Shakespeare once wrote that “The course of true love never did run smooth.” And thank goodness for that. If it did, there would be no romance novels and probably significantly less Shakespeare. You know what else romance authors have in common with Shakespeare? Formulaic storytelling. Literature students all over the western world learn about the structure of the five acts of a Shakespeare play. In fact, it’s probably how you learned the word “denouement.” So, what better way to pay tribute to the master of a dramatic love story than to tell a tempestuous tale about two people who know they love the Bard…and might also love each other. They do love each other. Obviously. Remember the formula thing we just talked about?
Type: Contemporary adult romance. It’s also worth noting that this one is published by a little Pacific Northwest upstart called Amazon. In 2011, probably realizing that almost nothing in all of entertainment sells like romance novels, Amazon started a publishing imprint called Montlake Romance. There are some particularly good Montlake books, but many of them are like other store-brand products: they’re serviceable, but unremarkable. I mean, let’s be honest. No one puts the Amazon brand knife set in their wedding registry.
The couple: Simone Oliver is a set-designer for a theater company in NYC. She’s an artist, but a no-nonsense one because she, like many romance heroines, has been taught hard lessons by life. She is also, like many romance heroines, sort of clumsy. And she, like many romance heroines, is uncomfortable acknowledging her own beauty. Have you picked up the pattern? The Benedick to her Beatrice is Zach Hammond, the guest director for the company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’s a movie star turned director who’s English, probably because Shakespeare sounds way dreamier with the accent. He’s a handsome, wealthy, would-be white knight whose only shortcoming is that he loves too much. Also, he appreciates Simone’s “complex” and “layered” beauty even though he’s been with more conventionally attractive women. A bunch of them, just FYI.
The story: The thing about the plot in this story is that there isn’t really a plot in this story. To be fair, a lot of things happen in this book. There’s a wedding shocker! A theatrical emergency! A story of unrequited childhood love! A trip to Ireland! But none of those pieces are major components of the plot, and some of them are actually wrapped up in a chapter or two. This book is almost entirely about two people deciding what they do and don’t want from their relationship, and it’s a little bit about other things along the way to keep it engaging. In typical romance fashion, a lot of those other things have to do with how loved ones keep accidentally derailing Simone and Zach’s plans to have meaningless sex. The couple’s devotion to their friends and neighbors is great, but I’d like to think I’d be the kind of jilted bride or Alzheimer’s-plagued neighbor who would want my friend to take 20 minutes and get herself taken care of by a hot English thespian before she came to tend to me. But don’t worry. They do eventually “make the beast with two backs.” (Thanks, Shakespeare!) Speaking of which…
How’s the sex? There were a couple of sex scenes, but the more interesting one came first [ed. note: Heh]. I don’t want to spoil anything, but by the time these two are finally far enough away from their needy loved ones to get any level of “fulfillment,” one person is getting the other person off on a plane in order to distract that person from her fear of flying. It was both a fun way of working some sex into the story and also a strategy that I hope nervous fliers everywhere don’t take to a runway near me.
Is this book for you? Both detractors and defenders of the romance genre will find something to support them in Nothing Like Love. I think I’ve made it pretty clear that the book follows a lot of the formulas. That said, formula is a part of romance, and the most skilled writers do what they can to make it less predictable and more interesting. Author Abigail Strom definitely colors inside the lines, but the work she does within them has a real depth.
Author Abigail Strom’s greatest strength as a writer is the frankness in her dialogue. In particular, a conversation Simone has with Zach about her mother’s illness and the way she saw her parents live the very real and humbling reality of “in sickness and in health” has little of the airbrushing that we often see with difficult topics in this genre. Strom is very definitely writing a romance, but she’s also acknowledging that life continues beyond the ride off into the sunset. Love is real, and so is the fact that the people we love also get sick and dependent and sometimes die. Simone’s questions about what kind of love two people need to have to be willing to saddle one another with that kind of commitment, challenge, and pain are very honest questions that aren’t easily resolved.
Conclusion: As I mentioned, you’re not often going to see anything terribly inventive from the Amazon publishing house, but much like my AmazonBasics camera tripod, Nothing Like Love works just fine. In fact, Strom takes the imprint a little further than most. Her characters are recognizable, but they do have depth, and for romance leads, they do a surprisingly effective job of pulling off Shakespeare. It probably helps that Zach is English. It also probably helps that Shakespeare is, well, Shakespeare.