Book Review: Just Married? by Natasha West
Just Married? by Natasha West is an utterly outlandish romance novel that quickly sucks you in for a quick, satisfying read. Why outlandish? Because it is a romance that would only ever happen in the movies (or in a book in this case):
When uptight British bookshop owner Emily Bartlett goes to Las Vegas to get over a humiliating breakup, she’s expecting to make a few mistakes. But when she meets Ruby Knight, a pessimistic American C-list TV actress with designs on a movie career, she makes a whopper. The pair get so incredibly drunk together that they end up getting accidently married.
In the cold light of day, both women are shocked to find themselves wedded to a virtual stranger. But maybe it’s not such a big mistake? Could Ruby’s marriage to Emily help boost her profile and get her the biggest role of her life, earning Emily a big payday in the process? Only if they can make it seem like they’re really in love. And only if they can navigate the treacherous LA movie scene without tripping themselves up and giving the game away. Or worse, getting carried away with their fake relationship…
But what if they do let themselves feel something? Could they fall in love? Or are they Just Married?
The basic plot of Just Married? isn’t anything new or earth shattering, but it is done well. The general plot can be interpreted in two ways:
- Engaged woman is broken up with by a cheating spouse which leads to an “oops marriage” in Vegas and might actually be falling in love with her pretend wife; or
- A Hollywood starlet is tired of the mainstream Hollywood scene and happens across a down-to-earth bookworm and falls in love when love isn’t something she does.
What makes this story stand out from other stories with similar plots in how West handles tension and character development throughout the narrative. The book alternates between Emily and Ruby’s perspectives and the reader gets to see fully realized character arcs from both women. In other romance novels that I have read character arcs don’t feel fully developed for all parties because the perspective is solely from one person. That sole perspective often leaves me wondering why the love interest has feelings for the protagonist. There are other instances in romance novels where the protagonist is a passive participant in her development because things happen to or for her, instead of her having an active role in her arc. West uses the alternating perspectives in Just Married? to show what it is about the other woman that each character likes and it helps them realize where they’re unhappy in their own lives, and how to move forward as a better human being. I don’t want to spoil anything for the reader, but the arcs of these two women is the reason that I’m giving this book a higher rating that I otherwise would (more on that in a bit). They’re wonderfully developed, and although I wasn’t surprised when they ended up with their happily ever after at the end, I was surprised at how they got there and what changes occurred for both women towards the ladder half of the book.
Tension in romance novels is usually a lot of long glances, sexual tension, and rehashing how utterly attracted the main protagonist is to the love interest. It can be formulaic, repetitive, and, well, boring. Just Married? on the other hand, uses a variety of tension throughout the book that keeps you reading. There’s tension from all types of sources – you have internal conflict from both women; their attraction to one another; the clichéd I like her but she doesn’t like me, but legitimized by other side-characters feeding them both lies; Ruby’s overly involved mother; Ruby’s co-star who is riding on Ruby’s success; Emily’s inability to act in certain scenarios to keep up their story of young, in love, and happily married; and Ruby’s possible casting in a feature film that could really set her career off and the pitfalls of schmoozing the director of the film to land the lead role.
There are several moving parts to this novel that have to do with more than just the relationship between Ruby and Emily that make Just Married? refreshing to read. When the reader does read the women thinking about their feelings for each other, it doesn’t feel repetitive or annoying. West also doesn’t have the women think about each other in the same ways and the two women are attracted to very different things about the other. When they’re pondering their feelings, they’re contemplating their developing feelings and new revelations about the other, not rehashing the same thing over and over again. And the way that West uses side characters is very intentional, adding to the tension between the two women’s budding feelings as well as providing legitimate reasons for why they don’t outright confess how they’re feeling.
The successful tension of the book isn’t only because West splits the perspective between Ruby and Emily, it is also because she introduces two antagonists, Denise, Ruby’s mother and manager, and Rock, Ruby’s co-star on the c-list show she’s currently acting in. These two characters are not only a source of a lot of anger for Ruby, but they manipulate situations that create issues for Emily as well. And, without spoiling anything, both antagonists have fully resolved arcs of their own that end with them dealing with the consequences of their actions. These two additional characters add another layer to the story that doesn’t detract from Ruby or Emily’s character development – in fact, they inspire a lot of the growth for both women.
The book isn’t perfect, though. A lot of the faults of the Kindle Exclusive book come from a desperate need for another line-edit and possibly another draft to fix some colloquial content for Ruby. Although both women are distinctly different in their mannerisms, dialogue, and temperament, the way that West handles their varied perspectives reads very British. West herself is from England, so it makes sense that the book’s narrative sounds British. The problem is that while Emily is from England, Ruby is born and raised in LA, California, USA. There are certain phrases that Californians simply wouldn’t say, like calling the restroom or bathroom the toilet. West nails Ruby’s dialogue for the most part, but when the narrative goes introspective or descriptive during Ruby’s perspective, it doesn’t sound Californian. It doesn’t even sound like any typical US citizen – it reads very much like the inner thoughts of a UK native.
The other things that another line edit would help with are several inconsistencies in the book. There are two times (at least) when Emily is referred to as Ruby. The sentences read as “Ruby did x” when the narrative is clearly in Emily’s perspective with Ruby nowhere in the scene. At all. It’s a pretty big oversight in the editing process. Other smaller inconsistencies are missing commas, too much white space between paragraphs, and Emily very definitively telling someone that she doesn’t drink coffee and then two or so chapters later, drinking a cup of coffee with breakfast. They are little things in the grand scheme of things, but they build up and every time these types of editing oversights occur it takes you out of the book. Published books should be polished – commas are used differently depending on what writing style format the publishing house uses, so I can let that slide; but misused character names should never occur and forgetting a character’s likes and dislikes, such as a drink preference, makes the character seem like a liar when it is just poor editing.
Despite the editing oversights that took me out of the book, I did enjoy the book as a whole. It is an easy read that kept me engaged until I finished the book in a few hours. The character development of both Ruby and Emily was honestly my favorite character development that I’ve seen in a romance story to date. And, to boot, the sex scene that was included in the book wasn’t graphic, wasn’t treated like a “reward” for finishing the book, and actually added another layer of tension to the story for the after effects of them sleeping together. It is clear that the sex scene isn’t the goal of the narrative but rather the development of these two women who happen to find themselves next to each other in a bar in Las Vegas.
3 out of 5 Rainbows
Recommended Reader: Anyone looking for a quick read who doesn’t mind odd formatting and some editing issues or someone looking to read something where both main characters have fully realized character arcs with emotional impacts not only for their relationship, but their own growth.
I would not recommend this to a reader who has any sort of mental health malady related to a manipulative, verbally or emotionally abusive, or controlling parent. The mother figure in this book is extremely abrasive and could be triggering.