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There are two kinds of people who play on their office’s recreational sports teams: those who like socializing and beer, and those who take it too seriously and ruin it for everyone else. Most of us hate the latter group, but luckily for them, author Phyllis Bourne doesn’t think their unhealthy obsession with winning amateur sports games should cost them a happily ever after. On a related note, she and I will have to agree to never play on the same recreational sports team.

Type: Contemporary romance

The couple: Riley Sinclair is a construction boss who loves cake pops, girls night, and when her company softball team wins. Because she’s the boss, she’s tough, she works in a field full of dudes, and because this is a romance novel, the men she knows think of her less as a dainty possible girlfriend and more as someone who can be counted on to chase down and tackle a mugger. Which she does, quite successfully. Luckily for her, Hudson Parker, a handsome, wealthy competitor in the construction world of Nashville, is totally turned on by a woman who can swing a bat, operate a nail gun, and retrieve a laptop from a violent offender. But since they’re rivals both at the construction site and on the softball diamond, it can never be.  JKJK it can it totally will.

Tropes: Someday, when they let me teach Romance Novels 101 at an expensive liberal arts college, I will use this book to demonstrate how many tropes you can fit in one book: Enemies to lovers! Business rivals who fall in love! Direct competition between the hero and heroine! There’s a makeover scene! The heroine’s supposedly perfect “dream guy” turns out to be boring, buttoned up, and not nearly as hot as the blue-collar guy standing right in front of her! Even more amazing than the way Bourne crammed all of the tropes in is the way it actually works.

The story: Riley is a person who is generally happy, but she’s a little discouraged that she’s the only single one left in her friend group. She’s also annoyed that all of her friends keep bailing on girls night. During one of these “girls” nights turned “girl” nights, Riley gets a little drunk and decides to use an app inspired by her favorite TV show to shake up her life/look so that she can successfully pursue the handsome suit-wearing man whom she has been admiring from afar. That goes fine for a while, but soon we realize that handsome suit guy is super boring and pretentious. That realization comes right around the same time Riley catches on that her arch-nemesis Hudson is super hot and into her, but she’s too stubborn to just dump boring guy for Hudson, and chaos ensues. Sexy chaos.

How’s the sex? Although the sex between Riley and Hudson starts with a contrived skirt-accidentally-rips-entirely off moment, the “pipe-laying” (construction sex pun!) between the two of them is so crazy hot that she doesn’t even bother seeing what boring buttoned-up suit guy is like in bed. Which is too bad, since I bet Bourne could have written an awesome awkward sex scene. But at any rate, great sex eventually leads to a lifetime of happiness for Riley and Hudson, and good for them.

Is this book for you? Like many a feminist raised on Disney princess movies, I am both enthralled by and skeptical of the makeover plotline. But there’s a difference between wanting to totally change yourself to attract someone else, and just feeling like you want to get out of a rut. Riley falls squarely in the second category, which makes her relatable even when she gets a little caught up in the ridiculousness of the app.

Said ridiculousness is not limited to the bizarre makeover app that is based on a TV show. There is plenty of absurdity throughout the story. But this is a story is so clearly comedic that it fit nicely Bourne is also clever enough to wink a little throughout. My favorite example is when Ian, Riley’s not-so-dreamy dream guy is over the moon excited to take her to see the hit, sold-out Broadway show Franklin. Riley mistakenly refers to it as Hamilton. “It’s Franklin,” Ian corrects her. It’s not, and we all know it. But it’s a charming little moment that reminds us that Bourne is in on all of her own jokes.

Conclusion: In Between a Rock and a Hot Mess, Riley is a smart, independent woman who knows what she wants and absolutely goes after it. She makes kind of a mess out of going after it, but that’s what makes the romantic comedy work. Plus, if you’re one of those people who took intramural sports so seriously in college that you now don’t have any friends, don’t worry. Phyllis Bourne is here for you.

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