’t really hold up after that. Sam never seems to actually have any problems remembering anything, and Jonathan is never suspicious or even curious. Sam is also supposed to be there for two weeks to recover, yet that time comes and goes and Sam is there about a month and there is no discussion at all about when he is going home or how he is recovering. It is just like they seem to forget he is supposed to be gone already. Not to mention that there is zero effort to help Sam regain his memory or to connect him with literally anyone in his everyday life. To be clear, this isn’t like Sam is some amnesiac (or fake amnesiac in this case) who turns up and no one knows who he is. Jonathan knows Sam’s name, where he works, and where he lives. Sam has his phone and ID and everything else. Why wouldn’t he be contacting people in his phone if he really had no memory of who he was to try to find out? Or why wouldn’t Jonathan be helping him by talking to Sam’s co-workers or trying to reach family or friends? Obviously, from a plot perspective, Sam needs to be happily ensconced with Jonathan, but I wanted to at least feel like the story acknowledges and accounts for why everyone is just ignoring his recovery timeline and any attempts to re-enter his regular life.
I also struggled here in finding both main characters not particularly likable, as well as not really connecting with their relationship. We are told clearly at the outset that Jonathan is a dick (dubbed “His Royal Dickishness” by Sam’s team). All his employees at every branch hate Jonathan and we see him be overly pushy with customers and quite demanding with his staff. He is pretty self absorbed and so focused on work to the exclusion of his family and friends. We also see him fire Sam and his team for not meeting their earnings projections and I guess this makes him a jerk of sorts, but also, I kind of don’t see why the fact that he wants his stores to make money is such evil incarnate. However, Jonathan does have some pretty awful moments on the personal side that made me struggle to warm to him, though he does have some growth over the course of the story, both with his family and Sam.
Sam is our POV character and the set up is him trying to befriend and get his evil boss to like him so he can save his co-workers’ jobs. So he is painted as the hero of the story, yet I found him problematic as well. Part of it is that most of Jonathan’s bad behavior, at least for much of the book, is focused on work issues that we hear about more than see. The biggest work-related issue that happens post “amnesia” is when Sam is working on a project for Jonathan and gets a budget that he ignores. It turns out there is a very important reason for that budget and when Sam finds out, I thought we’d see him acknowledge his mistake. Instead, he is mad at Jonathan because Jonathan should have explained to him his reason for the budget and why it was important if he expected Sam to follow it. Which.. really? I mean, does your boss need to tell you reasons behind everything they ask you to do? Or when you get assigned a task and a budget to follow, isn’t it just your job to do it?
At home, Sam’s first major complaint about Jonathan is that he doesn’t cook or keep enough food in his house. There is nothing wrong with being a person who can’t or doesn’t like to cook. And I say this as someone who cooks a lot and bakes desserts for every occasion. But why does it make Jonathan a monster because he is rich and busy and would rather order take out and grocery delivery? It made Sam look more dickish to me than Jonathan to be living in Jonathan’s house complaining because he wanted cooked meals and thought Jonathan should shop at the grocery store. Sam’s other big issue is he is unhappy with how Jonathan interacts with his family and just jumps on in and inserts himself into their family arguments after living there about two days, like it is any of his business. Sam seems to have lots of opinions on how Jonathan should live his personal life that are really not his concern. Not to mention the whole moving into Jonathan’s house and joining his family buying Christmas trees and planning holiday dinner, while he is totally lying about why he is there. So I didn’t find him particularly likable either.
I think if we had seen more growth from these guys along the way, it would have helped. Or if we had seem them really work through the ultimate conflict with regard to the fake amnesia. But for a very long book (almost 400 pages), nothing seems to really happen until the very end. The relationship is a super slow burn and they are just barely tolerating each other for much of the story. The resolution to the amnesia conflict comes very late. And the revelations about Sam’s past that are alluded to but never explained come with barely a moment to spare before the book ends. So the pacing felt off with long periods of not much happening and then without enough time to for the resolution to really breathe.
I know I probably sound like I didn’t like this book at all, and that is definitely not the case. I found the story had great banter and a nice energy that kept me engaged and interested to see how it would play out. When Sam and Jonathan click, they really worked well together and I enjoyed their interaction most of the time. However, I think this story was too long, but with not enough time given for the resolution to play out, and I struggled with Sam and Jonathan too much to fully fall for them or their relationship.
Note: While the covers share a lot of similarities, this book is not part of Hall’s London Calling series (and is instead the first book in the Material World series). The two series do share the same world, however, and Jonathan appears as Luc’s friend in Husband Material. However, this book stands alone completely and you can definitely start here.