Wednesday, August 17, 2022

TBR Challenge: Sandy James - The Bottom Line

When life gets tough and love is hard to find, four friends take their troubles to lunch. Surviving a failed
marriage and an illness that almost takes her life, high school teacher Mallory Hamilton needs the Ladies Who Lunch more than ever . . .
After a year of upheaval, Mallory has had her fill of change—with one exception. Her house is a disaster, and she wants it fixed. Hiring a contractor to finish the projects her ex-husband started will help her banish the past so she can return to the life she had before everything went awry. But her contractor is sexy, sweet, and single, which threatens the peaceful, solitary life Mallory has planned for herself.
Ben Carpenter has had a hard time raising his daughter without his ex-wife’s help. His new client’s projects will give him the extra income he needs, not to mention afternoons alone with a gorgeous woman. Though their attraction is undeniable, Ben sees the fear and pain hiding in Mallory’s beautiful eyes. But how can he help her if she won’t let him in? Ben can fix just about anything—but can he fix Mallory’s broken heart?

Comment: Time flies and it's already the third Wednesday in August, day of the TBR challenge post.
This month the theme is Blue Collar and it was quite a quest to find one among my shelves..probably next month or the other I'll find I have plenty more, but alas, I picked this one featuring a teacher heroine and a contractor hero, who is going to do renovation work at her house.

In this book we meet heroine Mallory, who is back to work after being ill and since her husband left her, she is also now ready to do some work at the house. That is how she gets to meet Ben, a divorced man, father of a teenager, but who seems to understand what she wants and they quickly become close. The more they get to know one another, the more they realize happiness is possible again... but will they both be ready to let go of past betrayals and trust someone else once more?

This is the first book in a series titled "Ladies Who Lunch" and each installment will focus on one friend, all teachers at the same school, who got to become friends over their lunch hour. The first one to have a HEA is Mallory, we learn she has been ill, is ready to change what she sees as a disaster around her, and as a fresh restart her priority is to fix the house. The story is pretty basic, the romance rather quick and the conflicts closer to the end of the novel very easy to avoid but oh well.

This is the second book by the author I try and, as it happened with that one, so this Bottom Line felt like the writing and execution didn't match the possibilities this story suggested. I imagined a sweet romance between two wary people, both Mallory and Ben have had distrust in past relationships, worries and Ben is a carpenter or contractor so he can't simply solve most issues with money. I thought the story had all the elements to be a sweet contemporary but the execution just disappointed me. 

The beginning is actually interesting and I was curious to see how detailed the house renovation would be, what kind of information on the characters we would have because of this. I remember a scene where they are picking some things but apart from sentences here and there telling us about what else was done, there isn't a lot of focus on the fixing of the house throughout the book. This would be minor if everything else was good for me, but sadly, it wasn't.

What I think was the weakest element is precisely the romance. Mallory is recovering from cancer and of course this gave her a new perspective on life and such and she feels terrible because her husband left her when things became dire. I get that she isn't as easy to trust and I imagined her taking time between getting to know Ben and wanting to be with him. However, not many pages went between the first time they met and the inner monologues where they both wondered how much they liked the other and so on. I know this can happen but made me look at the characters as very one dimensional and the plot felt weak.

Ben is divorced, his ex is trouble but he tries to keep the peace because they have a daughter and he wants what's best for her. I liked him at first because he seemed a complex but likable guy and although he felt attracted to Mallory and her personality I thought this was a good sign, that they would take things slowly and get to understand each other. 

What happened instead was a quick romance - I mean from when they met until they started thinking of one another as a significant other - which I felt was very under developed, many scenes of going back and forth trying to get an idea of what was going on between them, Mallory trying to bond with Ben's daughter, Mallory's friends who didn't seem that supportive, then Mallory decides she wants do a certain surgery, then Ben's ex becomes jealous for who know what reason, then there's a misunderstanding and childish behavior and at this point I was just ready to finish.

The end solved all conflicts and made our protagonists realize there were more important things to consider than petty discussions, they discovered they loved each other enough to want to try to be a couple and live together but I was not convinced of their relationship nor of their feelings and the whole plot seemed to have been rushed so things could go from point 1 to point 2. I would say, looking at this book and the other one I've tried, that the writing is very simple and consistent, yes, but the characterization and development is a little superficial and I would have liked some more balanced work, this type of writing somehow feels it lacks complexity and appeal.

Although this wasn't a winner for me, some details are interesting and for fans of light contemporary, perhaps this can work because as everyone knows, it can all be a matter of perspective.
Grade: 4/10


  1. It's always so disappointing when it seems like the story is going to actually delve into and develop the couple's feelings but then still rushes through it. Lack of care in development is definitely my number one complaint.
    Better luck with next month's TBRChallenge!

    1. Hi! Thank you for commenting. It's true, this one didn't feel very well done...

  2. Welp, I'm sorry this one didn't work for you. I like the idea of "life after 40" (what with being single and entering the late fifties stage myself), but this one seems to have quite a few of my "no, thanks" buttons. (For example, making nice with toxic ex-wife "for the sake of their shared daughter"...does anyone here stop to think about what interacting with toxic people in authority does to children? (don't get me started) (no, really) )

    1. HI! In the book, the daughter stayed with mother once in a while, shared parenthood (I can't remember how you say it) and the father wanted to keep the idea of being civil to the mother... but I think it was just a convenient excuse to compare with the heroine and make her look better...

    2. I think you mean 'shared custody', and yes, in that case it makes sense to at least aim for civility. It's a shame this one wasn't better executed.

    3. Thank you, that seems it. I confess I can't remember if those were the words used or another type of custody but that is what I meant, yes.
      I think it's a given, after two books, this isn't the author for me lol