I feel like Jenica set the bar pretty high with her first post about our experience reading Gentle Rogue and Rock Hard, so I hope this post about our next installments, The Magic of You by Johanna Lindsey and Flow and Grip by Kennedy Ryan, meets the same standard!
One of my biggest fears in going back and rereading some of my old favorites even though I’d been wanting to for a while is that I’m not sure how well they’ll hold up and I don’t want to spoil my good memories of them. I was pretty optimistic going into The Magic of You after being pleasantly surprised by Gentle Rogue, but unfortunately, The Magic of You definitely did not age as well. In fact, I wasn’t really a fan of this book at all.
The Magic of You is the fourth book in Lindsey’s famous Malory family series. This book follows Warren, the second-oldest Anderson brother introduced in Gentle Rogue, and Amy Malory, James’ Malory’s niece who is about to debut in her first season. Despite Warren’s generally surly and antagonistic personality, Amy knew immediately after clapping eyes on him that they were meant to be together, and so she sets out to do everything in her power to ensure that outcome, despite Warren’s resistance.
For one thing, I was pretty uncomfortable with how Amy pursued Warren with no regard for his feelings — if their genders had been reversed, I think the sexual harassment would have been a lot more apparent. Also, that age gap! I know big age gaps with really young heroines was definitely a thing in older historicals and that I blithely went along with it for ages, but now it just feels icky. And they kept reminding you of the age gap! I was not a fan. Jenica adds, “The first quarter felt gross because of how hard Amy pursued Warren with literally no indication that he might be at all interested. She was just determined she was right that she was good for him.”
But something about the adventures in their story worked for her, and she was able to enjoy it as the story took off. She texted me, “I just thought it was fun somehow? I liked Amy a lot as a character, so I liked being with her. And when she goes to get him at the bar thing and then they get like kidnapped essentially? Such a fun adventure.”
Once the story hit the side plot with the Chinese villains who showed up in London looking for Warren, though, we were both done. It opened the door to all kinds of racist stereotypes and characterizations of Chinese people that I am far from qualified to properly articulate, including a really awful dialect, but it was pretty easy to tell that the representation was not great, and the whole thing pretty much scuttled any chance I had of ever enjoying this book.
I think this is a case where nostalgia, rather than enhancing my enjoyment of the book, kind of ruined it for me. It just wasn’t nearly as good as I remember, and I kept get hung up on that. I think it’s definitely a good thing we read Gentle Rogue first, as I’m not sure we would have been interested in picking up more Johanna Lindsey if we’d started here. While Jenica enjoyed the book more than me, we both agree it hasn’t held up nearly as well.
The other book, or rather, set of books we read this round were Flow and Grip by Kennedy Ryan. This is actually a trilogy of books about the same couple, starting with the required prequel novella, Flow, which sets up how Bristol and Grip first met and how their relationship failed to take off the first time. Their story continues in Grip, several years after Bristol has moved out to Los Angeles to be an agent and on the eve of the debut of Grip’s first album. While Grip still wants to pursue a relationship, Bristol has been shutting him down for years, and the book Grip follows the two of them as they get their HEA. Their story also continues in Still, which shows more of their relationship with each other, though you do get their HEA in Grip if you want to stop there.
I know Jenica was really worried about whether I’d like these books, I think because I’m generally not a fan of second-chance romances. But while I definitely don’t love them as much as she does, I can definitely see the appeal, and I really enjoyed them overall. I’m not surprised since Jenica tends to have great recs!
Personally, I disagree with the decision to make Flow a required prequel novella. I think it should have been written as bonus content so that you can read Grip on its own and then go back and pick up Flow if you really loved the characters and wanted more. I read both of them back to back, and it just got to be a lot of setup of their relationship and made it take literally forever for Bristol and Grip to get together. Ultimately, it made the beginning more of a slog than it really should have been.
Jenica actually first took a break between them because she was mad at the ending of Flow (which I totally understand!), and I think we both agree that that decision likely contributed to a better overall reading experience since it wasn’t so much all at once. When she was rereading them with me, Jenica said “It was SO much before they get together listening back to back this go around.” So definitely consider taking a break if you read these!
It also didn’t help things that I didn’t love Grip. I disliked that he slept with other women while also still wanting to pursue a relationship with Bristol, and I HATED that he said it made him feel better to know that she was upset he slept with them. Like, what an asshole. And this is my personal preference, but I feel like it’s an unspoken rule that the hero can’t sleep with anyone else once he’s met the heroine and their story in the book has started, so I really didn’t like his relationship with Qwest, who seemed like a great person who didn’t deserve to get caught up in Grip’s thing with Bristol.
Jenica’s right, though, when she says “I think there is a lot of character work being done there, but not good choices.” It really makes you wonder how on earth the two of them will ever manage to be together, but Ryan pulls it off! If you like angst, you’re definitely in for a hell of a ride with this one.
Also, just to get the negative things off my chest, I epically hated the ending with Parker (I believe I called him an “entitled slimeball” early in the story, and he only gets worse from there). I won’t spoil anything, but I felt like there were enough conflicts between Grip and Bristol that we didn’t need this supervillain twist dropped in to try and derail their HEA, especially a twist that was so deplorable and with a villain I found rather one-dimensional.
That said, Ryan writes super compelling characters! I considered taking a break when the beginning was so slow for me, but I could never quite bring myself to walk away from them. Even after I finished Grip and had spent a good 500 pages with these two, I wasn’t quite ready to be done! I did ultimately move on and read other things, but I definitely plan to go back and read Still so I can spend more time with Bristol and Grip.
I especially liked Bristol and following her journey as she slowly starts to let herself feel and open up to Grip. I could tell as I was reading it exactly why Jenica loved this book so much, because Bristol and her story arc are very much Jenica’s thing (and mine! Though to a lesser extent). There’s just something about seeing a character’s inner strength and watching them uncover it for themselves that’s so satisfying and makes you root extra hard for them to get their HEA!
Actually, on a total side note, I’m pretty pleased that we identified one of the core things Jenica loves in romance novels! I commented to her that Bristol’s arc reminded me a lot of Alva from The Widow of Rose Hose by Diana Biller, and that arc of seeing the heroine realize her own strength and act on it. I love it too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s something that really strikes me as a Jenica thing, and apparently she hadn’t realized it in those terms before I pointed it out. I think that’s part of why she loved Charlotte from Rock Hard by Nalini Singh so much, not to mention Portia from A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole and Catalina in Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews. But Jenica doesn’t think that’s an arc for the rest of the books she picked out to read with me, so we’ll see if we can maybe find a common link with those!
Anyways, back to Grip. I wish it weren’t necessary to include such conversations, but I’d like to mention what an amazing job Ryan did incorporating tough conversations about race into the story in a way that felt really authentic and organic. It was really impressive how she wove in discussion about interracial relationships, and Jenica and I both really agreed with Bristol’s comment that she learned more discussing race with Grip than she did in college.
While I didn’t adore these books as much as Jenica and had a lot of things I didn’t like, I have to emphasize that I did overall really enjoy these books! Ryan did an incredible job writing these characters and making you fall in love with them and getting invested in their story no matter what she throws at them (and she really tested my limits!). And writing this post is making me think I need to pick up Still sooner rather than later!
Have you read either of these books? Let us know in the comments! And keep an eye out on Jenica’s blog in the coming weeks for her post recapping Hold Me by Courtney Milan and A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux, the next two books from our series that we’ve decided to read.