The Real Deal is meant for summer nights*. It’s full of family games and amusement park rides and a smooth crash into love, and as such, would be the perfect literary accompaniment to a sweating drink, a darkening sky, and a breeze stirring through the trees.
Am I winning you over yet?, because this book clutched me by the heart and refused to let go. I was dazzled by April and Theo and their love story and the family members who love them but in the wonderful way of families, also drive them completely crazy.
April Hamilton is up for a gig as the lead body painter for a major sports magazine’s body issue and she doesn’t want anything to get in the way, including her family’s repeated efforts to set her up and entice her to move back home to Wistful, Connecticut. Enter Theo Banks, a bartender and sometimes actor whom she hires as her completely platonic, bad boy boyfriend for the upcoming multi-day Hamilton Family Reunion. This job isn’t that difficult for him since Theo’s a good actor and also since IRL he’s done jail time and been a con man.
But thankfully for us, Blakely offers romance novel catnip: Theo is a bad boy/reformed bad boy with a heart of gold. He takes on these occasional fake boyfriend jobs (which are always platonic, by the way) because he’s trying to pay off his brother’s debt without his brother knowing. Theo’s loyalty toward his brother means that he’s living paycheck to paycheck, and he also has zero interest in putting himself out there romantically again, but these are some other things you should know about him: he’s sexy, and has an amazing voice, and looks out for a teen living in his apartment complex, and drives a motorcycle with a snarling leopard on it.
From the beginning, April and Theo are attracted to each other and they’re also delightfully compatible. The book feels cinematic in that way; there’s so much banter and it's suggestive of classic Hollywood. They verbally play off one another like improv masters. They create fake dates as part of their back story but we can see their investment in their fake love story and in their real one.
Unlike other Blakely reads I've encountered, The Real Deal is set in a small town. It takes place largely outside of NYC, and it’s very family centered. It’s sweetness and nostalgia—do you remember the thrill of playing Twister or plummeting down a roller coaster? (I remember being bad at Twister and the last time I rode a roller coaster I literally thought I was going to throw up and then faint, all within a three second period, but I can still appreciate what Blakely’s doing here.)
The superficial stakes might feel small—winning a family field day trophy and the prize money, which will presumably go toward charity but which Theo wants to use to finally pay off his brother's debt—but don’t be fooled: we’re really talking about whether April and Theo will decide that what they have is real and whether it’s worth fighting for. Whether they can appreciate where the other person has been—in Theo’s case, his con man past and how it threatens his present—and get past their relationship’s fake beginning.
And along the way, we get Lauren Blakely’s fiction trademarks: a beautiful love story with humor, heart, and steammmmmmy (extra letters added for emphasis) sex. When you add a bad boy who is actually a really good person with characters who want to jump each other’s bones but who are also proud of the other’s achievements and a fascinating and lovable set of secondary characters, all set in sweet, sultry summer, I. am. all. in. Forever and ever amen.
Pssssst! If you like this book, check out: Melanie Harlow’s If You Were Mine (another fake boyfriend/girlfriend book) and Jenny Holiday’s One and Only.
I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley, but all opinions included are my own.
*tell me more tell me more was it love at first sight. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
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